Australian man returns home after 10-month Egyptian imprisonment over Facebook post
Australian man Waled Youssef has been released by Egyptian authorities and returned home after a 10-month ordeal that saw him imprisoned for allegedly liking a political post on Facebook eight years ago.
Mr Youssef, a dual Australian-Egyptian citizen who migrated to Sydney two decades ago and now runs a cement rendering business, was imprisoned in January and housed in a cell with 17 others, unable to physically distance from others even as COVID-19 spread through the prison system.
Waled Youssef and his wife, Fadia, have expressed their relief after the man was released from an Egyptian prison.
Egyptian authorities had accused Mr Youssef, 45, of affiliation with a banned political group, seemingly because he liked a Facebook post by a presidential candidate during the 2012 election. The candidate has since been imprisoned by the Egyptian government.
The man's legal team launched a public campaign in September, urging the United Nations and Australian government to intervene after Mr Youssef's detention was repeatedly extended and he was prevented from appealing the charges against him or having visitors.
Following the efforts, an Egyptian court ordered his release on October 14 and the charges were dropped. He was released 12 days later and was then forced to wait weeks for a flight back to Australia. He has now arrived in Sydney, where he has gone into hotel quarantine.
Waled Youssef has arrived back in Sydney.
"I am so relieved to finally be home," Mr Youssef said in a statement released by his lawyers.
"I never would have expected a trip to visit my family would see me thrown into Tora prison. It was the most harrowing 10 months of my life. I just want to heal and recover from this unbelievable and horrendous experience."
His wife, Fadia Youssef, thanked supporters and said she and the couple's two sons were excited to be reunited with Mr Youssef.
"My boys and I cannot wait to give him a big hug once he finishes quarantine. We are counting down the days until he is home," she said.
His international lawyers – Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jennifer Robinson and Clare Duffy of Doughty Street Chambers – welcomed his release.
"Mr Youssef should not have spent a day in prison: his detention was unjust and unlawful," they said in a joint statement.
He was arrested on January 14 while sightseeing near Tahrir Square in Cairo. He was subsequently searched and authorities examined his Facebook activity.
His lawyers emphatically rejected the "spurious" charge against Mr Youssef, saying their client was not politically active and had never been a member of a political party.
His family were also particularly worried for his health and safety as the coronavirus pandemic swept Egypt, finding its way into the prison system.
About 116,000 Egyptians have contracted COVID-19 and 6,636 have died. Human Rights Watch recently called on the Egyptian government to improve medical care in the country's overcrowded prisons and contain outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Mr Youssef's family is now launching an online fundraising campaign to help cover the costs associated with the detention.
The Sydney man was detained in the notorious Tora prison, where Australian journalist Peter Greste was kept for 400 days.
Mr Greste, who has supported the Youssef family's campaign, said he knew what it was like to be locked up "for no good reason" in Tora prison.
"Even without the pandemic, the conditions are horrific, while the legal system is brutally slow even when the police have zero evidence," he said.
Mr Greste said the episode had further degraded the reputation of Egypt's judicial system.
Another Australian-Egyptian man, Hazem Hamouda, was held for over a year in Tora before being released last year.
His daughter, Lamisse Hamouda, said families went through "extended agony" during cases of overseas detention.
"I personally understand the financial cost and psychological trauma of the battle to free a loved one from prison, and it does take time to get back on your feet," she said.
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