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Family of journalist held in Egypt says health worsening

Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, left, producer Baher Mohamed, center and correspondent Peter Greste, right, appear in a defendant's cage in a courtroom along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Heba Elkholy, El Shorouk)

CAIRO: The family of an Al-Jazeera journalist detained in Egypt for nearly eight months called for his immediate release Tuesday, saying his health has deteriorated during a hunger strike.

Abdullah Elshamy, a journalist for the pan-Arab news network, was arrested on August 14 when police dispersed supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi at the massive Rabaa Al-Adaweya protest camp in Cairo, killing hundreds in clashes.

Since the army ousted Morsi in July, the military-installed authorities have criticised the Qatar-based channel's coverage of the crackdown on his supporters.

In a statement sent to AFP on Tuesday, Elshamy's family called for his "immediate and unconditional release, after his health has deteriorated as a result of a hunger strike that has made him lose more than 30 kilos (65 pounds)".

It said Elshamy started his hunger strike on January 21 to protest his detention.

"Because we are convinced that our son did not commit any fault or did not commit anything punished by law we thought he would be released," the family said, adding that he was being held in "places that are difficult and bad."

Three other Al-Jazeera journalists, including Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste, have been detained for over 100 days and are currently on trial over charges of spreading false news and supporting Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Their trial, in which 20 defendants stand accused, has sparked an international outcry and fuelled fears of a media crackdown by the authorities.

Qatar was a close ally of Morsi's government, and Egypt accuses the gas-rich Gulf state of backing his Islamist movement, including through Al-Jazeera.

The authorities banned the pan-Arab broadcaster's Egyptian channel after Morsi's removal in July.

Since then, a government crackdown on his supporters has left more than 1,400 dead, according to Amnesty International. Thousands have been jailed.

Shaimaa Aboul Kheir, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told AFP 12 journalists are currently detained in Egypt, including freelance photographer Mahmud Abu Zeid, who was arrested during the Rabaa dispersal.

"They are all detained because of their work, which goes against the constitution that guarantees freedom of journalism and expression," Aboul Kheir said.

 

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