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Egypt: Sisi critic released after serving sentence for 'insulting officials'

Hisham Kassem was sentenced to six months in prison in September for criticising an Egyptian cabinet minister
Hisham Kassem, a former newspaper publisher publisher and political activist, in Cairo, 13 June 2023 (Reuters)

Egyptian dissident Hisham Kassem has been released from jail after serving a six-month sentence for "insulting Egyptian officials".

Images of Kassem, a prominent liberal critic of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were shared on social media following the completion of his sentence.

Kassem was convicted for his criticism of an Egyptian cabinet minister, as well as insulting the police officers who came to arrest him in September 2023.

The dissident had previously published Al-Masry Al-Youm, which is one of Egypt's most widely read liberal newspapers.

Since 2014, Kassem has criticised Sisi's record as president, particularly the economic downturn that he has overseen, as well as the crackdown on dissent he has initiated.

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Kassem is the leader of al-Tayar al-Hurr, or Free Current, a liberal group formed in response to Sisi's conduct in office. He previously served as the president of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights. 

In late 2023, Sisi successfully campaigned for a third term as president, in what was widely regarded as a rubber stamp election with no real opposition.

At the time of his sentencing, Amnesty International put out a statement, which said: "The prosecution of Hisham Kassem for simply posting critical messages online is a signal that the Egyptian authorities' relentless campaign to silence peaceful critics and punish dissent... is continuing in full force."

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Under Sisi, Egypt has become one of the most repressive countries in the region, effectively outlawing any dissent against the president and his backers in the military establishment.

Sisi came to power after the July 2013 military coup, which overthrew the country's only freely elected leader, the late president Mohamed Morsi.

A defence minister under Morsi, Sisi formally took power the year following the coup in a vote that was widely seen as rigged in his favour.

While the initial targets of his political persecution were members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood organisation, the crackdown on dissent quickly expanded to include liberal and left-wing critics of Sisi.

At least 65,000 political opponents of Sisi are held in jail, according to estimates by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. 

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