CAIRO, Egypt - A Sydney man is imprisoned in a maximum security prison in Tora, Egypt for liking a Facebook post by a former presidential election candidate.
The man, Waled Youssef, a dual Australian-Egyptian citizen was jailed 8 months ago, according to an exclusive report published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday.
Youssef is in a cell with seventeen others in Tora Prison, and is unable to self-distance.
He was arrested in January this year while on a family holiday in Cairo. He has repeatedly had his detention extended and has been unable to mount an appeal in court or have visitors, including his family and Egyptian lawyer.
According to the Herald report by Fergus Hunter, Youssef's legal team has called on the Australian government to help secure his release.
Egyptian authorities allege Youssef, 45, of being affiliated with a banned political group. His lawyers have rejected the charge, saying he is not politically active and the only evidence offered by prosecutors is he "liked" a Facebook post by a presidential candidate during the 2012 election. The candidate has since been imprisoned.
"Mr Youssef is unlawfully detained in Tora Prison in a squalid cell he shares with 17 others," his lawyers, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, said in a statement.
"Detention for months on end in Tora is distressing at any time. But with COVID-19, Youssef's detention is not only unlawful, but life-threatening. There have been numerous reports of COVID-19 deaths in Tora, including three prisoner deaths in the past fortnight, and the death of a prison officer."
Human Rights Watch has called on the Egyptian government to improve medical care in the country's overcrowded prisons and contain outbreaks of the coronavirus. More than 100,000 Egyptians have contracted COVID-19 and 5,750 have died, The Sydney Morning Herald report said.
Mr Youssef's wife, Fadia, says her husband has never been a member of any political or religious group and has not voted in Egypt for over 20 years.
"Waled is my husband, my best friend and it aches every day that passes without him. We miss him every day and can't begin to comprehend life without him," she said.
"My husband is in prison for allegedly liking an innocuous Facebook post years ago. He's done nothing wrong, but he is being kept in prison where people are dying of COVID. We are terrified he will get sick and not be able to come home."
His lawyers say the ongoing detention is a violation of international law and have called for intervention from UN special rapporteurs and a working group on arbitrary detention.
They also want the Australian government to abandon "quiet diplomacy," urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne to speak out and approach their Egyptian counterparts, Fergus Hunter wrote.
Mrs Youssef said "quiet action behind the scenes has made no difference" and the Morrison government had to do more for her husband.
"Our embassy in Cairo is regularly engaging with Egyptian authorities, including to seek more regular consular access, and is continuing to follow the case very closely. Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment," a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Herald.