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Middle east

Political dissident Ayman Nur released on health grounds

Video by Luke BROWN

Latest update : 2009-02-19

Egyptian authorities have freed the country's most famous political dissident, Ayman Nur, for health reasons, a judicial official said on Wednesday. Nur formed a political party to challenge Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2005.

AFP - Egypt's public prosecutor has freed the country's best-known political dissident, Ayman Nur, on health grounds, a judicial official told AFP on Wednesday.

"The public prosecutor decided to free Ayman Nur for health reasons," the official said, requesting anonymity.

A security official said Nur, a 44-year-old diabetic, was already at his Cairo home with his wife Gamila, who has fought relentlessly for his release.

Nur, a lawyer, mounted an unprecedented challenge against veteran President Hosni Mubarak during the 2005 presidential election before being jailed on forgery charges many saw as trumped up.

Washington had been sharply critical of Nur's arrest and detention and repeatedly called for his release, although US criticism of the case that raised tensions with its key regional ally has died off in recent months.

Nur came a distant second against Mubarak, in power since 1981, and was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of forging affidavits needed to set up his political party.

In an interview from jail last year, Nur told AFP he had gone from being a victim of "political assassination" to being subjected to "physical destruction", saying the regime wanted him to die behind bars.

In May, Nur was forbidden from publishing newspaper articles from his jail cell. He was already barred from receiving or sending letters, a move his wife described as showing "a determination to deny him every right as a prisoner."

Nur, a softly-spoken politician who could bring cheering crowds to their feet, formed his political party Ghad (Tomorrow) in October 2004 with a view to contesting the presidential election the following year.

But he was swiftly stripped of his parliamentary immunity and charged with forging affidavits needed to set up his party.

His January 2005 arrest prompted then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to cancel a trip to Egypt in protest, and US pressure eventually obtained Nur's release on bail in March, allowing him to run for the September 2005 presidential election.

He staged a bold campaign on a liberal platform which attracted supporters across the country, and was seen as a viable alternative to the ruling party's own liberal wing, dominated by Mubarak's son Gamal.

In December 2005, three months after the election in which he came in a distant second, he was sentenced to five years in prison for fraud.

Nur began his political career in the liberal Wafd party, where he quickly earned a reputation as a wheeler dealer and a social climber, head of the Wafd Mahmud Abaza told AFP.

In Egypt, his political energy earned him wide support, but also scepticism over his credentials, and the source of his wealth.

The father of two, who lives in a wealthy Cairo neighbourhood, studied law in Moscow.

His wife Gamila, a former Newsweek correspondent, mounted an active campaign for his release on medical grounds, after reporting a speedy decline of his health.
 

Date created : 2009-02-18

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