Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for an independent international investigation following the deaths of two prominent journalists from Egypt and Saudi Arabia shortly after their sudden release from prison.
RSF has both countries to free all detained journalists "to avoid a catastrophe before it is too late" after the death of Egypt's Mohamed Monir and Saudi Arabia's Saleh al-Shehi died on July 13 and July 19 respectively.
"The deaths of Mohamed Monir and Saleh al-Shehi during the pandemic speak to the urgency of releasing journalists so that they avoid a tragic fate," said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF's Middle East desk.
"With just two days to go to Eid, we urge the Egyptian and Saudi authorities to use this occasion to rescue journalists from overcrowded prisons. Let's avoid a catastrophe before it is too late."
Monir was arrested after an interview on Al Jazeera – which is banned in Egypt – and charged with "spreading fake news" and "participating in a terrorist group".
Monir had shown symptoms of the coronavirus disease while in prison, according to his daughter, and was subjected to medical examination and multiple COVID-19 tests before he was finally declared positive on July 8 – almost a week after he was released.
Al-Shehi was hospitalised less than a month after his release from prison on May 19.
He was serving a five-year sentence on the charge of "insulting the royal court" for talking about corruption within Saudi Arabia's ruling elite.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are currently the world's biggest jailers of journalists after China.
RSF has identified 30 detained journalists in Egypt and 33 in Saudi Arabia.
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Saudi Arabia is ranked 170th.