Alaa Abdel Fattah by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Alaa Abdel Fattah

 

Today, thousands of Egyptians are behind bars, in contravention of their right to freedom of expression. Addressing the human rights situation in Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently called for political dialogue and reactivating the Presidential Amnesty Committee. This was formed a few years ago to consider the cases of political prisoners and those imprisoned for expressing their opinions.

However, al-Sisi’s regime continues to restrict free expression and the press, and also censors posts on social media. PEN has documented numerous cases of writers, poets, journalists and bloggers being arrested by the Egyptian authorities for peacefully expressing their opinions. One such is the poet Ahmed Douma, about whom I wrote in these pages just two months ago. Many political prisoners face discriminatory treatment and additional punitive measures in prison, including the denial of reading and writing materials, regular in-person family visits, the opportunity to exercise outside their cells and other legal rights guaranteed under Egyptian law. While arbitrary arrests continue and writers, journalists and activists live in fear of reprisals if they express their minds freely, any talk of political dialogue is meaningless.

Alaa Abdel Fattah (LR, Feb 2018), a prominent Egyptian blogger and pro-democracy activist, has suffered repeated persecution by the authorities. From 2014 to 2019, Fattah served a five-year sentence in Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison effectively for having participated in peaceful demonstrations opposing the trial of civilians in military courts. He was released on probation in March 2019. Six months later, Fattah was in prison once again, having been accused of joining protests against government corruption that included calls for the president’s resignation (Fattah was one of two thousand people detained on this occasion). He was held in pretrial detention in the maximum-security wing of Tora Prison. On 20 December 2021, he was given another five-year prison sentence by the Supreme State Security Court on charges of ‘spreading false news’ and ‘misusing social media’ following a grossly unfair trial. Fattah cannot appeal against his sentence.

According to Fattah’s family, the prison authorities denied him access to books and newspapers for almost two years, as well as the opportunity to leave his cell and exercise. This has had a devastating impact on his mental and physical health. Furthermore, Fattah’s mother and sisters have been assaulted with the connivance of the security forces. One of his sisters, Sanaa Seif, was arrested in June 2020 while protesting against crowded and unsanitary conditions in Egypt’s prisons and charged with disseminating ‘false news on the deterioration of the country’s health situation, and the spread of the coronavirus in prison’. She was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in May 2021.

Fattah went on hunger strike on 2 April to protest against his imprisonment and the inhuman treatment he has been subjected to in prison. Following a visit on 12 May, his family reported that he had been physically assaulted by a senior prison officer while trying to exercise outside his cell. The family also raised concerns regarding his physical safety, reporting that he was brought to them handcuffed by security guards, who displayed signs of aggression towards him.

On 18 May, following rigorous advocacy, Fattah was transferred to the new prison complex at Wadi El-Natroun. His family was able to visit him and confirmed that he has been allowed to sleep on a mattress for the first time in three years and been granted access to a book and writing materials. At the time of writing, Fattah is continuing his hunger strike.

In December 2021, Fattah, together with his sisters Mona and Sanaa, gained UK citizenship through their mother, Laila Soueif, an academic who was born in London in 1956. (His aunt is the award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif.) They had hoped this might help secure his freedom. However, the Egyptian authorities have so far denied Fattah his right to a consular visit.

Readers might like to send appeals to the Egyptian authorities expressing grave concern about Alaa Abdel Fattah’s physical and mental health, protesting against his continued imprisonment, in violation of his right to peaceful freedom of expression and assembly, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Appeals to be addressed to:

His Excellency Mohamed Ashraf M Kamal Elkholy
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
26 South Street
London W1K 1DW
Fax: +44 20 7491 1542
Email: eg.emb_london@mfa.gov.eg

His Excellency President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Office of the President
Al Ittihadiya Palace
Cairo
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202 2 391 1441
Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg / Moh_moussa@op.gov.eg

Omar Marwan
Ministry of Justice
Lazoghly Square
Cairo
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202 2 795 8103
Email: mjustice@moj.gov.eg

Raise awareness about Fattah’s case on social media with the hashtag #FreeAlaa

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