31st May 2022
President Abdelfattah Al-Sisi’s recently called for political dialogue, addressing the human rights situation in the country and reactivating the “Presidential Amnesty Committee”. The Committee was formed a few years ago to consider cases of political prisoners or those imprisoned because of their opinion. However, thousands of Egyptians remain arbitrarily imprisoned in Egypt due to their legitimate practice of the right to freedom of expression.
Al-Sisi’s regime enforced unprecedented restrictions on freedom of expression, press freedom, and tight censorship on social media. PEN International documented several cases of writers, poets, journalists, and bloggers who were arbitrarily arrested by the Egyptian authorities for peacefully expressing their opinions. Many of them face discriminatory treatment and extra punitive and arbitrary measures in jail, including a denial of reading and writing materials, regular in-person family visits, the opportunity to exercise outside their cells, as well as many other legal rights guaranteed to prisoners under the Egyptian law.
PEN International stresses that it is not possible to initiate a political dialogue with the Egyptian authorities while maintaining a wave of arbitrary arrests that undermines the essence of freedom of expression. Dialogue cannot be initiated in the absence of voices that can express their mind freely, without fear of reprisals. PEN International calls upon President Al-Sisi to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, ensure their right to freedom of expression, and immediately end all arbitrary and extra punitive measures against them.
PEN International documents violations against writers Ismail al-Iskandrani, Ahmed Douma, Galal El-Behairy and Alaa Abd el-Fattah imprisoned solely because of their writings and the practice of the right to freedom of expression.
Ahmed Douma is a young Egyptian poet and a prominent activist who participated in the Egyptian Uprising that overthrew the Mubarak regime in 2011. Egyptian authorities arrested Douma on several occasions under different administrations and governments. Since 2013, Douma has spent prolonged periods in arbitrary detention due to the practice of his right to freedom of expression.
In 2015, Douma faced several charges, including “illlegal assembly” and “assaulting security forces” over his participation in protests known as the “Alshoura council events” of 2011. He was handed a 25-year sentence and 17 million fines (with others) following a grossly unfair trial. The verdict was later reduced to 15 years imprisonment and 6 million Egyptian pounds, following another unfair trial.
While in prison, Douma has written about his experiences, dreams, and aspirations. He published his poetry collections “Soutak Talee” (Your voice is Head) in 2012 (Dewan Publications), and “Curly” during the 2021 Cairo International Book Fair (EL Maraya Publishing House). “Curly” was taken down by security officials who attended the book fair.
Over time, Douma’s physical and mental health have significantly deteriorated due to poor detention conditions, including his solitary confinement for over eight years. Douma suffers from severe joints, nerve and blood issues.
PEN International believes that poet Ahmed Douma has been targeted because of his political activism and opposition to the authorities and that banning his poems violates his right to freedom of expression.
For more details and extracts of Ahmed Douma’s poetry, click here.
Ismail al-Iskandrani is an award-winning writer, investigative journalist and socio-political researcher. He worked with several research centres, including the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Arab Reform Initiative, and is best known for his research and writings on militant groups operating in Egypt’s the Sinai Peninsula.
Al-Iskandrani was arrested on 29 November 2015 at Hurghada Airport upon his return from Berlin, Germany. He was arbitrarily detained for more than two years before being referred to a military trial to face trumped-up charges of “leaking military secrets”.
In May 2018, al-Iskandrani was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for ‘leaking military secrets’ and ‘membership of a terrorist group’. On 24 December 2018, an Egyptian military court upheld the 10-year prison sentence against him. He is currently held at the Mazraa (The Farm) prison in the Tora prison complex, where he is reportedly denied access to in-person visits with his family, as well as access to reading and writing materials.
PEN believes that al-Iskandrani’s detention and conviction are linked to his work, which challenges the government’s narrative on its counter-terrorism operations in the Sinai Peninsula.
For more background details, click here.
Update 27 May:
In December 2021, Alaa Abd el-Fattah claimed his British citizenship; however, the Egyptian authorities have denied Abd el-Fattah his right to a consular visit.
Following his recent family visit on 12 May, his family reported that he had been physically assaulted by a senior prison officer while trying to exercise outside his prison cell. The family also raised concerns regarding his physical safety, highlighting that he was brought to the visit in handcuffs by security that showed signs of agression.
On May 18, following intensive advocacy efforts, Egyptian authorities notified Abd el-Fattah’s family that Alaa was transferred to Wadi El- Natroun new prison complex without giving any details. His family was able to visit him later and confirmed that he continues his hunger strike and that he was able to sleep on a mattress for the first time in 3 years. The family also confirmed that he had been recently granted access to a book and writing materials.
PEN International remains gravely concerned over Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s health and renews its calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him.
Prominent blogger and writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been in arbitrary pre-trial detention at the notorious Tora Max-Security Prison II since September 2019. On 20 December 2021, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison by the Supreme State Security Court on charges of “spreading false news’ and ‘misusing social media,’ following a grossly unfair trial and solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Abd el-Fattah cannot appeal his sentence.
According to Abd el-Fattah’s family, the prison authorities have denied Alaa access to books and newspapers for almost two years, as well as the opportunity to leave his cell and exercise. These are additional punitive measures, which have a devastating impact on his mental and physical health and well-being. Authorities also assaulted his mother and sisters, abducted his younger sister Sanaa Seif and presented her to Supreme State Security Prosecution on trumped-up charges linked to her activism on behalf of her brother.
Alaa Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike since 2 April 2022, to protest against his arbitrary imprisonment and the inhuman treatment he is subjected to in prison.
PEN International is gravely concerned about Alaa Abdel Fattah’s physical and mental health and holds the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for his health and safety.
For background details, click here.
Poet, lyricist and activist Galal El-Behairy was arrested by the Egyptian authorities on 3 March 2018 on charges of “joining a terrorist group,” “disseminating false news” and “insulting the president.” This is in relation to Balaha, a song he wrote that criticises the president’s policies. El-Behairy reported being tortured and ill-treated while in detention.
He was later sentenced to 3 years in prison by a military court on charges of “disseminating false news” and “insulting the Egyptian army”. This is relation to his poetry collection The Finest Women on Earth, currently banned, which challenges the state narrative around the army and its relation to the country’s politics.
On 9 March 2022, El-Behairy ended his hunger strike, which he started on 14 February, to protest new charges being brought against him despite serving his sentence.
El-Behairy’s health condition is deteriorating; he suffers from heart issues, high blood pressure, and back and joints issues.
PEN International stresses that Galal’s El-Behairy’s pre-trial detention is arbitrary, and the ban on his poetry is a violation of his right to freedom of expression.
For more details, please click here.
PEN International calls upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release writers Ismail al-Iskandrani, Ahmed Douma, Galal El-Behairy, and Alaa Abd el-Fattah and drop all charges against them.
PEN International also urges the Egyptian government to respect its international obligations on the right to freedom of expression and bring the ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent to an end.
This is what you can do:
• Send appeals to:
Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, Office of the President,
Al Ittihadia Palace, Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt,
Fax: +202 2 391 1441
Salutation: Your Excellency
Egyptian embassies in your country. Find embassies contact here: https://www.egyptembassy.org/location/uk/
Raise awareness about Ahmad Douma, Ismail al-Iskandrani, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, and Galal El-Behairy’s cases on social media, using the following hashtags #FreeIsmail #Egypt #FreeDouma #FreeGalal , #Free_Alexandrani #FreeAlaa
Please consider electing Ahmad Douma, Ismail al-Iskandrani, Alaa Abd el-Fattah and Galal El-Behairy as honorary members of your Centre.
We further encourage you to highlight the cases of Ahmad Douma, Ismail al-Iskandrani, Alaa Abd el-Fattah and Galal El-Behairy, and the state of freedom of expression in Egypt by:
• Publishing articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press;
• Organising readings and promoting their work;
• Organising public events, press conferences and demonstrations.
Egypt has long been a country of concern to PEN International due to the mounting violations of freedom of expression and the persecution of writers and journalists. However, since President Al-Sisi seized power in 2014, the human rights situation has deteriorated significantly. Egyptian authorities routinely punish any public or perceived opposition and severely suppress the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and association, including by censoring or blocking hundreds of mainstream and independent media websites, human rights websites, and political opposition websites.
Numerous journalists, human rights defenders, activists and bloggers have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for long periods without trial and on trumped-up charges related to their work or their critical views of the government.
 See our case list over the last 11 years: https://pen-international.org/who-we-are/case-lists