PEN International strongly condemns the relentless persecution of prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdelfattah by arbitrarily detaining and subjecting him to discriminatory and punitive treatment, including denying access to books and newspapers. PEN International is gravely concerned by reports of Alaa Abdelfattah’s health and mental well-being following a recent statement by his family, suggesting he has become suicidal due to the inhumane conditions of his detention. Today marks two years since authorities arrested him, reaching the maximum limit of pre-trail detention.
PEN International calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Alaa Abdelfattah and drop all charges against him, ensure his mental and physical well-being, and facilitate his communication with family and lawyers pending release. PEN also urges the Egyptian authorities to open an independent investigation into Alaa Abdelfattah’s allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and the discriminatory and punitive treatment he is facing. It also demands that prison authorities immediately allow Alaa Abdelfattah access to books and newspapers, pending his release.
On 14 September 2021, Alaa Abdelfattah’s family expressed their grave concern for his life after he indicated reaching breaking point due to inhumane detention conditions. According to the family’s statement, two days earlier, Alaa’s mother, Laila Soueif, went to the Tora prison complex to deliver regular supplies and exchange letters, a weekly routine the family established following the imprisonment of his younger sister Sanaa Seif in June 2020. However, officers told her that there was no letter from her son without providing any explanation. The next day, Alaa was to appear in court for a review of his pre-trial detention, however he was not allowed to attend the review session and his detention was extended. His lawyers insisted on seeing him, so he was brought before the judge. He told his lawyers and the judge about the constant discriminatory treatment and the extra-punitive measures against him, which is taking a considerable toll on his mental well-being.
Alaa Abdelfattah has been in arbitrary pre-trial detention at the notorious Tora Max-Security Prison II (the Scorpion) since September 2019, facing trumped-up charges including ‘joining an illegal organisation’, ‘spreading false news’, and ‘misusing social media.’ According to his family, the prison authorities have denied him access to books and newspapers for almost two years. Prison authorities are not allowing him to leave his cell, preventing any form of physical exercise. Such extra-punitive measures are having a devastating impact on Alaa’s mental and physical well-being.
The Egyptian law 369/1956 treats individuals who are being held in pre-trial detention differently from those who have been convicted, separating them from convicted inmates, allowing them a cell in which they can purchase their own furniture, buy or receive their own food, and wear their own clothes. The law also states that all prisoners are encouraged to use the prison library and allows them to access their own books, magazines, and newspapers. Moreover, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that all prisoners should be allowed access to books, newspapers, periodicals or specialist publications as well as some contact with the outside world, including by receiving correspondence from family. It also stresses the right of prisoners to have at least one hour of suitable daily exercise in open-air, the weather permiting.
Before his arrest in 2019, Alaa Abdelfattah spent months under strict probation conditions after serving an unjust five-year sentence for violating the Protest Law, which PEN has previously campaigned against. According to an info graph by Mada Masr, an independent news service, Alaa has spent about two-thirds of the last ten years in prison. In June 2020, Egyptian security services assaulted his mother and younger sisters, abducted Sanaa Seif, Alaa’s youngest sister, and presented her to Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) on bogus charges due to her activism on behalf of her brother. PEN previously campaigned for Sanaa’s release and condemned the 18-month unjust sentence she received in March 2021.
Despite President Sisi’s recent denial of human rights abuses and his announcement of the first national human rights strategy, the relentless persecution of Alaa Abdelfattah and his family members stands as clear evidence of the State’s determination to crush freedom of expression and punish any criticism of Egypts’s appalling human rights record.
Egyptian authorities must adhere to its international obligations to respect freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the ICCPR and immediately end its crackdown on Egyptian activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders.
For more information, please contact Mina Thabet, MENA Regional Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org
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PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088