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Egypt: Jailing Filmmaker and activist Saana Seif reveals the government’s determination to crush freedom of expression

Monday 22 March 2021 - 4:54pm

Sanaa Seif

PEN International condemns the sentencing of filmmaker and activist Sanaa Seif to 18 months in jail after she was found guilty on trumped-up charges of disseminating “false news”, “misusing social media”, and “insulting an on-duty police officer”. The verdict is yet another blow to freedom of expression in Egypt and raises more concerns regarding the judicial system's impartiality. It comes just a few days after the strong condemnation by 31 member states at the UN Human Rights Council of the country’s deteriorating human rights situation, demonstrating the government relentless efforts to punish any criticism of their appalling human rights record. The Egyptian authorities must immediately release Sanaa Seif, drop all charges against her, and bring those who assaulted her and her family to justice.

Seif has been in prison since June 2020 for her peaceful activism on behalf of her arbitrarily detained brother, blogger and prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. Between March and August 2020, the Egyptian government suspended prison visits over fears of the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the government failed to provide families with an alternative way to communicate with their imprisoned family members.

In June, Alaa’s family requested a letter from Alaa in order to check on his health condition; however, their requests were repeatedly denied by the authorities. On 22 June, Sanaa Seif joined her older sister, prominent activist Mona Seif, and mother, Dr Laila Soueif, outside Tora Prison Complex in Cairo, where they were expecting to receive a letter from Alaa. The family reported that they were assaulted, beaten with sticks, dragged to the ground and robbed by a group of women in plainclothes. Images of the injuries sustained in the attack were shared on social media. On 23 June, Seif was abducted by unidentified men from outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office, where she and her family had gone to file a complaint about the assault that they had suffered. Later, Sanaa Seif was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, where she was accused of unfounded charges including ‘disseminating false news,’ ‘propagating terrorist ideas,’ and ‘misuse of social media.’ In August 2020, she faced an additional charge of ‘insulting an on-duty police officer.’ The authorities failed to open an investigation into the assault on the Seif family.

PEN International demands the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Sanaa Seif, drop all charges against her, and bring those who assaulted her and her family to justice.

Furthermore, PEN urges the Egyptian government to respect its international obligations on the right to freedom of expression enshrined in its constitution and bring its ongoing crackdown against peaceful critics to an end.

For more information, please contact Mina Thabet, MENA Programme 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. It is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies the 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 that 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