Prominent Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was released on bail today, Sept 15, 2014, following a ruling by the Cairo Criminal Court. Two other fellow defendants Mohamed Noubi and Wael Metwally were also released.
The three were the only ones detained among 25 defendants sentenced to 15 years in absentia and a 100,000 Egyptian pound fine last June after being convicted of attacking a police officer and violating a 2013 protest law that prohibits unauthorized demonstrations. According to Mada Masr, which quoted the state-owned Ahram Gate website, they are accused of: “organizing an unauthorized protest outside the Shura Council in Cairo, attacking a police officer, stealing a walkie-talkie, hooliganism, aggression against police officers, blocking the road, crowding a public place and destruction of public property.”
In late August, Abd El Fattah began a hunger strike, days before the death of his father, prominent human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif El Islam.
After an appeal by his lawyers, Abd El Fattah was issued a retrial in August 2014. Today, the presiding judge recused himself from the case after an incident last week, in which the prosecution presented a video depicting Manal Hassan, Abd El Fattah’s wife, dancing. Taken from Hassan’s laptop, which confiscated by police when Abd El Fattah was arrested and taken from his family’s home in November of 2013, the video bears no discernible relationship with his political activities. In another twist today, the judge ordered that the aforementioned video be presented to the prosecutor general and placed under investigation for violating Abd El Fattah's privacy.
Journalist Amira Howeidy reported to her 50K followers on Twitter:
Re @alaa trial: not so rare for judges to recuse themselves. What's unusual is for judge to refer prosecutor evidence (continued)
— Amira Howeidy (@amirahoweidy) September 15, 2014
— Amira Howeidy (@amirahoweidy) September 15, 2014
Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing the birth of his first child. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial. And he now faces 15 years in prison.
Abd El Fattah has long worked on technology and political activism projects with his wife, Manal Hassan. He comes from a family of prominent human rights advocates. His father, Ahmed Seif El Islam, was jailed multiple times under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Abd El Fattah’s sisters, Mona and Sanaa Seif, have both faced censure in connection with their activism on military trials in the country. Sanaa Seif is currently behind bars, also for allegedly violating the controversial protest law.
Abd El Fattah is on his 27th day of an open-ended hunger strike, which he said would continue until his release from prison. It is not clear whether he intends to continue his hunger strike while out on bail.
According to Nervana Mahmoud, it was his hunger strike, and that of other prisoners and supporters outside prison that brought about today's turn of events.
— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) September 15, 2014
As soon as today's verdict was announced, congratulations poured in on social media. But for many, the struggle continues. On Facebook, Aida Seif Elldawla writes:
مبروك الحرية لعلاء ونوبي ووائل ومبروك الفرحة لاهاليهم وحبايبهم واصحابهم ومبروك للجدعان والجدعات اللي اضربوا واعتصموا واللي لسه هيضربوا ويعتصموا لحد الكل ما يخرج
Congratulations on the freedom of Alaa, Noubi and Wael and we congratulate their families, relatives and friends for their happiness. Congratulations to the brave men and women who went on hunger strike and who will continue to do so until all those imprisoned are released
Egyptian Mahmoud Refaat wonders why many judges are asking to be removed from trials. He tweets:
تنحي محكمة #علاء_عبد_الفتاح: يتنحى القاضي لضمان نزاهته، و ارتفاع تنحي القضاة الغير مسبوق مؤشر خطير على ضغوط السلطة التنفيذية في احكام القضاء
— Mahmoud Refaat (@drmahmoudrefaat) September 15, 2014
The judge in Alaa Abdel Fattah's case has stepped down. Judges step down to ensure the impartiality of the trial. The number of judges stepping down from cases is an unprecedented indicator of the pressure exerted by the executive branch on court judgements
And for Abdulmonen Mahmood, a former Muslim Brotherhood blogger who was also arrested during Mubarak's era, justice is far from served in Abdel Fattah's case. He tweets:
علاء حصل ع حقه متأخرا دون اي مكرمة م سلطة ولن يعوضه اي شئ عن غيابه عن رعاية والده قبل وفاته … وباقي آلوف في السجون يبحثون ع الحق ذاته
— monem منعم (@moneimpress) September 15, 2014
Alaa got his rights too late, without a gesture from the state and nothing will make up for his absence in taking car of his father in his last days … thousands remain in jail awaiting the same right
Follow Egyptian Tamer Mowafy agrees:
لسة الطريق طويل. غير كل المعتقلين ظلم اللي لازم يتحرروا من سجون الظلم، فيه بلد بحالها مطلوب تتحرر من حكم السجان
— Tamer Mowafy (@kalimakhus) September 15, 2014
The road ahead is long. In addition to all those unjustly detained who should be freed from the prisons of injustice, there is an entire country which should be liberated from the rule of the jailer
And Egyptian writer Mohamed El Dahshan laments:
سعيد ان عدة مظلومين هايباتوا مع أهاليهم النهاردة و حزين لما بافتكر عدد اللي لسه في الحبس مظلومين #مصر
— Mohamed El Dahshaن (@eldahshan) September 15, 2014
Happy that a number of oppressed people will spend the night with their families but sad when I remember the number of oppressed people still unjustly imprisoned
Meanwhile, Palestinian blogger Abir Kopty concludes:
حنكة القامع أن يجعلنا نفرح بفتات من العدالة، وعظمتنا نحن أن نبتسم ونتذكر أن معركتنا معه لم تنته ولن نقبل أقل من العدالة الكاملة.
— Abir Kopty (@AbirKopty) September 15, 2014
The oppressor's deceit makes us happy with shreds of justice, and our greatness stems from our smiles and our insistence that our battle with him are not over and we will not be content with anything other than complete justice
The sentences borne by Abd El Fattah and the 24 others are the longest yet in a string of crackdowns on freedom of expression, assembly, and opinion in the country. The controversial protest law requires citizens to obtain a state-issued license before holding a demonstration and has been used to jail other prominent activists, including outspoken human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, and April 6 movement founder Ahmed Maher. In June, three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven and ten years in prison for “reporting false news.”
Like Kopty, many human rights advocates in Egypt believe Abd El Fattah's case and others are merely political in nature, and meant to keep prominent activists behind bars while intimidating others to keep them away from the political process.