The imprisonment of prominent Egyptian blogger and rights activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, weeks after his release on bail pending a retrial for contravening a regressive law on protests is a deeply disturbing development, PEN International, the world association of writers, said today. The organization called for his release and for all charges relating to his peaceful protest activities to be dropped.
Abdel Fattah was arrested at the start of his retrial a day after his 20-year-old sister Sanaa Seif was handed down a three-year sentence in a separate case.
‘This is yet another sign that Egyptian authorities will not tolerate anyone who challenges or opposes them. Protesting peacefully is not a crime. Egypt must release all those held simply for their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and assembly‘ said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
Abdel Fattah was convicted under a highly restrictive protest law passed in November 2013 which prohibits unauthorised peaceful protest, of ‘organising an illegal protest, rioting, destruction of public property and using violence against the security forces’ in connection with a peaceful protest against military trials held outside the Shoura Council.
Abdel Fattah had been released on bail along with two co-defendants on 15 September 2014 after their June 2014 convictions and 15-year prison sentences were overturned. His November 2013 arrest was part of a crackdown in dissent which has seen dozens of activists and political organisers sent to prison.
An advocate for freedom of expression, Alaa Abd El Fattah became one of the first Egyptian netizens facilitating a movement for political change. Following the 25 January 2011 uprising, he started a nation-wide people’s initiative enabling citizen collaboration in the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution.
His widely read blog — established with his wife, Manal—helped spark a community of bloggers in the Arab World committed to the promotion of free speech and human rights. It won the Reporters Without Borders award at the 2005 Bobs. Their ground-breaking website, Omraneya, collected blog entries across the Arab World, archiving dissent in the face of repression, and became a platform for oppressed voices and alternative expression.
Following the 2011 uprising he initiated and hosted Tweet-Nadwas (“Tweet-Symposiums”), that brought activists and bloggers from across the world into Tahrir Square, to participate in open format dialogue about tough issues ranging from Islamism to Economic Reform.