It is with a heavy heart that Access reports that Egyptian longtime human rights activist Alaa Abd El Fattah has been jailed and sentenced to 15 years in prison today, along with 24 other activists.
Alaa was charged last November with leading a demonstration which protested the ever-increasing assault on the liberties of the Egyptian people, including a new law that effectively banned public demonstrations.
At the sentencing on June 10, he and fellow defendants were prevented from entering the courtroom for the trial and then tried in absentia before subsequently being arrested and taken to prison. Alaa’s lawyers and family members believe that the group was refused entry so officials could deem them fugitives and uncooperative, allowing them license to treat the defendants harshly.
This sentencing was issued just two days after former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office as President, and almost a year after he lead the ousting of Egypt’s first freely elected President Mohamed Morsi. The results of this election, in which Sissi received 92% of the vote, have been heavily questioned. At his inaugural address on Sunday, Sissi declared that freedoms must be limited by “religious and moral principles” and that he would have zero tolerance for anyone who seeks to “disrupt our march toward the future.” These statements, coming so quickly after the discovery that Egypt is seeking the help of international companies to assist in the building of a real-time social monitoring system to identify dissent, presents a deeply troubling and emerging pattern.
Many Egyptians see this verdict as a warning to anyone thinking of protesting the new regimes activities: Alaa’s lawyer remarked “I haven’t seen this kind of ruling before. It’s not legal and confirms the retaliatory nature of the case.”
While sources report that Alaa and others that received sentences in absentia are due an automatic retrial, at the moment the verdict stands. He remains in prison, and faces a 100,000 EGP fine (approximately $14,000 USD).
Alaa is a longtime friend of Access, and gave a keynote at our 2011 RightsCon Silicon Valley Conference (available here). Alaa was also scheduled to speak at RightsCon Silicon Valley 2013, but was unable to attend because he was imprisoned by the Morsi regime at Tora Prison. Instead, he sent a letter through his sister Mona, which declared: “It is not only impossible to live life fully under oppression, it is also dangerous and futile to pretend one can. I can only live here as a prisoner.”
Access will continue to fight alongside our partners against the continued erosion of the Egyptian people’s rights, and we denounce the sham trial that Alaa and his fellow activists received.