External release: family of imprisoned Egyptian human rights activist Alaa Abd El Fattah
— FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE —
Sanaa Seif arrested in front of Prosecutor General’s office by plainclothes security forces
June 23, 2020 — Sanaa Seif, the youngest sister of imprisoned activist and software blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, was abducted by plainclothes security forces in front of the Prosecutor General’s office in the Rehab district of Cairo on Tuesday afternoon, where she had arrived to file a complaint as a victim of an organised assault and robbery that had taken place in front of the Tora prison complex the day before.
Sanaa arrived outside the prosecutor general’s office at approximately 2pm on Tuesday. Security officials in plainclothes stopped her and her lawyer at the door of the building and asked for her national ID card. Once her identity had been established, they pushed away her lawyer and forced Sanaa into an unmarked microbus and drove away, followed by three unmarked cars. She appeared an hour and a half later at the State Security Prosecution, according to her lawyer, Khaled Ali. It remains unclear what charges she faces.
Sanaa, her mother, Laila Soueif, and her sister, Mona Seif, had gone to the Prosecutor General’s office in the company of their lawyers to file a complaint regarding the attack on Monday outside Tora. The three women had been going to Tora every day for several days in order to receive a letter from Alaa that prison officials had promised they would pass to them.
Since March 12th all prisoners in Egypt have had family and lawyers’ visits suspended due to coronavirus restrictions. But in recent weeks, communication by letter has been allowed — though not for Alaa, who has only been allowed two correspondences in three months: one, a short note on May 18 informing his family he was ending a hunger strike he had launched after he and other defendants were prevented from attending detention renewal hearings. The other, an equally short message on June 6th.
For several days leading up to the assault, prison authorities were promising a letter would be delivered. Each day, Laila Soueif would return to the prison gates, and no letter would appear. On Saturday, after being forcibly removed from the usual waiting area, Laila decided she would not go home, and would sleep outside the prison gates. On Sunday night her daughters, Mona and Sanaa, joined her. They all slept on the pavement outside the prison, then at dawn were attacked by a group of women in plainclothes. They beat them with sticks, dragged them by their hair and stole their belongings in plain view of security officials standing outside the prison. The family later published photos online showing severe bruising on Sanaa’s body. They were monitoring closely for signs of concussion.
“The only reason Sanaa came with us today is for prosecutors to see the bruises on her body, as evidence of the attack yesterday,” Mona said.
“The prosecutor knows the threats and abuse that Alaa and our family have faced…Instead of receiving her as a victim of beating and assault carried out under the direction of the Ministry of Interior and state security, and documenting her wounds, the public prosecutor is complicit in handing her over to to the agencies responsible for the violence against her,” Mona said in a live stream about an hour after the abduction.
“Remember, Sanaa was beaten, including with a stick, dragged on the floor, robbed, and verbally abused in the open, in front of security forces at Tora prison yesterday. Imagine the danger she is now in,” Mona said. “And imagine the danger that Alaa and the other prisoners who we know nothing about are also in. My mother and I will not leave the prosecutor’s office until Sanaa is brought here.”
Alaa Abd El Fattah is one of Egypt’s best known activists and political thinkers, though he has been imprisoned for the vast majority of the years since Abdel Fattah el Sisi came to power. He is one of thousands of Egyptians currently in prison on remand. He was arrested in September 2019, as part of the “September wave” of arrests following small protests instigated by the whistleblower, Mohamed Ali.