Alaa Abdel Fattah arrest prompts outcry from human rights groups

Aaron T. Rose
5 Min Read
Prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. (Photo By Aaron T.Rose\DNE File)
Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah (Photo By Aaron T.Rose\DNE File)
Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah
(Photo By Aaron T.Rose\DNE File)

Rights groups have called for the immediate and unconditional release of detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was arrested during a police raid on his home on Thursday night.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued an “urgent” press brief late on Friday night, calling on Egyptian authorities to release Revolutionary Front founding member Abdel Fattah and 24 other activists being held in detention.  The group warned that the prominent blogger is at an increased risk of being tortured.

The Amnesty International statement also demanded that pending their release, detainees be given access to their legal representation, allowed to see their families, and administered any necessary medical care.

Attorney Mahmoud Belal, a member of Abdel Fattah’s legal team, said authorities have limited the contact the activist has been allowed with his family and lawyers.

“They permitted [Abdel Fattah’s] wife and sister and two of his lawyers to see him [on Friday], but prevented the rest of his lawyers and his mother from visiting him,” said Belal.

Abdel Fattah was beaten by police while being arrested, said Belal, but he did not show any additional signs of physical torture when visited by his family and legal team on Friday.  He was, however, blindfolded and his hands were cuffed behind his back.

The exact location where Abdel Fattah is being held has not been disclosed, but his sister, activist Mona Seif, said that he is being detained at the Central Security Forces barracks know as “Kilo 10.5” on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, which is “not an official place of detention,” according to Amnesty International.

Abdel Fattah reportedly faces charges of rallying, “thuggery,” inciting violence, resisting authorities and violating the Protest Law.  Belal said that Abdel Fattah is also accused of assaulting a security officer and stealing his two-way radio.  Abdel Fattah denies all charges.

The arrest of Abdel Fattah and other activists is endemic of a wider attack on personal freedoms in Egypt, said Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai.

“All this is to be seen against the background of the new Protest Law, and the crackdown that’s been going on for three or four months now,” said Alrifai.  “There’s zero sense of accountability [by the government].  There’s zero sense that this is wrong.  There’s zero sense that ‘we should not be doing this in the new Egypt.’”

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), too, decried Abdel Fattah’s arrest, describing it as “a continuation of violations of the Egyptian police, and aggression against the most basic rights of citizens.”

Abdel Fattah’s arrest came after he was accused of organising a protest outside the Shura Council last Tuesday decrying military trials for civilians in the new constitution. The protest failed to comply with the newly-passed and highly controversial Protest Law; its organisers did not formally notify the authorities of the planned protest three working days in advance as the law stipulates.

Ahmed Maher, founder of the 6 April movement, also faces charges for organising the protest.  Maher turned himself in at the Qasr Al-Nil prosecutors’ office on Saturday afternoon.

The political activist was arrested from his home at around 10pm on Thursday. His wife reported through twitter that security forces broke into their house, beat her and her husband, arrested Abdel Fattah and confiscated both of their laptops and mobile phones. Seif tweeted that the police refused to provide a warrant from the prosecution for arresting Abdel Fattah from his home and confiscating his electronic devices.

Abdel Fattah has often faced jail time in the past.  In 2006, he was arrested under Mubarak after demonstrating for an independent judiciary.  He was detained for two months in 2011 under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for allegedly assaulting soldiers during the attacks carried out by army forces against a predominantly Coptic protest outside the Maspero building in October 2011.  And in March of this year he was arrested on charges of insulting Islam and former President Mohamed Morsi.

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Aaron T. Rose is an American journalist in Cairo. Follow him on Twitter: @Aaron_T_Rose