Several activists and rights groups launched social media campaigns calling for the release of detained Egyptian-American Aya Hegazy, who on Monday marked her 900th day in pre-trial detention in Egypt.
Hegazy was arrested more than two years ago when security forces raided her “Belady” foundation without a warrant from the prosecution. She was arrested along with her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, and six other volunteers on charges that include sex trafficking and child abuse. “Belady” was founded on 2013 as a rehabilitation programme for street children.
Hegazy’s sister, Alaa, wrote to the Washington Post saying initially her family didn’t want the United States (US) to intervene in the case due to their understanding of the delicate balance of US-Egyptian relations and decided it best to work with human rights organisations in Egypt.
However, and after two and a half years in detention, Alaa said that the only hope they have now is the US government’s sustained pressure on the Egyptian authorities. She added that this pressure had previously succeeded to free American citizens who were detained in Iraq, Egypt, and other countries, “and it must succeed again”.
Alaa added in her article: “Every time we get media coverage or someone important takes note of our case, I think about the thousands of people who are similarly imprisoned unjustly but who may not have the same avenues to make their voices heard. I feel overwhelming guilt about the futility of their cases. Then I remember that throughout history, persecuted individuals have often carried the burden of screaming the loudest to get the grease.”
She concluded her article by saying that Egypt’s paranoia concerning possible western interference resulted in her sister’s imprisonment and that the American government should help free her.
The Guardian also spoke to Alaa, who informed the British news agency that her sister took her imprisonment in the first year and half with grace; however, she has started to lose hope.
Earlier in September, the White House called on Egypt to release Hegazy. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded to the White House’s demand by saying that it is an explicit intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs. Furthermore, during President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to the United Nations general assembly in New York that same month, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also called for Hegazy’s release.
The US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called on Egypt to release Hegazy immediately after the latter spent 900 days in pre-trial detention.
Hegazy’s detention is in violation of Egypt’s penal code, stipulating that the defendant should not exceed two years in pre-trial detention.