Egypt on Monday sentenced one of the country’s most prominent activists to five years in prison on charges of spreading false news, a defence lawyer said. The activist’s former attorney and another activist were sentenced in the same case, each to four years.
Alaa Abdel-Fattah was first sentenced in 2014 on charges of taking part in an unauthorized protest and allegedly assaulting a police officer. He was released in 2019 after serving a five-year term but was rearrested again later that year, in a crackdown that followed anti-government protests.
At the time, he and many others were accused of disseminating false news, misuse of social media and joining a terrorist group – a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities declared a terrorist organization in 2013.
Along with Abdel-Fattah, the Emergency State Security Court in Cairo on Monday also sentenced Abdel-Fattah’s former lawyer, Mohammed el-Baker, and fellow activist Mohamed Ibrahim, also known as Mohamed Oxygen, to four years each, on the same charges. The three were tried together.
They also separately face charges of misusing social medial and joining the Brotherhood, Eid said. It’s unclear when hearings in that case will begin.
Abdel-Fattah’s arrest and trial have drawn criticism from Western governments and international rights groups. Germany’s foreign ministry on Friday urged the Egyptian government to ensure el-Baker “receives a fair trial and is released, along with his co-defendants.”
It said this would show “where human rights situation in Egypt is heading.”
Egypt’s foreign ministry rejected the German comments as “blatant interference” in Egyptian internal affaires.
Ibrahim’s defence lawyer, Gamal Eid, said their verdicts cannot be appealed since they were tried under Egypt’s emergency laws, imposed in 2017.
The three were held in detention for more than two years, until their trial started in October. Their lawyers have complained the court did not allow them to review case documents or meet with the defendants to discuss their defence strategies, Eid said.
Egypt’s government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists but also secular activists who were involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled the country’s longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Abdel-Fattah rose to prominence following the 2011 uprising; he was detained several times for lobbying for civil rights on social media and in public. An influential blogger, he hails from a family of political activists, lawyers and writers. His late father was one of Egypt’s most tireless rights lawyers and his two sisters are also political activists. His aunt is award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
Earlier this year, Abdel-Fattah’s family and his lawyers had accused prison authorities in Cairo’s Tora prison complex of torturing him and denying him basic legal rights. They also called for prosecutors to investigate the claims.
One of his sisters, Mona Seif, confirmed Monday’s verdict, as did el-Baker’s wife.
El-Baker, who was representing Abdel-Fattah at the time, was arrested when he attended the activist’s questioning by prosecutors in September 2019.
Egypt imposed a state of emergency in April 2017, following deadly church bombings and attacks on Coptic Christians that killed more than 100 people and wounded scores. It allowed for arrests without warrants, swift prosecution of suspects and the establishment of special courts.
The state of emergency has since been extended several times. However, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced in October, when the last extension expired, that his government will no longer renew it.
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