Key Figure in Egypt's 2011 Uprising Gets Prison Time, in Final Days of 'Emergency' Court

Prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years for spreading fake news. President Sissi announced the end of the state of emergency in October, but special court continues operating

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Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah at his home in Cairo, in 2019.
Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah at his home in Cairo, in 2019.Credit: Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

Prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday, a judicial source said, after being tried on charges of spreading fake news.

Blogger Mohamed Ibrahim and lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, who faced the same charges, were sentenced to four years.

The three have been detained since September 2019, exceeding the two-year limit the Egyptian law allows for pre-trial detention.

Abdel Fattah, a leading activist in the 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power, had previously been imprisoned for five years.

His sister, Sanaa Seif, was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in March on similar charges after calling for prisoners to be freed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ruling by the Emergency State Security Court can't be appealed.

The court operates by force of a national state of emergency that has been in effect since 2017, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi announced in October would not be extended. That means authorities can't take any new cases to the emergency court.

Rights groups have criticized Egypt's use of the special court particularly to target activists and political opponents, and Amnesty International reported at least 20 prominent lawyers and activists were tried under emergency laws in the three months prior to Sissi's announcement.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said ahead of Monday's hearing: "The government’s rush to use emergency courts before declaring the end to the state of emergency, after holding people illegally for years in pretrial detention, confirms that fierce repression of peaceful critics remains the order of the day in Egypt."

Abdel Fattah's family has complained about the conditions of his detention.

"He is denied access to books, a radio, a watch, and he is banned from walking (outside his prison cell). He does not leave his prison cell at all except of when we visit him or if he is going to prosecution or court," Abdel Fattah's mother Leila Soueif said before the hearing.

Since 2013, when then-army chief Sissi ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, there has been a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent in Egypt, drawing criticism from human rights groups. Rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been jailed.

Sissi, president since 2014, says security and stability are paramount and denies there are political prisoners in Egypt.

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