Alaa Abdelfattah, a prominent blogger and activist who has written about politics and human rights violations for numerous outlets, including the independent al-Shorouk newspaper and the progressive Mada Masr news website, was re-arrested in September 2019 a few months after his conditional release from prison where he served a five-year sentence. The blogger is accused of supporting a banned group and spreading false news.
Abdelfattah had previously been detained on October 27, 2014, on charges of organizing an illegal protest and assaulting a police office, according to CPJ research. Authorities on March 29, 2019, released the journalist from prison, on condition that for five years he report daily to a police station, according to Mada Masr.
When Abdelfattah reported to Dokki Police Station in Giza on September 29, national security agency officers arrested the journalist, according to a report by Mada Masr.
The following day, a Cairo national security prosecutor ordered Abdelfattah to be held for 15 days pending trial on charges of spreading false news and supporting a banned group, according to a Facebook post by his lawyer, Fatma Serag.
Authorities also arrested one of Abdelfattah’s lawyers, Mohamed el-Baker, while the lawyer accompanied Abdelfattah during police questioning, according to news reports. The lawyer was ordered into pretrial detention for 15 days on the same charges, according to news reports. As of late 2019, the lawyer was still detained, according to another human rights lawyer, Khaled Ali.
Abdelfattah was one of several journalists included in a mass trial. As of mid-October 2019, Egypt had charged over 3,690 people with membership of a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media platforms to disrupt national security, the local legal non-governmental organization Egyptian Center for Economic & Social Rights reported.
His arrest came as the government cracked down on protests over corruption in the army and that called on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to resign, according to news reports. Abdelfattah had posted about the protests and arrests on Facebook.
Abdelfattah had also written about his probation conditions for Mada Masr and on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. His employer, Mada Masr, published editorial and video stories, including interviews with the journalist.
Abdelfattah’s original sentence was based on charges that he organized a protest against the trial of civilians in military courts on November 26, 2013, and assaulted a police officer.
Abdelfattah’s family, lawyers, and several human rights organizations told CPJ at the time that they believe the blogger was charged at least partly in retaliation for his writing about alleged human rights abuses by the police and security forces.
The prosecution submitted as evidence in the first case tweets and quotes from Abdelfattah’s writing in which he was critical of the judiciary and security forces, his family and lawyers told CPJ. State media broadcast tweets and excerpts of Abdelfattah’s articles and Facebook posts, branding them proof of his anti-state beliefs, according to news reports.
The court sentenced him to five years in prison on February 23, 2015. On November 8, 2017, a Cairo Cassation Court rejected the journalist’s appeal and upheld the sentence against him, according to news reports.
While serving his sentence, the journalist wrote a series of articles from prison, including a March 2017 article on the changing roles of bloggers and activists, and how governments jail activists like himself to create a chilling effect among those who are free.
In an October 9, 2019 Facebook post, Mona Seif, said that since her brother’s return to prison Abdelfattah has been beaten, blindfolded verbally abused, and threatened by police officers who told him he will never get out of prison if he reports the ill-treatment.
Seif told CPJ in October 2019 that between the journalist’s release from prison in March, and his re-arrest, the journalist had spent every night in custody due to the conditions of his release. Under police observation, it is left to the discretion of the officer on duty as to whether those reporting to the station spend the night in cells, or just sign in and leave. The court that ordered his release in March also prohibited the journalist from managing his financial assets and property for five years, according to news reports.
Abdelfattah is currently held in Cairo’s Tora Prison, according to his sister’s Facebook post.
As of late 2019, the Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, and the prosecutor general’s office had not answered CPJ’s emails requesting comment.