Egyptian journalist Esraa Abdefattah is one of several journalists charged with false news and anti-state crimes following protests that included calls on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to resign.
Abdelfattah is a reporter and social media coordinator for the local independent news website Tahrir News. She is also a blogger and a freelance journalist and columnist who writes about human rights and opposition groups at the outlet and on her Twitter account.
On October 12, 2019 plainclothes security officers in unmarked vehicles forced the car that Abdelfattah was in to pull over in the Dokki neighborhood of the Greater Cairo Area, according to news reports. At the time, Abdelfattah and her friend Mohamed Salah, who is also a journalist, were driving to a cinema to meet with friends, including Solafa Magdy, a journalist who spoke with CPJ at the time.
The officers, who were armed, asked Abdelfattah to step out of the car and when she refused, they beat her and forcibly dragged her into one of their cars, according to Magdy, a Facebook post by Salah and Al-Hurra. Other officers searched Salah’s car, confiscated his laptop and took money, according to Magdy. They blindfolded him, beat him, and forced him into the second car, according to Magdy and Al-Hurra. The officers took Salah to a deserted highway in the 6th of October suburb of Greater Cairo, questioned him for an hour, took his phone’s SIM card and left him on the highway, according to Magdy and Al-Hurra.
On October 13, 2019, Abdelfattah appeared in front of a state security prosecutor with bruises and demanded a medical report to prove that she was tortured, according to a Facebook post by Salah, and Magdy. The prosecutor ignored Abdelfattah’s request, Magdy told CPJ.
Abdelfattah said at the hearing that during the 24 hours between her arrest and first hearing, security officials tortured her and barred her from contacting her family or lawyers, according to Magdy. Abdelfattah said that an officer threatened to further torture her when she refused to give up passwords to her phones. Several men entered the room and beat her on her face, back, and legs before an officer asked her again to unlock her phones. When she refused for the second time, the officer strangled her and threatened to kill her. After Abdelfattah unlocked her phone, an officer handcuffed her hands and legs for almost eight hours to prevent her from changing position. Another officer also allegedly threatened to further torture Abdelfattah if she reported her treatment to the prosecutor, according to Salah’s post, Magdy, and an account published by Amnesty International. CPJ could not independently confirm the allegations of abuse.
Pro-government media outlets such as Baladna and Akhbar al-Youm accused Abdelfattah of lying about the torture and described her as an “agent of chaos for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
As well as being a journalist, Abdelfattah is an activist and one of the founders of the April 6 opposition movement in 2008 that called for a nationwide strike to combat corruption and inflation, according to the BBC.
On October 14, 2019, the journalist was charged with membership in a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media platforms to disrupt national security, according to Magdy and news reports. Her pretrial detention has been repeatedly renewed, according to Magdy and Salah’s Facebook post.
In May 2019, a few months before her arrest, the news website that she works for—Tahrir News—was blocked in Egypt, without authorities providing a reason, the paper’s editor-in-chief told CPJ at the time. As of late 2020, it was still blocked in Egypt, CPJ found.
Since 2019, Abdelfattah has launched several hunger strikes to demand an investigation into her allegations of mistreatment and torture, according to Magdy and news reports.
On November 26, 2019, plainclothes security officers arrested Salah, Magdy, and her husband Hossam El-Sayyad, who is a freelance photojournalist, Magdy’s lawyer, Nabih el-Ganadi, told CPJ. The three journalists were blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination, the lawyer said. The following day, authorities charged all three with membership of a banned group and disseminating false news, and ordered them to be held in a 15-day pre-trial detention period, according to el-Ganadi and Twitter posts from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. In August 2020, prosecutors added charges against Salah and Magdy based on acts allegedly committed while in custody, according to local news reports.
On August 31, 2020, Abdelfattah had her first in-person hearing since March 2020 when court activity slowed due to COVID-19, according to news reports and reports by the local rights groups the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR).
At the hearing, prosecutors filed additional charges of membership in a terrorist organization and committing terrorist crimes from inside the prison, and renewed her detention, according to news reports, AFTE, and ECESR.
On March 10, 2020, the Ministry of Interior banned visitors, including family members and lawyers, from entering prisons as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19; as of August 22, visitors have been allowed on a limited basis, according to news reports. On August 24, Abdelfattah’s sister, Shaimaa Abdelfattah, visited the journalist in prison for the first time since the ban went into effect, according to the Facebook group Free Esraa and news reports.
On August 23, Abdelfattah had a nervous breakdown which caused her blood pressure to rise, and after almost passing out she was temporarily moved to the prison’s hospital, according to an Egyptian lawyer who is familiar with the case and spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, Free Esraa, and news reports. Abdelfattah’s health is otherwise stable, and she is held in Al-Qanatir Prison in Cairo, according to the lawyer and those reports.
The Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, the prison system, and the prosecutor general’s office, did not answer CPJ’s emails requesting comment about Abdelfattah in September 2020.