Egyptian journalist Esraa Abdefattah has been detained in Cairo since October 2019. The reporter and blogger says she was beaten and threatened after her arrest, and has called for an investigation into her treatment in custody. Abdefattah is one of several journalists charged with membership in a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media platforms to disrupt national security 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, 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 Cario, 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, 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 her phone’s password. 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.
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, 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. On October 16, the state security prosecutor in Cairo ordered Abdelfattah to remain in pretrial detention for a 15-day period, which was renewed on October 23, according to Magdy and Salah’s Facebook post.
Some lawyers and pro-government media in Egypt say that national security prosecutors can repeatedly renew detention periods until a trial begins.
In May, 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 2019, it was still blocked in Egypt, CPJ found.
The journalist began a hunger strike in October 2019 to demand an investigation into her allegations of mistreatment and torture, according to Magdy and news reports. Magdy said that as a consequence of the hunger strike and the abuse she was subjected to in custody, the journalist was feeling weak.
On November 26, plainclothes security officers arrested Salah, Magdy, and her husband Hossam El-Sayyad, who is a freelance photojournalist, Magdy’s lawyer, Nabih El-Ganadi, 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.
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 about Abdelfattah’s case.
Abdelfattah was being held in al-Qanatir Prison in Cairo, Magdy told CPJ.