Sayed Abd Ellah, a freelance photographer and commentator, is one of several journalists detained pending a mass trial in which thousands of people were charged with false news and anti-state crimes.
As of mid-October 2019, Egypt had charged over 3,690 people with membership in a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media platforms to disrupt national security, the local non-governmental organization Egyptian Center for Economic & Social Rights reported. He was arrested after covering a government crackdown on protests against army corruption, which included calls on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to resign, according to news reports.
Abd Ellah covers corruption, politics, and labor movements. He was previously the bureau chief of the local independent news outlet al-Badil, according to a local news report.
Police arrested Abd Ellah on September 22, 2019, at his house in Suez, while he was broadcasting on Facebook live footage of protests from his balcony, according to a video that his wife, Omnia Fawzy, uploaded to YouTube and news reports.
The journalist’s wife said in her video that police insulted her husband because of his posts on social media, kicked her and their children, and searched their house.
Abd Ellah is charged with membership in a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media platforms to disrupt national security, according to a Facebook post by press freedom advocate Khaled el-Balshy.
On September 22, 2019, the state security prosecutor in Suez ordered Abd Ellah to remain in pretrial detention for 15 days, according to a Facebook post by el-Balshy. More recently, prosecutors have repeatedly extended Abd Ellah’s pretrial detention period by 45 days including on July 29, and September 13, according to a family member who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. On November 3, a terrorism court in Cairo ordered the release of at least 300 people held in pretrial detention, including Abd Ellah, without specifying the reason for the release, according to news reports. But on November 29, prosecutors added another charge — membership in a terrorism group — and prolonged Abd Ellah’s pretrial detention by two weeks, reports said. According to the reports, a police report claimed Abd Ellah was freed after the November 3 order and rearrested in Suez on November 28 for “inciting citizens to assembly,” but the family member told CPJ that the journalist was in custody the whole time.
Abd Ellah has spent most of his imprisonment in the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo, but was temporarily placed into police custody after his release order, which has since been revoked, according to the same family member. As of late 2020, the family member did not know where Abd Ellah was held.
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 September 26, Fawzy, Abd Ellah’s wife, visited her husband for the first time since the ban was imposed, the family member said. During that visit, authorities refused to deliver Fawzy’s package for her husband containing food and medicine, the family member said. Abd Ellah suffers from constant back pain caused by sciatica, the family member said, adding that the journalist has not been treated in prison.
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 on Abd Ellah in September 2020.