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.
Between late September and mid October 2019, Egypt 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 report by local rights group Freedom of Thought and Expression Law Firm (AFTE).
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 14, 2021, according to a family member who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, and a Facebook post by rights group the Regional Center for Rights and Liberties.
On November 3, 2020, 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, 2020, 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, 2020, for “inciting citizens to assembly,” but the family member told CPJ that the journalist was in custody the whole time.
Local lawyers and rights groups have noted that the Egyptian penal code allows detainees to be held in pretrial detention for a maximum period of two years, and that it is common practice for Egyptian authorities to file additional charges against detainees to extend that period, in what has become known the “revolving door policy.”
In 2021, prosecutors repeatedly extended Abd Ellah’s pretrial detention, according to the same family member.
Between March and August 2020, visits to prisons were banned by the interior ministry as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, according to news reports. Abd Ellah’s wife Fawzy was allowed to visit him in the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo after the ban was lifted, said the family member, but authorities initially refused to give him her package of food and medicine.
Abd Ellah suffers from back pain caused by sciatica and shoulder pain, the family member said in September 2021, adding that the journalist has not been treated in prison, but his wife is now able to bring him medications.
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 2021.