Egyptian activist and journalist Esraa Abdelfattah, one of the symbols of the 2011 revolution, has been released after nearly 22 months in pretrial detention, lawyer Khaled Ali said.
Ali, like Abdelfattah’s friends, posted photos online Sunday that she was released from prison.
Abdelfattah was among several prominent journalists and activists released ahead of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important holidays in the Islamic calendar.
In 2008, Abdelfattah created a Facebook page “on April 6” in favor of striking workers and to call for political reforms, at the beginning of the mobilization of mass protests leading to the grave of the president Hosni Mubarak three years later.
Abdelfattah, 43, was arrested in October 2019 on charges of “spreading false news” and “collaborating with a terrorist group.”
Her detention has sparked international condemnation, with the United States calling her “scandalous.”
Abdelfattah, who had also been jailed under Mubarak, was released a few hours after a decision surprised by the accusation of release.
She had opposed the Muslim Brotherhood when they took power in Egypt in 2012 and supported the 2013 protests that led to the removal of President Mohamed Morsi.
Under Egyptian law, pre-trial detention can be extended for up to two years.
Journalists, liberated activists
In recent months, Egyptian authorities have released detainees ahead of major Muslim holidays. Several other journalists and activists were released on Sunday, two days before Eid al-Adha.
Activist and lawyer Mahienour el-Masry, journalists Moataz Wadnan and Gamal el-Gammal, politician Abdel Nasser Ismail and journalist Mustafa el-Aasar were also released, a lawyer representing them and a judicial source said. The charges against them are still pending, the lawyer added.
Wadnan was arrested in February 2018 after his interview with former Egyptian chief of control Hesham Genena, which caused a stir after he claimed that former military chief of staff Sami Annan had documents incriminating the country’s “leadership” .
El-Aasar was also arrested in February 2018. The two journalists are accused of joining a “terrorist” group, spreading false news in separate cases.
The communiqués came after a revolt by human rights defenders when prosecutors last week referred to trial Hossam Bahgat, an Egyptian investigative journalist and human rights defender.
Bahgat said he had been accused of insulting Egypt’s electoral authorities, spreading false news accusing him of electoral fraud and using social media to commit crimes.
The allegations stem from a tweet Bahgat wrote last year accusing the president of the electoral authority of allegedly mishandling last year’s parliamentary vote, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR, the Bahgat organization founded 18 years ago.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned Bahgat’s indictment and the detention and harassment of Egyptian civil society leaders, academics and journalists under el-Sisi.
“We have communicated to the Egyptian government our strong belief that individuals like Hossam Bahgat should not be destined to peacefully express their views,” Price said last week. “As a strategic partner, we have raised these concerns with the Egyptian government, and will continue to do so going forward.”
Even last week, an Egyptian court began the trial of six secular activists and journalists, including former politician Zyad el-Elaimy, said Ali, the rights lawyer.
The six, who were arrested in 2019, are facing a series of charges, including disturbing the public peace by spreading false news about domestic affairs. The next court session is July 29, he said.
El-Elaimy and others were added by a court last year to a “terrorism list” for the next five years. The decision was confirmed last week by the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest criminal court.
Among the six was incarcerated Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, who helped establish Egypt’s subsidiary of the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel, known as the Boycott, Cession, Sanctions (BDS) ).
Shaath, the son of a former Palestinian foreign minister, was arrested in 2019 but has not been charged. His wife, a French citizen, was deported.
In recent years, the Egyptian government has carried out a large-scale crackdown on dissidents, imprisoning thousands of people, mostly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
Journalists were also targeted, with dozens of prisoners and some foreign journalists chased away. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt remains among the world’s highest prisons for journalists, along with Turkey and China.