05.20.22

Statement On Alaa Abdel Fattah

. . . . Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY.  Last month, dozens of Egyptian political prisoners, including journalists, opposition activists, and lawmakers, were released from pretrial detention — the second group since July last year.  These individuals had been behind bars on charges of spreading fake news and collaborating with a terrorist organization – accusations that are frequently used to silence critics of the al Sisi government. 

These releases were welcome news, but thousands of other opposition figures remain behind bars for acts of free speech and association that are not crimes under international law.  One of those is Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger, software developer, and political activist who is also a British citizen, who has already spent years in prison.  He is now reportedly in his sixth week of a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions he and other prisoners are forced to endure. 

Mr. Abdel Fattah was arrested in September 2019, along with his lawyer, Mohamed El Baqer, while on a five-year probation period after his conviction for the non-crime of spreading “fake news”, requiring him to spend 12 hours of each day at a police station.  He had been released only six months earlier after spending four years behind bars.

He received a five-year sentence last December after spending more than two years in pre-trial detention.  He has reportedly been denied access to reading and writing material and has not been exposed to sunlight in months.  Visitation with a single family member is limited to a mere 20 minutes per month. 

The Egyptian Government has pointed to the lifting of the longstanding emergency law in October and the release of a new human rights strategy as evidence of progress.  Compared to nothing, that is arguably true.  But as long as people like Mr. Abdel Fattah are denied due process and treated in ways reminiscent of the Middle Ages, it is hard to take seriously Egypt’s new “human rights strategy”. 

Egypt is an important ally of the United States.  We share a common interest in a peaceful Middle East.  But on human rights we have profound differences.  I urge the Egyptian authorities to match their words with actions.  A serious human rights strategy would include repealing laws that are used to criminalize speech and association, real consequences for ignoring maximum limits on pre-trial detention, and protections of the rights of prisoners.  A good first step would be the immediate release of Mr. Abdel Fattah, who never should have been arrested in the first place.

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