By Aya Nader
After a year in prison, activists launched a social media campaign in the early hours of Monday to free prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.
The Cairo Criminal Court gave Abdel Fattah a five-year prison sentence, in addition to an EGP 100,000 fine for “assaulting the police and illegal protesting” in the case known as the Shura Council case.
“The Shura detainees were lost in the middle of thousands of names of detainees and the constant flow of reports on human rights violations,” said Mona Seif, an activist and Abdel Fattah’s sister.
Co-defendant Ahmed Abdel Rahman, who was passing by but got arrested after defending a women against police assaults, received the same sentence as Abdel Fattah.
“Even worse, it seemed like people were getting used to the fact that Alaa and Ahmed Abdel Rahman are in prison,” Seif said.
Abdel Fattah was not among the 100 names who received a presidential pardon in September, even though several co-defendants were released in the same case.
All 25 defendants were initially sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison in June, in addition to an EGP 100,000 fine, after taking part in a demonstration in front of the Shura Council in 2013, at the same time that a Constitutional Committee meeting was adjourned.
The demonstrators were protesting Article 198 of the constitution, which allows for the military trial of civilians under certain circumstances. The protest, which the defendants described as peaceful, took place on 26 November 2013, and was organised by the “No Military Trials for Civilians” group, which was launched by Mona Seif.
However, only four of the people convicted in the case remain behind bars. Abdel Rahman Tarek and Abdel Rahman Sayyed are serving a three-year prison sentence.
Many people were not aware there are other two people imprisoned in the same case, Seif said.
The campaign soon expanded to include calling for the freedom of other imprisoned activists, including rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, who is serving one year and three months in prison. The hashtag #FreeAlaa topped Egypt’s trending list, and reached the worldwide trending list.
“[The campaign] showed that, yes, there is a spectrum of solidarity far wider than we think,” Seif believes.
Abdel Fattah, who was arrested from his place of residence, is also involved in a case for allegedly insulting the judiciary, alongside other public figures of various backgrounds.
Nicknamed “the detainee of all eras”, in 2006, Abdel Fattah was arrested under Mubarak after participating in demonstrations calling for an independent judiciary. He was detained in December 2011 during the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on charges of involvement in a “terrorist plot” during the 9 October 2011 Maspero violence incident, when the armed forces attacked a Coptic protest. In March 2013 he was arrested on charges of insulting Islam and former president Mohamed Morsi.
“We just thought we should dedicate the day to them, their voices, and… remind people of the real reason Alaa is in prison; his words and principles,” Seif said.