PEN International continues to call for the release of Blogger Alaa Abd-El Fattah, in light of the two-year anniversary of his imprisonment last week. He was sentenced to five years in prison on 23 February 2015 following a retrial, for contravening a repressive law which restricts peaceful demonstrations. PEN International believes he is imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
PEN is also concerned by recent reports that Abd El Fattah and other prisoners at Tora Prison Complex B (where Abd El Fattah is imprisoned) are not allowed to receive any books, apart from textbooks for study purposes. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that recreational and cultural activities should be provided, and that prisoners should be allowed some contact with the outside world, including by receiving correspondence from family as well as having access to newspapers, periodicals or special institutional publications. PEN believes that books and newspapers are essential for the transmission of thought and enrichment of culture and education, and calls for the authorities to allow Alaa Abd El Fattah and all other prisoners in Tora Prison Complex B to receive books and other printed materials such as magazines and newspapers.
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Send letters of appeal to the Egyptian authorities:
- Protesting the continued imprisonment of Alaa Abd El Fattah;
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Alaa Abd El Fattah, and all others held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and assembly, in accordance with Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a state party.
- Urging the authorities to allow Alaa Abd El Fattah regular exercise and access to fresh air while in prison; Urging the authorities to allow Alaa Abd El Fattah and all other prisoners in Tora Prison Complex B to receive books and other printed materials such as magazines and periodicals, newspapers and any personal correspondence, in addition to text books for study purposes, in line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,
Office of the President,
Al Ittihadia Palace,
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt,
Fax: +202 2 391 1441
Email: p.spokesman [at] op.gov [dot] eg
Moh_moussa [at] op.gov [dot] eg
Salutation: Your Excellency
Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial Minister of Justice
Mohamed Hossam Abdel Rahim
Ministry of Justice,
Fax: +202 2 795 8103
Email: mjustice [at] moj.gov [dot] eg
Salutation: Dear Minister
Please send your letters via the Embassy of the Egypt in your country. Addresses may be found here.
Spread the word
Please share details of Alaa Abd El Fattah’s case on social media. If you have a Twitter account, please consider tweeting your support with the hashtag #FreeAlaa
Send a message of support
If you would like to send a message of support to Alaa and his family please contact lianna.merner [at] pen-international [dot] org for more details.
Read and share Alaa’s work
Read Alaa’s extraordinary piece for the Guardian, written from Cairo’s Tora Prison in January 2016
‘.((strlen(‘https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/23/arab-spring-five-years-on-writers-look-back’)>40) ? substr(‘https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/23/arab-spring-five-years-on-writers-look-back’,0,40).’…’ : ‘https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/23/arab-spring-five-years-on-writers-look-back’).’‘
Alaa Abd El Fattah was one of the very first bloggers in Arabic and was the first to aggregate blogs coming out of Egypt. He has always worked for freedom of expression whether in his writing or in his work designing open-source digital software. His popular blog — established with his wife, Manal—helped spark a community of bloggers in the Arab World committed to the promotion of free speech and human rights.
He was one of the first Egyptian netizens seeking to facilitate a movement for political change in the wake of the January 2011 uprising, and he started a nation-wide people’s initiative enabling citizen collaboration in the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution. He was later among the many activists and political activists to fall foul of the controversial November 2013 law banning peaceful protest without government permission.
Following his arrest in June 2014, Abd El Fattah staged a partial hunger strike in prison, drinking only juice and other fluids. He was released on bail in 2014 having spent 115 days in prison. He was re-arrested at the resumption of his trial in October 2014 and sentenced four months later to five years in prison. He has three years still to serve. The United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its opinion delivered in June 2016 found that he was arbitrarily detained as a result of his exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and his participation in a peaceful demonstration on 26 November 2013.
Meanwhile, the authorities have sought to bring new charges against him, in relation to comments made on social media and in interviews with the press, in what appears to be an attempt to extend his detention and to deter others from speaking out.
Abd El Fattah has been gradually denied access to books, pens, and paper since his imprisonment. In response to the severe restrictions on his right to read and receive information and correspondence, the Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), brought a case to the Administrative Court (No 20107/2017). They requested a stay of the authorities’ decision to forbid Abd El Fattah to receive magazines and periodicals relating to his profession; that he be allowed to receive two daily newspapers at his own expense; and to ensure that he regularly receives his personal correspondence. It also asked the authorities to provide reasons for withholding correspondence, books and printed material. The administrative court examined the first hearing of the case on 21 February. However, according to Abd El Fattah’s aunt, renowned Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, his family was told on 27 February – at the main gate of Tora Complex B – that all books (apart from textbooks) were now generally banned for all prisoners in the Complex. Abd El Fattah’s family believes this was in response to a statement the family published on the two-year anniversary of his imprisonment on 23 February 2017, which referenced the lawsuit.
PEN believes that prisoners should be able to receive reading materials including books and newspapers. Books and newspapers are essential for the transmission of thought and enrichment of culture and education. Writers that PEN has campaigned on behalf of have written moving messages on the important role books play in detention.
PEN Centres have been actively campaigning on behalf of Abd El Fattah. Abd El Fattah is an Honorary Member of Austrian PEN. English PEN will be highlighting his case at the English PEN Modern Literature Festival where poet Mischa Foster Poole will perform a new piece in his honour.
PEN’s work on Egypt
The climate for free expression in Egypt has deteriorated sharply in recent years. PEN passed a Resolution on Egypt at its 82nd World Congress and noted with concern the rise in the number of writers and journalists who have been detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including during journalistic, artistic, or human rights work. For example, in January 2016, the poet Fatima Naoot was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of ‘contempt of Islam’ and ‘disturbing public peace’ for a comment made on Facebook criticising a traditional Islamic celebration. In November 2016, an appeals court reduced and suspended the three-year prison sentence to six months. Naoot is appealing the decision as the suspension does not mean she has been acquitted of the charges.
PEN has also campaigned on the case of journalist and novelist Ahmed Naji, who was sentenced to two years in prison in February 2016 for ‘violating public modesty’ in relation to the publication of excerpts from his 2014 novel Istikhdam al-Haya (The Use of Life). On 18 December 2016, a Court suspended Naji’s sentence pending his appeal, which has now been scheduled for 2 April 2017.
Internationally acclaimed poet Omar Hazek was banned from leaving Egypt in January 2016 to accept an Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. In early February 2017, Hazek was detained alongside fellow activists and questioned for five hours, before being released.
PEN continues to call for the Egyptian authorities to protect the rights of all Egyptians to freely express their views, whether as citizens, journalists, or writers, as protected under the Egyptian Constitution and as per Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).