Six people, including well-known political activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, were released from prison in Egypt on the eve of the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha. Others released on Sunday, July 18, include human rights lawyer Mahienour el-Masry; journalists Mostafa al-Asar, Moataz Wadnan and Gamal al-Gammal; and deputy head of the Socialist People’s Alliance Party Abdel Nasser Ismail. The six political detainees were released over the last two days as a gesture from the government in the lead-up to the Islamic holidays. They were being held in pre-trial detention, which comes with a legal limit of two years beyond which the government cannot keep them in custody.
According to news reports, Abdel Fattah spent 22 months in detention, Wadnan and Asar were detained for more than 40 months, Masry and Nasser for more than 20 months, and Gammal for four months. Several of them were arrested in the context of the crackdown on protests organized against the far-right government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in September 2019.
Ahmed Ragheb, one of the lawyer’s representing Abdel Fattah, in a statement following the release said, “I spoke to her, she is doing very well. Her spirits are high, and she is surely very happy with this decision.” Another lawyer representing Abdel Fattah, Khaled Ali, along with several of her friends, also published photos of Abdel Fattah on social media after her release. Lawyers for the six also indicated that charges against them are still pending and under investigation by the authorities.
The released detainees had been slapped with a wide range of politically motivated charges such as “joining a terrorist group,” “spreading false news” and “misusing social media”. But according to human rights groups and activists, they and thousands of others have been persecuted by the Sisi regime as well as previous dictatorial governments like the one headed by ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak for demanding democratic change and other reforms. Esraa, widely regarded in the country as one of the most visible, active figures of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, had for example been arrested previously under Mubarak’s reign. She was instrumental in the overthrow of Mubarak after she created the “April 6” Facebook page to organize and mobilize support for workers that were on strike demanding political reforms which later led to sustained, nationwide mass protests demanding an end to the dictatorship.
The Egyptian government in its attempt to stay in power has unleashed a sustained campaign against critics, opposition figures and dissidents which has resulted in the imprisonment of close to 60,000 Egyptians since Sisi took office in 2013 following a military coup. Many have been tortured to death while in detention by Egyptian prison authorities.
Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the head of the Reform and Development Party and of the International Dialogue Group, an organization which works towards getting prisoners released, said that the releases were the result of an ongoing “consultation mechanism with the Public Prosecutor’s office.” He also expressed hope that more similar prisoner releases will take place in the future. National Council of Human Rights member and lawyer Nasser Amin also said he hopes for the same and that such steps would eventually put an end to the widespread use of remand detention to imprison people based on their political affiliations and opposition to the government.