Egypt’s most prominent activist-blogger released on bail
Alaa Abdel Fattah, recently granted bail, is a prominent blogger and leading secular figure in Egypt. He participated in organizing the protests that led to the Egyptian revolution of 2011, which resulted in the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak. Abdel Fattah comes from a prominent family in Egypt with a long history of activism. He has been arrested and jailed numerous times for participating in demonstrations. His most recent incarceration began November 2013, when he was arrested for helping to organize a demonstration outside the Egyptian parliament building to protest the new constitution.
In late 2013, complete suppression of any political dissent became the rule as supporters of military-ousted President Mohamed Morsi increasingly staged demonstrations and sit-ins. Authorities responded by violently breaking up the demonstrations and detaining protesters. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands were jailed.
New anti protest law
An anti-protest law was passed by the new government after the ouster of Morsi which made any unauthorized demonstration a criminal offense. This law has been used to control both secular and Islamist activists.
Abdel Fattah's sentence was one of many handed down to activists as part of the government's attempt to eliminate resistance from Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Though secular, like other journalists currently detained, Abdel Fattah received one of the harshest sentences – 15 years – for allegedly organizing an unauthorized protest, assaulting a police officer and stealing his walkie-talkie.
Abdel Fattah's approval for bail came after an emotional letter that he wrote was circulated by activists and bloggers. In his letter, Abdel Fattah asked that he be released from prison, and also insisted that he would not have a fair trial unless the presiding judge stepped down, reported Al Jazeera.
"I am fearful over my freedom, my future, and my family. Fearful of injustice," wrote Abdel Fattah.
Alaa Abdel Fattah is released
Egyptian newspapers reported that Abdel Fattah's release was in part due to the circulation of the letter. Additionally, the judge presiding over the trial has indeed decided to step down, after added requests from Abdel Fattah's defense lawyers. The judge claimed that he decided to step down because of disrespect to the court.
"I ask you [judge] to step aside and to give me a chance to stand before a different court, in which I would be reassured, and to start the court proceedings again without fear or enmity," Abdel Fattah added.
Ironically, Egyptian prosecutors are also accused of being disrespectful. As part of the case against Abdel Fattah, they showed home footage of Abdel Fattah's wife dancing as evidence against him. Many commented, including Abdel Fattah's defense, that the video was both unrelated to the case and defamatory. Last month Abdel Fattah was granted a retrial.
Abdel Fattah's release was celebrated as a small victory for activists in Egypt but the fight for civil rights and the freedom to stage peaceful protests continues.
Many non-Islamist activists and journalists started a hunger strike last month called "We have had enough" to protest the continued detention of activists. Approximately 100 protesters recently posted up outside the press syndicate building in downtown Cairo in demonstration against the protest law. Doaa Bassouni, 27-year old organizer of the 48-hour hunger strike that took place in honor of the detained activists, expressed her frustration with the state of affairs, reported the Associated Press.
"We don't know what to do for those imprisoned … this is the last thing we can do," said Bassouni.