Press release

Egypt: Sanaa Seif, Sister of Imprisoned Activist Alaa Abdelfattah, Detained by Egyptian Security Forces

Egyptian authorities must halt the arbitrary detention and intimidation of activists and their families in the name of counterterrorism.

In response to the abduction and subsequent detention of Sanaa Seif, the sister of well-known Egyptian human rights activist Alaa Abdelfattah, outside the prosecutor general’s office in the Rehab district of Cairo on June 23, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“Sanaa Seif’s detention is yet another example of the Egyptian state victimizing family members of human rights defenders in retaliation for their peaceful activism. This targeting has become the norm in President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s police state,” said Lisa Dickieson, senior vice president for international programs. “President al-Sisi’s blatant disregard for the rule of law and flagrant human rights abuses have turned Egypt into a near-totalitarian state, where thousands of activists remain incarcerated on dubious charges. Sanaa’s abduction is an egregious abuse of power that demonstrates the impunity with which the Egyptian security forces operate, and the complicity of the Public Prosecution Office in the unlawful harassment of Egyptian citizens. We call upon the Egyptian government to release Sanaa and Alaa immediately, thoroughly investigate Sanaa’s abduction and the assault of her and her family members, and halt the arbitrary detention and intimidation of activists and their families in the name of counterterrorism.” 

Background: 

Alaa Abdelfattah is an Egyptian activist who gained prominence during the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. He served a five-year prison sentence for organizing a protest, before being rearrested in September 2019. He has since been held in arbitrary detention in Tora prison.

On June 22, a group of unidentified women attacked Alaa’s mother, Laila Soueif, and his sisters Mona and Sanaa Seif, as they waited outside the prison, severely beating them as prison authorities looked on. Several days before the attack, Laila, Mona, and Sanaa had gone to Tora prison hoping to receive a letter from Alaa that prison officials promised to pass along. On June 23, the family went to the prosecutor general’s office to file a complaint about the assault. Sanaa was stopped outside the office by plainclothes officers, and upon confirming her identity was forced into an unmarked microbus and driven away. Sanaa reappeared later that day at the Supreme State Security Prosecution, an arm of the Public Prosecution Office tasked with national security and counterterrorism investigations. The office later announced that it had ordered her arrest pending investigation into various charges including “spreading false news,” “inciting terrorist crimes,” and “misuse of social media.” Sanaa is now being held in pretrial detention for 15 days. The Egyptian government is notorious for indefinitely extending pretrial detention, often postponing trials for years on end.

Egypt is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2020 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2019.