By Karen Gullo
My conditions are but a drop in a dark sea of injustice. – Alaa Abdel Fattah, November 7, 2019, at State Security Prosecution
EFF is profoundly concerned about our friend, Egyptian blogger, coder, and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who has been jailed for more than two years at a maximum-security prison in Tora, 12 miles south of Cairo. Media reports have cited his attorney saying Fattah was considering suicide because of the dire conditions under which he is being held. The lawyer, Khaled Ali, said at a Sept. 13 court hearing in his case—to determine whether Fattah would continue to be held prior to trial—that his client spoke of the terrible conditions he faces. “I can’t carry on,” he quoted Fattah as saying.
A free speech advocate and software developer, Fattah has repeatedly been targeted and jailed for working to ensure Egyptians and others in the Middle East and North Africa have a voice, and privacy, online. Fattah has been detained under every Egyptian head of state in his lifetime, and has most recently been imprisoned for all but a few months since 2013. While Fattah’s family received a hand-written letter from him a few days after the hearing in which he pledged to do his best to endure prison conditions, they have not heard from him since and warn his mental health is failing. His mother and sisters visit the prison almost daily in hopes of receiving a letter from him, but there’s been nothing. Word of his condition sparked the #SaveAlaa hashtag campaign on social media. We stand in solidarity with Fattah’s family, friends, and supporters in calling on Egyptian authorities for his release.
A soon-to-be-released collection of Fattah’s prison writings, interviews, and articles, hauntingly entitled “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated” with an introduction by Naomi Klein (pre-order here or here) contains a searing passage from a statement Fattah gave to prosecutors at a January 2020 hearing.
I’m in detention as a preventative measure because of a state of political crisis – and a fear that I will engage with it. It’s clear that I’m detained here today because of previous positions I’ve taken. I don’t deny these positions, but I believe that right now Egyptian society is exhausted from its multiple problems and poor administration and that the security apparatuses are no longer able to understand me, or what goes on in the minds and the hearts of people like me.
Fattah began using his technical skills almost 20 years ago to connect technologists across the Middle East and North Africa with each other and build online platforms so that others could share opinions and speak freely and privately. The role he played in using technology to amplify the messages of his fellow Egyptians—as well as his own participation in the uprising in Tahrir Square—made him a prominent global voice during the Arab Spring, and a target for the country’s repressive regimes, which have used antiterrorism laws to silence critics by throwing them in jail and depriving them of due process and other basic human rights.
Fattah’s latest arrest, in 2019, occurred just six months after he was released following a five-year prison term for his role in the peaceful demonstrations of 2011. He was re-arrested in a massive sweep of activists and charged with spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist organization. The crackdown comes amidst a number of other cases in which prosecutors and investigation judges have used pre-trial detention as a method of punishment. Egypt’s counterterrorism law was amended in 2015 under President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi so that pre-trial detention can be extended for two years and, in terrorism cases, indefinitely.
Fattah has been held without trial at Tora Prison, without access to books or newspapers, no exercise time or time out of the cell and—since COVID-19 restrictions came in to play—with only one visit, for twenty minutes, once a month.
Over the years Fattah has continued to speak out for human rights even while jailed, and has shown great courage while facing conditions meant to silence him. Now his calls for justice and free speech will be available for all to read. “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated” is set for release in spring of 2022, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon and other online sources. Fattah speaks with passion in the book about his love for his country and why he has stood up to the regime and joined protestors in Tahrir Square.
We go to the square to discover that we love life outside it, and to discover that our love for life is resistance. We race towards the bullets because we love life, and we walk into prison because we love freedom. The country is what we love and what we live for; what we celebrate and what we mourn. If the state falls, more than just the square will remain – there will be the love of strangers, there will be everything that drove us to the square, and everything we learned in the square. — Abu Khaled Friday, 9 December 2011 Cell 6/1, Ward 4, Torah Investigative Prison
Fattah’s family warns that he is in imminent danger, his mental health is failing after two years of cruel treatment by the Ministry of Interior and National Security. “His life is in danger, in a prison that operates completely outside the space of the law and in complete disregard of all officials,” they said in a recent statement.
We urge everyone to order “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated,” and contact your elected representatives to ask that they contact their counterparts in Egypt. We must raise awareness about his situation and put pressure on the Egyptian government to release him. His book is a testament to his resilience, and we urge everyone to do everything they can so Fattah, who stands for the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, is not defeated.