Egypt activist who urged prisoner release amid virus freed

The daughter of the mother of a prominent Egyptian activist says her mother has been released from detention after her arrest the previous day

The mother of a prominent Egyptian activist was released from detention after her arrest the previous day for staging a protest demanding that prisoners be released amid the coronavirus pandemic, her daughter said.

Laila Soueif, the mother of imprisoned 38-year-old activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, was released late Thursday after being arrested a day earlier along with her daughter, sister and another female activist. The women had rallied outside the headquarters of Egypt’s Cabinet in downtown Cairo raising banners reading: “Release prisoners.”

The four women were charged with violating the country’s strict ban on protests with their small gathering and of spreading false news about Egypt’s over-crowded correctional facilities.

The prosecutor ordered the release of the four detainees late Wednesday on bail. However, Soueif remained in custody and was taken to the State Security Prosecutors’ office for further questioning before she, too, was released, her youngest daughter, Sanaa Seif, wrote on her Facebook page. Seif did not participate in the protest.

A government press officer did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Abdel Fattah’s family have all been vocal rights activists in Egypt. Abdel Fattah, a 38-year-old software engineer, grew into a figurehead of the pro-democracy protest movement on social media during the 2011 uprising that removed longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Abdel Fattah served a five-year prison sentence for violating Egypt’s protest ban. In September, not long after his release, he was arrested again amid a widespread crackdown that followed minor protests demanding current President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi step down, although he did not participate in them.

Human rights advocates around the globe are echoing demands to reduce incarceration arguing that prisons can be breeding grounds for the spread of the virus, which leads to the disease COVID-19. Several Middle Eastern countries that were hit by the novel virus have already started releasing prisoners, including Iran and Bahrain.

So far, Egypt’s government has registered seven fatalities among 256 confirmed cases of the infectious disease, none of them inmates.


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