Activist Esraa Abd El Fattah reports torture in detention, faces smear campaign amid new arrests and disappearances
 
 
Courtesy: Reuters
 

Activist and journalist Esraa Abd El Fattah told the State Security Prosecution on Sunday that she was beaten and tortured to force her to unlock her phone, and announced that she is on hunger strike to protest her treatment, her lawyer said, a day after she was arrested by national security agents. 

The well-known activist, who is also a journalist with Al-Tahrir newspaper, was arrested on Saturday and is being charged with joining a terrorist organization, spreading false news and statements and misusing social media. Prosecutors have issued her a 15-day remand detention order. Her arrest was followed by the arrest of journalist Mostafa al-Khateeb on Sunday. Abdullah al-Saeed, a founding member of the Bread and Freedom Party, was disappeared Saturday, following the disappearance of three other party members in recent weeks.

Azza Soliman, Abd El Fattah’s lawyer, told  Mada Masr that her car was intercepted by two vehicles carrying armed individuals in civilian clothing close to the Saft al-Laban Axis by Sudan Street in Giza. The men, who were yelling “detectives … detectives”  stopped her, pulled her out of her car and put her into one of their vehicles. They immediately blindfolded her and tied her hands up, then took her to an unknown location where she was beaten on her back, arms and face for hours to force her to unlock her phone. 

Abd El Fattah was transported in a car to another unknown location, where she was beaten again and strangled several times using the sleeves of the jacket she was wearing until she lost consciousness. She was also threatened with electrocution to her neck.  According to Soliman, Abd El Fattah was forced to stand in an upright position with her hands tied above her head and her feet tied together for hours. In what she described as a state of semi-consciousness, Abd El Fattah unlocked her phone and was interrogated about her contacts and messages.

After the interrogation ended, she was left in a cell with her hands tied to a metal pole and threatened with further torture if she told prosecutors about the abuse. 

Appearing with her lawyers before prosecutors the next day, Abd El Fattah announced her hunger strike and told them the details of her abuse. Lawyer Khaled Ali, who also attended Abd El Fattah’s interrogation, wrote in a Facebook post that her arms were severely bruised. Defense lawyers insisted that the prosecutor examine the physical evidence of torture in addition to hearing her statement. Ali said in a separate post that Abd El Fattah was examined by a forensic doctor on Monday, and is due to appear before prosecutors on Wednesday in a separate hearing as a victim of the violence she reported. 

Mohamed Salah, a friend of Abd El Fattah’s who was in her car during the arrest, said in a Facebook post that after she was forced into one of the two cars that intercepted them, he was taken into the other car and blindfolded and beaten for an hour, after which he was dropped on a highway. 

On Monday, state newspaper Al-Gomhurriya published a news piece speculating about the details of Abd El Fattah’s private life, part of a larger smear campaign that has emerged against her. Several YouTube accounts published leaks of alleged phone calls between Abd El Fattah and another anonymous person, who reportedly lives abroad. In these recordings, she speaks about being more worried about the army controlling political life in Egypt than the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to politics.

Amnesty International published a press release about Abd El Fattah’s arrest and torture, pointing out that no evidence has been presented against the activist, except for the file submitted by the National Security Agency.

Abd El Fattah co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement in 2008. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her role in the January 25 revolution.

Mostafa al-Khateeb, a translator for the Associated Press in Cairo and a member of the Journalists Syndicate, was arrested from his home at dawn on Sunday. Khateeb appeared before prosecutors on Monday and was handed a 15-day remand detention order and added to the same case as Esraa Abd El Fattah, Case 488/2019, according to a lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous. The Journalists Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee has demanded the release of Abd El Fattah and Khateeb. 

Meanwhile, two members of different political parties have been reported missing. 

Abdullah al-Saeed, a founding member of the Bread and Freedom Party, was taken from his home on Saturday night by plainclothes officers who arrived in a police vehicle and smashed his furniture, party representative Elham Eidarous told Mada Masr. Officers at Saeed’s local police station in Kerdasa told his family that they did not know his whereabouts. His location remained unknown at press time.

Three other members of the Bread and Freedom Party have disappeared in recent weeks, Eirdous said. Loay al-Kholy was taken from his home in Suez on October 1.  Mohamed Waleed was taken from the Cairo airport on September 30 while waiting to board a flight to Riyadh, after he had already proceeded through passport control. Mamdouh Makram was arrested from his home in Assiut on September 20. None of them have appeared before the prosecution and their names have not been added to any case. 

The Strong Egypt Party announced that one of its high-ranking members, Mohamed al-Masry, was arrested on September 25. Party member Abdelrahman Hereidy told Mada Masr that Masry was arrested from his place of work in 10th of Ramadan City and that his whereabouts remain unknown. 

State Security Prosecution ordered the release yesterday of 100 people who had been arrested in the recent crackdown, bringing the total number of releases to 545.  All of those released face charges in Case 1338/2019, according to the Egyptian Center for Rights and Freedoms. The case carries charges of aiding a terrorist group, disseminating false information, misusing social media and participating in unauthorized protests. 

The arrest sweep of the last three weeks is the largest since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office.  The campaign follows rare protests in late September that contractor and actor Mohamed Ali called for in viral videos accusing Sisi and the Armed Forces of squandering state funds.

Pro-government television host Amr Adib called for the release of high-profile activists such as lawyer Mahienour al-Massry, political science professor Hesham Nafaa, and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah. Adib said he was encouraged by the release of hundreds of those recently arrested, and added that “things are changing … Parliament is changing, the voice of the media is changing and economic priorities are changing.”

At the onset of the current parliamentary session, Speaker Ali Abdel Aal said there would be “reforms in politics, parties and the media,” during the coming period. He described these reforms as  “harvesting the fruits” of a transition period which “required harsh measures.” 

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