A prominent Egyptian blogger and activist in the 2011 overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison for rallying against an anti-protest law, in what critics charge is evidence that the country’s counter-revolution is in full effect.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah and 24 other people were handed 15 years in prison, five years’ surveillance, and a hefty fine for allegedly holding a protest at Egypt’s parliament–the Shura Council–last November in opposition to a stringent anti-protest law and enshrinement of military trials for civilians in the country’s 2014 constitution, independent Egyptian publicationMada Masr reports. The defendants were hit with a litany of accusations, from unauthorized protests to destruction of public property to attacking police, according to the Egyptian state-run publication Ahram.
Their supporters say the charges were political maneuvers aimed at further criminalizing dissent and intimidating protesters.
Abd El-Fattah and defendants Mohamed Noubi and Wael Metwally were barred from entering the courtroom and therefore sentenced in absentia on Wednesday. Mona Seif, Abd El-Fattah’s sister who is also a prominent activist, stated on Facebook that her brother was “waiting for the judge to give permission to the guards to allow them to enter the venue to attend their session, but someone from the prosecution went out and arrested them.”
Family members, who are demanding a retrial, charge that the defendants were deliberately barred to create the appearance they had fled.
The sentencing and arrest comes just days after former head of Egypt’s military and coup leader Abdelfattah Al Sisi was sworn in as president–a development that was welcomed by the Obama administration.
Following the military’s ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last July, which came on the heels of unprecedented anti-Morsi protests across Egypt, Al Sisi oversaw an aggressive campaign of state repression that targeted suspected Morsi supporters, under the guise of a war on “terrorists,” and spread to dissenters of all stripes, including other high-profile youth organizers of the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. The military-backed interim government detained over 16,000 people and killed thousands.
According to Heba Afify, “[Abd El-Fattah’s] arrest, alongside Wael Metwally and Mohamed Noubi, has caused an uproar among activists, whose space has been dwindling. Their fight now is about holding ground.”
El-Fattah has also been incarcerated under Mubarak Mubarak, the military junta that followed, and the military-backed interim government, according to the Guardian. He follows other prominent youth activists who have been jailed, including Mahienour El-Massry, a campaigner against police violence and for women’s rights.
In a March interview with Democracy Now!, Abdel Fatah declared of Egypt’s military rulers, “They are on a sentencing frenzy. This is not just about me. It’s almost as if it’s a war on a whole generation.”
The full interview can be viewed below.