Sanaa Seif, a film editor and the youngest sister of imprisoned activist and software blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, was imprisoned by the State Security Prosecution on Tuesday, which ordered her to be held for 15 days in remand detention on charges of incitement of terrorist crimes, spreading false news and misuse of social media to incite terrorist ideas, according to lawyer Khaled Ali. She is being detained in Qanater Prison.
Seif was abducted by plainclothes security forces in front of the public prosecutor’s office in the Rehab district of Cairo on Tuesday afternoon, where she had arrived to file a complaint as a victim of a physical assault and robbery that occurred in front of the Tora prison complex the day before.
According to Seif’s family, she arrived outside the prosecutor general’s office at approximately 2 pm on Tuesday. Security officials in plain clothes stopped her and her lawyer at the door of the building and asked for her national ID card. Once her identity had been established, they physically pushed her lawyer away and forced Seif into an unmarked microbus and drove away, followed by three unmarked cars. She appeared an hour and a half later at the State Security Prosecution headquarters in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement.
During her interrogation, Seif told prosecutors that she was trying to help her unjustly imprisoned brother. “I have lost hope in change, there is no need to enter into a futile and costly act of resistance,” Seif said, according to attorney Khaled Ali. “Any act of resistance I do does not come from hope for change — instead, it is imposed on me to support my brother, who is subjected to injustice. Since my first arrest [in 2014], I have wanted to travel and leave all of this behind me. I can let anything go except for family.”
Since March 12, the Interior Ministry has suspended all family and lawyers’ visits with prisoners due to coronavirus restrictions. Abd El Fattah has only been allowed two correspondences in three months: a short note on May 18 informing his family he was ending a hunger strike he had launched after he and other defendants were prevented from attending detention renewal hearings, and an equally short message on June 6th. Over the last three months, the family has filed several complaints to the public prosecutor about the denial of communication, a right which is guaranteed in prison bylaws.
The family said that for several days last week, prison authorities had promised a letter from Abd El Fattah would be delivered to them. Each day, Seif’s mother, Laila Soueif, went to the gates of Tora Prison to ask for the letter, but none was provided. On Saturday, after being forcibly removed from the family waiting area, Soueif decided she would not go home, and would sleep outside the prison gates. On Sunday night her daughters, Mona and Sanaa, joined her and all three women slept on the pavement outside the prison.
On Monday at dawn, according to the family, they were attacked by a group of women in plain clothes, who beat them with sticks, dragged them by their hair and stole their belongings in plain view of security officials standing outside the prison. The family later published photos online showing severe bruising on Sanaa’s body. The following day, Sanaa, Laila and Mona decided to go to the public prosecutor’s office in the company of their lawyers to file a complaint regarding the attack. Sanaa was abducted as she tried to enter the building.
“Sanaa Seif and her family have suffered years of harassment and intimidation for their human rights activism, but the events of the past two days mark another new low,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement. “The public prosecutor now has a choice: either to uphold the law and investigate the attacks against Sanaa Seif and her family, including the role of the security forces in yesterday’s assault, or to be complicit with the security forces in targeting Sanaa Seif and her family simply for questioning her brother’s arbitrary detention and inquiring about his health amid a pandemic.”
On Tuesday evening, the public prosecutor’s office issued a statement claiming it had ordered the arrest of Seif on Sunday, June 21, two days before she was detained, on charges that she “broadcast fake news and rumors about the country’s deteriorating health conditions and the spread of the coronavirus in prisons” on Facebook, among a raft of other charges, including inciting “terrorism,” insulting a police officer and violating the state’s protest ban.
“Everyone knew that Sanaa was sitting in front of the prison with her mother and Mona from the afternoon of June 21, 2020, until the next morning,” Ali, Seif’s lawyer, said in a statement. Ali also said the arrest report erroneously claims that Sanaa was arrested at an entrance gate to Rehab, not in front of the public prosecutor’s office. According to Ali, a senior Tora Prison guard has filed a complaint against the Seif family, though it is still unclear whether the complaint was filed against Sanaa only, or her mother and sister as well.
Seif’s brother, Alaa Abd El Fattah, is one of Egypt’s best-known activists. He has been imprisoned in Maximum Security Wing 2 of the Tora Prison Complex for the last nine months in remand detention on charges of belonging to an illegal organization and spreading false information. Like thousands of other prisoners being held in remand, his detention is repeatedly renewed.
He was detained in September as part of the biggest arrest sweep of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s time in office following small protests against him. National security agents arrested Abd El Fattah on the morning of September 29 as he was leaving the Dokki police station, where he had been forced to spend 12 hours every night — from 6 pm to 6 am — as part of his probation since his release from prison at the end of March after serving a five-year sentence.