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Not just Alaa: 21 political prisoners also languishing in Egypt’s prisons

The annual UN climate summit, Cop27, currently being held in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, has been overshadowed by calls to release the country’s political prisoners, with a focus on the hunger-striking British-Egyptian detainee Alaa Abd el-Fattah.

Egyptian jails hold an estimated 65,000 political prisoners, arrested for their opposition to the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, according to a study released by the Arabic Network for Human Rights in March 2021.

Below are 21 profiles of detainees whose cases rights groups and activists have highlighted in recent weeks, calling on Sisi to release them.

Mohamed Baker

Mohamed Baker is a lawyer and human rights defender. He was serving as the lawyer of detained activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah when he was detained in September 2019.

He is the director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, which provides legal aid for political detainees and prisoners of conscience and promotes civil and political rights in Egypt.

According to Amnesty International, Baker is currently held in pre-trial detention at a maximum-security prison in “cruel and inhuman conditions”, “denied access to adequate healthcare and deprived of a bed or mattress, hot water, outdoor exercise and even family photos”.

Hoda Abdel Moneim

Hoda Abdel Moneim is a human rights lawyer, a former National Council for Human Rights member, and a board member of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms.

Moneim has been detained since 1 November 2019.

She was forcibly disappeared for 20 days after her arrest and is currently held in al-Qanater women’s prison. She suffers from poor detention conditions, including poor ventilation and high humidity in a room with a small and high window, and has been deprived for long periods of her right to visits from her relatives and lawyer. Her pre-existing health problems were significantly exacerbated during her detention, due to being denied necessary regular medication.

Hala Fahmy

Hala Fahmy is a senior TV presenter for Egyptian state television. Fahmy was detained in April after leading protests against corruption and late payment of wages at the Radio and Television Union headquarters, the state-run broadcaster in the Maspero building in Cairo.

Before her arrest, Fahmy posted online videos critical of the Sisi government’s economic policies. She remains in pre-trial detention.
Ahmed Amasha

Ahmed Amasha is an environmental activist, founder of the League for Families of the Disappeared, founding member of the Kefaya movement, and founder of the Arab Association for Environment and Sustainable Development. Amasha is a veterinarian by profession and served previously as the elected chairman of the veterinarians syndicate in Egypt.

Amasha was first arrested in March 2017, then rearrested on 17 June 2020 and disappeared for 25 days before reappearing before the prosecutor. He has been in detention since then.

UN special rapporteurs found that violations against him “seem to constitute acts of reprisals” against his work documenting cases of enforced disappearances for the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council of the UN.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his imprisonment constituted arbitrary detention. Rights groups have said that he has also been subjected to torture.

Sherif El Rouby

Sherif El Rouby is a political activist and human rights defender.

He is a former spokesperson for the April 6 movement. He has been in pre-trial detention since 16 September, four months after being released from extended pretrial detention following a presidential pardon. He is currently held in the notorious Abu Zaabal prison.

Seif Fateen

Seif Fateen is an MIT-educated professor of environmental engineering and a former advisor to the Egyptian minister of higher education.

Fateen has been in custody since 14 November 2018. He was forcibly disappeared for more than nine months before appearing before the State Security Prosecution on 5 August 2019.

While forcibly disappeared, he was tortured – including with electric shocks, beatings and prolonged blindfolding. He is currently held in al-Qanater Prison.

Ismail Al-Iskandrani

Ismail al-Iskandrani is an investigative journalist and researcher specialising in marginalised communities in the Sinai Peninsula and Nubia.

He has been in jail since 29 November 2015 and is serving a 10-year sentence after a military trial.

Iskandrani’s health condition has deteriorated over the past seven years, as he was diagnosed with diabetes and gout during his imprisonment, rights groups have said.

Mohamed Oxygen

Mohamed Oxygen (also known as Mohamed Radwan) is a journalist and blogger. He has been in detention since 21 September 2019. He is serving a four-year sentence that started on 19 December 2021.

He was arrested on 7 April 2018 and was conditionally released on 22 July 2019, with the requirement to show up at a police station twice a week. He was forcibly disappeared for 17 days after his detention in September 2019.

Oxygen is currently detained in Tora Maximum Security Prison 2, known for its poor conditions, such as lack of clean water and overcrowding. His family has also been prevented from visiting him.

Oxygen has tried to commit suicide in his prison cell due to the conditions he has been subjected to.

Mohammed el-Qassas

Mohammed el-Qassas is an Egyptian politician and deputy leader of the Strong Egypt party.

He has been in jail since February 2017 and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.

El-Qassas was held in solitary confinement during his pretrial detention at the notorious Tora Maximum Security 1 prison (known as the Scorpion) and suffered from “degrading and inhumane” conditions.

In October, he was moved to the New Badr Prison 1. His wife, an asthma patient, reported that the visits take place in tight cabins through a glass barrier which cause her to struggle for air. Since October, she has not been able to visit him despite her pleas to see him in a different room suitable for her medical condition.

Marwa Arafa

A human rights defender, Marwa Arafa is also a freelance translator and mother of a three–year–old girl. Arafa has been in detention since 20 April 2020.

Arafa was forcibly disappeared for 14 days after her arrest. She is now held in al-Qanater women’s prison.

On 9 May, the Cairo Criminal Court renewed Arafa’s detention, although she exceeded the maximum pretrial detention limit (two years).

Tawfik Ghanem

Tawfik Ghanem, 67, is a former regional director of the Turkish news agency Anadolu. Security forces arrested him on 21 May 2021 from his home in the Giza governorate.

His lawyer told the Committee to Protect Journalists that once in custody, Ghanem had been quizzed about his journalistic work and political views.

Ghanem has suffered multiple health issues while detained, but has not been taken to any hospital for treatment, despite the prison doctor recommending he be transferred to an external hospital.

A diabetic, Ghanem suffers from neuritis in his legs and knees, lower back problems and an enlarged prostate that requires ongoing special treatment in a properly equipped medical facility.

Ahmed Douma

Ahmed Douma is a writer and political activist. He has been in detention since December 2013.

The Court of Cassation upheld a 15-year prison sentence against Douma in July 2020. Ahmed Douma’s only recourse now is to be released through a presidential pardon.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Douma’s imprisonment met the definition of arbitrary detention and followed criminal proceedings that failed to meet fair trial standards.

Douma is currently held in the new Badr Prison.

Aisha Al Shater

She was forcibly disappeared for 20 days after her arrest, during which she was severely beaten and subjected to electric shocks. Al Shater is being held in al-Qanater women’s prison, in prolonged solitary confinement in a small, poorly ventilated cell, without a toilet, and is only allowed to leave twice a day – for less than 30 minutes – to use the bathroom. The prison administration also bans her from receiving family visits, Amnesty International has said.

Al Shater suffers from aplastic anaemia, a rare and serious condition that affects the blood. Her health has deteriorated rapidly during her imprisonment but she has not been transferred to a specialised hospital.

Anas El-Beltagy

Anas el-Beltagy is a former student at Ain Shams University. He was detained on 31 December 2013 when he was 20 years old. He is believed to have been detained for being the son of opposition politician Mohamed el-Beltagy.

Rights groups have said that Anas has been held in inhumane conditions, causing his health to deteriorate significantly while being refused medical care. He has been deprived of family visitations and contact with lawyers. He was also denied the ability to complete his education.

Ezzat Ghoneim

Ezzat Ghoneim is a human rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms.

He was arrested on 1 March 2018. Ghoneim is currently imprisoned in Qanater prison under poor conditions. He is also deprived of his right to receive visits.

Aya Kamal

Aya Kamal el-Din, a human rights activist, has been in detention since July.

She was initially arrested in 2013 and handed a seven-year suspended jail sentence for participating in a protest in support of late President Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt who was ousted in a military coup that year.

She was arrested again in 2020 following a Facebook post criticising the military for its handling of personal protective equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh

Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh is a former Egyptian presidential candidate and leader of the Strong Egypt party. The 71-year-old has been in jail since 2018, and was sentenced in March to 15 years in prison over his criticism of the Sisi government and political activism.

​Ahmed Aboul-Fotouh, his son, wrote in September that his father suffers from frequent heart attacks and that Egyptian authorities refused a request from his lawyer to transfer him to a hospital at the expense of his family.

In July, Aboul-Fotouh had a heart attack in his prison cell in al-Mazraa jail in Tora complex, the fourth heart attack in just two months. His family said that they had informed top authorities in the country, including the president, requesting urgent health care to save his life.

Essam Sultan

Essam Sultan is an Egyptian lawyer and vice president of the opposition al-Wasat party.

Sultan was elected as a member of parliament in the first post-revolution parliament in 2011. He was one of the key figures in the opposition movement that preceded the 2011 revolution. He was a member of the Kefaya movement and the National Association for Change.

Sultan opposed the 2013 coup against Morsi and was one of the many opposition figures rounded up after the coup. He has been held in solitary confinement in the notorious Aqrab (Scorpion) prison in Cairo since his arrest in July 2013.

Gehad Haddad

Gehad El-Haddad, who served as the chief spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in September 2013 in the crackdown that followed the deadly dispersal of the Rabaa Square protests, held against the ousting of late president Morsi.

Haddad has been held in solitary confinement for more than nine years. Haddad’s brother said he has been subjected to torture and medical negligence and that he has lost his ability to walk independently.

Prison authorities increased their harassment of Haddad after his opinion piece that was published in the New York Times in 2017, his brother said.

Prior to becoming a spokesperson and advisor for Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, Haddad worked as the Cairo city director at the Clinton Climate Initiative from 2007 to 2012.

Safwan and Seif Thabet

Safwan Thabet, 75, is the founder and former CEO of Juhayna, Egypt’s largest dairy and juice company.

Thabet was detained in December 2020, with his son Seif joining him two months later on charges of “funding terrorism, undermining the national economy and joining an unlawful organisation”.

​Amnesty International said that Safwan Thabet and his son are being held in solitary confinement at Scorpion prison in conditions that amount to torture, due to their refusal to give up their shares in the firm to a military-owned business.

Safwan’s wife, Bahira Elshawi, died in March after months of campaigning to release her jailed husband and son.

Last year, Elshawi made an emotional video plea to President Sisi, asking for the release of her husband and son over their abusive conditions.

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