Urgent Appeal regarding the ongoing arbitrary detention of WHRD Sanaa Seif

Urgent Appeal regarding the ongoing arbitrary detention of WHRD Sanaa Seif

July 28, 2020

Urgent Appeal regarding the ongoing arbitrary detention of WHRD Sanaa Seif

The Regional Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa expresses its deep concern about the situation of women human rights defenders in Egypt as authorities continue to target them; the Coalition also condemns the international silence surrounding the violations committed on a daily basis in Egypt, which only enables authorities to continue on violate their human rights obligations, in the absence of any deterrent or real accountability frameworks that seek to achieve justice for political prisoners who are being sentenced for accessing their right to expression and demanding a more just society


The Egyptian authorities continue to target women human rights defenders (WHRDs). On June 23, WHRD Sana Seif was kidnapped and forced into a minibus, while on her way with her sister WHRD Mona Seif and mother Dr. Laila Soueif towards the Public Prosecution Office’s gate. Sanaa Seif and her family had gone there in order to submit a complaint to the Public Prosecutor after they were assaulted the night before by a group of women in front of Tora prison, in plain view of the security officers. Two hours after the abduction, Sanaa Seif appeared before the State Security Prosecution, who charged her with , “inciting terrorist crimes”, ‘disseminating false news”  and “misuse of social media.” The Public Prosecution also considered that Sanaa Saif was part of a foreign scheme that threatened national security, according to the statement they issued on 23 June. On July 5, authorities renewed Seif’s detention. 

The attack on the family of Alaa Abdel Fattah is reminiscent of the attack on women journalists on May 25, 2005, known as the Black Wednesday, after which the African Court issued a verdict holding the Egyptian government responsible for the attack. Today, the Egyptian authorities are committed to continuing their repressive campaign against women human rights defenders without any frameworks or the possibility of urgent accountability measures. 

To this day, the Egyptian authorities continue to detain a number of women human rights defenders, including: Mahinur Al-Masry, Israa Abdel-Fattah, Sulafa Magdy and Marwa Arafa as an act of reprisal against them and their social movements and their loved ones for their work, and the authorities continue to renew their detention. In the current situation, and particularly within the context of Covid-19, continuing to imprison women human rights defenders means putting their lives at risk of death. Up to this moment, and in a context in which it is difficult to accurately document the numbers of infections due to the intentional information blackout, reports state that there has been 3 deaths of prisoners as a result of Covid-19 in Egyptian prisons, in addition to nearly 200 cases of suspected infections in prisons along with two workers in one of the prisons.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, prisoners are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases such as Covid-19 and conditions of detention may exacerbate risks that include high rates of transmission, especially in overcrowded prisons. Several domestic and international organizations have previously documented inhuman conditions of detention in Egyptian prisons, including the lack of adequate medical care. The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Egypt to release political prisoners, even if only temporarily, according to what was done by several other countries that issued an amnesty against prisoners such as Tunisia and Algeria. Especially that, in light of the measures taken to combat the spread of Covid 19, visits were suspended, which impeded the delivery of personal items as well as the necessary sterilization materials.

Accordingly, on 18 March, the family of HRD Alaa Abd al-Fattah demanded  the release of prisoners, as Mona Seif and Dr. Laila Soueif and Dr.Ahdaf Soueif and Dr.Rabab al-Mahdi organized a small protest outside the headquarters of the Council of Ministers, calling for the release of prisoners as part of the state’s efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19. They were then arrested and taken to the Qasr El-Nil police station. The next day, they were released on bail. This action appears to have prompted the Egyptian authorities to continue its violent crackdown on Abdel Fattah’s family.

Therefore, the Regional Coalition urges you take the following actions:

  • Demand the Egyptian authorities to immediately release all women human rights defenders who are still behind bars, including Sanaa Seif, Mahinur Al-Masry, Israa Abdel-Fattah, Sulafa Magdi and Marwa Arafa without any restrictions or conditions.
  • Demand authorities to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of women human rights defenders and ensure that they reach their rights by communicating with their families and with a lawyer of their choice regularly, without interruption.
  • Urge the authorities to allow visits with adherence to preventive measures, particularly with the recent eased lockdown measures taken by the Egyptian government in order to allow the delivery of sterilization materials to prisoners, including face masks and hand sanitizers, and support them in obtaining medical care.
  • Urge authorities to conduct a transparent and fair investigation into the incident of the assault and theft suffered by the family of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, as well as the investigation into the position of the Public Prosecutor, who kidnapped WHRD Sanaa Seif in front of his office, as this constitutes a dangerous precedent and expressly declares that it is not possible to obtain protection or justice from Egyptian authorities.