A leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist was released from prison early Friday after serving a five-year sentence for inciting and taking part in protests, his family and lawyer said.
Alaa Abdel Fattah rose to prominence with the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East and in Egypt, toppled long-time President Hosni Mubarak. To many, his imprisonment three years later – at a time when authorities imposed draconian laws banning public gatherings and unauthorized demonstrations – was another sign of Egypt’s return to autocratic rule.
Abdel-Fattah’s sisters, Mona and Sanaa Seif, posted on Facebook that “Alaa is out,” along with a video of him at home, playing with Mona’s dog. His lawyer, Khaled Ali, confirmed the release by posting: “Thanks God, Alaa Abdel-Fattah at home.”
— Mona Seif (@Monasosh) March 29, 2019
Translation: First meeting, Alaa and Toka
Abdel Fattah was arrested in November 2013 and eventually sentenced to five years in prison in a trial that lasted more than a year.
He was charged with organising an illegal protest against military trials and assaulting a police officer. The court discounted evidence, including mobile phone records, which showed that Abdel Fattah was not at the protest.
Facebook pages set up in support of Abdel-Fattah, including “Free Alaa,” posted videos for him grinning, hugging and shaking hands with friends as he walked out of a police station in Cairo. In the background, women were ululating.
His release from the notorious Tora prison will not bring him complete freedom. As part of his parole, Abdel Fattah must sleep every night at a local police station for the next five years and will be under police surveillance.
An outspoken dissident, Abdel Fattah was detained several times before under different governments for lobbying for civil rights on social media and in public.
The influential blogger hails from a family of political activists, lawyers, and writers. His late father was one of Egypt’s most tireless rights lawyers, his sisters and mother are also political activists and his aunt is award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
But Abdel Fattah’s five-year sentence – reduced from 15 years after a retrial – was his longest prison term.
He was convicted for taking part in a peaceful demonstration following the military’s removal in July 2013 of
Egypt’s first elected President Mohamed Morsi.
After Morsi was overthrown, Egypt’s military-backed transitional authorities waged a heavy crackdown on his supporters who had rallied against Morsi’s removal. One sit-in by protesters in Cairo in August 2013 was broken up by security forces in an operation that left hundreds dead.
Within weeks, the government also went after secular and liberal activists who opposed a newly introduced law banning street protests without prior permission from authorities. The new law required participants to formally ask the Interior Ministry for permission to hold a rally three days in advance. It also set prison terms and high fines for violators.
The demonstration that led to Abdel Fattah’s arrest and sentencing was in protest against trials of civilians before military tribunals, known for their swift and harsh rulings.
Security forces raided his house after the protest, beat up his wife and confiscated his laptops but he was not there. He later turned himself in.
“I don’t deny the charge,” he wrote in a statement released at the time. “It’s an honor to hold responsibility for people’s rallies in defiance of legalising the return of” the rule of Mubarak.
During his imprisonment in 2014, Abdel Fattah’s father, Ahmed Seif, the well-known and celebrated civil rights activist passed away.
Al Jazeera and news agencies