CAIRO - One of Egypt’s most prominent pro-democracy activists 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 Mubarak’s 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 a dog. His lawyer, Khaled Ali, confirmed the release by posting: “Thanks God, Alaa Abdel-Fattah at home.”
Detained several times
An outspoken dissident, Abdel-Fattah was detained several times before. He was sentenced to five years for taking part in a peaceful demonstration following the military’s ouster in July 2013 of Egypt’s freely elected but controversial Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
After Morsi’s ouster, Egypt’s military-backed transitional authorities waged a heavy crackdown on his supporters who had rallied against his ouster, including a sit-in by Islamists in Cairo that 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 three days in advance whether they could hold a rally while also setting prison terms and high fines for violators.
The demonstration that led to Abdel-Fattah’s arrest and sentencing was 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 legalizing the return of” the rule of Mubarak.