Authorities in Egypt have detained prominent activist Sanaa Seif as part of an ongoing crackdown on dissidents, according to her relatives and lawyer.
The 26-year-old, sister of well-known blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah who has been in arbitrary detention since last year, was forced into a minivan outside the general prosecutor’s office in the capital, Cairo, on Tuesday.
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Seif and family members were there to file an official complaint about being physically assaulted outside Cairo’s Tora prison complex the previous day.
“Sanaa was just abducted by a microbus from in front of general prosecutor office!” Seif’s older sister, Mona, said in a Twitter post.
Seif’s lawyer and relatives later said she had been referred to prosecutors for investigation.
Authorities “refused to let us see her and we do not know where she will be jailed,” Mona Seif said on Twitter.
Using the term "arrested" implies a legality to the process
Sanaa Seif was not "arrested", Sanaa was ABDUCTED, and her abduction was facilitated by the official guards of the general prosecutors office.
— Mona Seif (@Monasosh) June 23, 2020
Family and supporters gathered outside the office of Supreme State Security Prosecutions subsequently learned that prosecutors had questioned her over the charges of “disseminating false news”, “inciting terrorist crimes” and “misuse of social media”, Amnesty International said in a statement.
“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,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The fact that Sanaa Seif was taken from right outside the Public Prosecutor’s office shows just how brazen the Egyptian security forces have become.”
There was no immediate comment by Egyptian authorities.
On Monday, Sanaa Seif along with her sister and mother, the rights activist Laila Soueif, were outside the prison complex in Cairo to receive a letter from Abdel Fattah, who was imprisoned in September last year after rare, small-scale protests erupted demanding President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi step down.
“We have been beaten up, dragged by the hair, clothes torn in front of Tora by women thugs on the watch of all police there,” Mona Seif wrote on Twitter on Monday.
She added that they had also been robbed of their personal identity cards and money, as well as some other belongings.
Amnesty said the assault on the women left visible marks on their bodies, citing photos it had examined.
We have been beaten up, dragged by the hair, clothes torn infront of Tora by women thugs on the watch of all police there pic.twitter.com/pvcGNVynNp
— Mona Seif (@Monasosh) June 22, 2020
Egyptian authorities had banned visitors from seeing relatives in prison as part of coronavirus containment measures.
Rights groups and activists had repeatedly called for the government to release prisoners amid the outbreak, but to no avail.
“At the best of times Egypt’s prisons are clusters for disease,” Mona wrote back in March.
Rights groups have repeatedly criticised Egyptian prisons for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
Human Rights Watch said in March an epidemiological “disaster” could be spared if authorities granted prisoners conditional release.
Abdel Fattah rose to prominence with the 2011 uprisings that swept the region and in Egypt toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
He was previously released in March last year, after serving five years in prison for taking part in a peaceful protest.
Rights activists say el-Sisi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on freedoms in Egypt since taking power in 2013 and then taking office in 2014. The Egyptian president and his backers say the measures are needed to keep the country stable and counter threats from armed groups.
Thousands of people have been arrested – both secular-leaning activists and members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood – all while scaling back freedoms won after the 2011 uprising.
Egypt banned all unauthorised protests in 2013, months after el-Sisi led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, following mass protests.