A leading figure in Egypt’s 2011 revolution, blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah, appeared in court on Monday along with other co-defendants at the start of a new trial, his defence team said.
Abdel-Fattah, his lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer, another blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, and activist Yahia Hussein Abdel-Hadi face charges of “broadcasting false news” and belonging to “terrorist” groups in their trial before the Emergency State Security Court in Cairo.
The next hearing in the case was set for November 1, their lawyer Khaled Ali told the AFP news agency. Rulings in the exceptional courts are final and cannot be appealed.
Abdel-Fattah, a computer programmer and prominent figure in the uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak, has been in pre-trial detention since September 2019. He has spent most of the past decade in jail.
He was arrested in the wake of rare, night-time protests prompted by an exiled construction contractor calling for the removal of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on claims of corruption.
His lawyer el-Baqer and Ibrahim, also known as “Oxygen”, were also detained in a large crackdown.
The trials of the three Egyptian activists and the rights lawyer were postponed Monday, their lawyer said. They will be tried in two separate proceedings in the same courtroom.
Rights group say there are about 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt facing brutal, unhygienic conditions and overcrowded cells. In a 2019 interview with 60 Minutes on CBS, el-Sisi said there were no political prisoners in Egypt.
The trial of Abdel-Fattah, Ibrahim and el-Baqer was postponed until November 1, while Abdel-Hadi’s was postponed to October 25, according to Ali. The judges postponed proceedings to allow defence lawyers time to review trial-related documents, he said.
The four face charges ranging from disseminating false news and misuse of social media platforms to joining a terrorist group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt designated as a terrorist group in 2013.
Egypt’s government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent.
Abdel-Fattah and Ibrahim were arrested late in 2019 while on probation amid a sweeping security clampdown following small but rare anti-government protests. El-Baqer was arrested while attending a questioning session of Abdel-Fattah by prosecutors in September 2019.
Abdel-Hadi is a co-founder of the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of liberal and left-leaning parties opposing the government of el-Sisi.
He was arrested in January 2019 ahead of the vote on constitutional amendments that enabled el-Sissi to run for two more four-year terms.
Abdel-Fattah, who rose to prominence following the 2011 uprising, has been detained several times under different governments for lobbying for civil rights on social media and in public.
An influential blogger, he hails from a family of political activists, lawyers and writers. His late father was one of Egypt’s most tireless rights lawyers and his two sisters are also political activists. His aunt is award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
In recent weeks, Abdel-Fattah’s family and his lawyers had accused prison authorities in Tora prison complex in Cairo of torturing him and denying him basic legal rights. They called for prosecutors to investigate the claims.
In March, an Egyptian court sentenced Sanaa Seif, Abdel-Fattah’s youngest sister, to 18 months in jail after finding her guilty of spreading false news about the handling of COVID-19 outbreaks in Egyptian prisons.
Egyptian legislators and other public figures have repeatedly urged authorities to release activists and rights advocates who have been detained in recent years on alleged politically motivated charges.