Egyptian activist sentenced to 18 months for ‘fake news’

Sanaa Seif, arrested in June last year, denied accusations she ‘broadcast fake news and rumours’ about Egypt’s health situation.

Egyptian rights activist Sanaa Seif stands in a street after being released from Sayeda Zeinab police station in Cairo at the end of her sentence on November 15, 2016 (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)
Rights activist Sanaa Seif previously served 15 months of a three-year sentence for demonstrating against a law banning public gatherings [File: AFP]

An Egyptian court has convicted a prominent human rights activist for spreading false news and insulting a police officer, sentencing her to 18 months in prison.

Sanaa Seif was arrested in June last year, accused by prosecutors of “broadcasting fake news and rumours” about the country’s health crisis and the spread of the novel coronavirus in prisons.

Seif, who has been in custody since her arrest, denied the accusations.

She was also convicted of insulting a police officer on Facebook, her lawyer Hesham Ramada said. He said they would appeal the Cairo Criminal Court ruling to a higher court.

The verdict was delivered by a chief judge on Wednesday in Seif’s absence, her sister Mona Seif, also an activist, said in a series of tweets. “They didn’t bring Sanaa to the court hall or into the cage,” she added.

Human rights outcry

International rights groups accuse Egyptian authorities of waging a broad crackdown on dissent and jailing thousands – mainly Islamists but also others including well-known secular activists.

Amnesty International denounced the “bogus charges” against Seif and called the ruling a “travesty of justice”.

“Today’s verdict is yet another crushing blow for the right to freedom of expression in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have yet again demonstrated their unrelenting intent to punish any criticism of their dismal human rights record,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement.

Egyptian authorities deny any criticism saying detentions are in line with the law and the country’s courts operate independently.

Seif’s sentencing elicited angry reactions on social media with many activists and supporters calling for her release using the hashtag #FreeSanaa.

Seif, 27, was arrested while she and other family members were at the public prosecutor’s office to file a complaint about an attack against them outside Cairo’s Tora prison complex a day earlier, her sister Mona said at the time.

The group had been going daily to Tora hoping to receive a letter from their son, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, that they say prison officials promised they would pass on.

Seif’s father, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, who died in 2014, was a renowned human rights lawyer. Her mother, Leila Soueif, a mathematician, is a prominent advocate of academic independence. Her aunt is award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif.

The Square

Her brother, Abdel-Fattah, rose to prominence with Egypt’s 2011 uprising. He was arrested following a relatively minor anti-government protest in 2019.

Abdel-Fattah’s arrest on September 29, 2019, came after he had been released in March that year following five years in prison for taking part in a peaceful protest against the military trials of civilians.

Tuesday’s verdict was not the first against Seif, a film editor who worked on The Square, a 2013 Oscar-nominated documentary on the 2011 uprising.

In 2016, she was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted of insulting a government employee while performing his duties.

She also served 15 months of a three-year sentence for demonstrating against a law banning public gatherings and was pardoned early.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies