My wife was imprisoned for speaking out against sexual harassment in Egypt

Amal Fathy, from Egypt, was arrested on 11 May for posting a video on Facebook condemning sexual harassment and criticising the Egyptian government for their inaction. She was detained for 15 days. The next day a Supreme State Security prosecutor interrogated her in another case about her alleged connection to a youth activism movement. One of the cases against her has now been referred to trial, although the charges remain unclear. As a human rights researcher, who has interviewed many political prisoners and their families, Amal’s husband, Mohamed Lotfy, 37, reveals the heartache of seeing his wife imprisoned…

As a human rights researcher, I’ve interviewed so many people who have been detained, including their family members. Every interview is heart-breaking, but I never fully appreciated their pain until I experienced it myself.

Seeing it and living it is a thousand times worse than I could have ever imagined.

When my wife Amal was arrested, I was shocked and gutted. She didn’t do anything that was dangerous. She didn’t commit any crime at all. She was just speaking out against sexual harassment. But in Egypt, if you speak out as a survivor, you’re the one who will be punished, not the perpetrator.

Sexual violence is rife

Amal Fathy and Mohamed Lotfy. Photo: Private
Amal Fathy and Mohamed Lotfy. Photo: Private

Everyone knows sexual violence exists in Egypt and across the world. But in my country, abuse has become so common that it goes unreported. If someone refuses to accept it, they become the odd one out. That’s what happened to Amal. She decided to take a stand and share her story – and now she’s being punished for it. 

Since my wife’s arrest in May, I have been appealing against her detention. She was granted release on bail in the first case, where she is accused of posting a Facebook video condemning sexual harassment. Then, she has been held in pre-trial detention for “belonging to a terrorist group”, “using a website to promote ideas calling for terrorist acts”, and “intentionally disseminating false news that could harm public security and interest”.

Now she’s been put on trial, even though the exact charges are still unclear. Her first hearing was on 11 August in front of the Maadi Misdemeanours Court in Cairo.

These charges do not have any foundation They are absurd and ridiculous.

Prison destroys the strongest people

Amal is currently being held in prison. Although she has the essentials she needs to survive, I am worried about her.

Yes, she’s a strong woman who dreams of becoming an actress. She is sociable, straight-talking, honest, and loves to laugh. But prison can destroy even the strongest of people. 

A drawing by Amal Fathy. Credit: Private
A drawing by Amal Fathy. Credit: Private

Amal suffers from depression and she isn’t receiving the medication that she needs. Recently, she experienced complications with her left leg and it took over two weeks for the prison to find the right medication. Neither of us understand why she’s there – and the fact she’s set to stand trial for having an opinion is ridiculous. We are human beings with the right to share ideas and communicate our hopes and fears so we can change our lives for the better. We should be given the opportunity to speak freely and together.

Standing in solidarity

I must stay strong for Amal and our three-year-old son. When I visit Amal in prison, I do my best to keep her morale up – as well as my own. It’s been incredible to see how people are rallying behind Amal and calling for her release. Supporters from Amnesty International have been writing letters – and it’s heartening to see how many people are standing in solidarity with us. It gives both of us the energy to continue. With so many people behind us, we don’t feel isolated and we won’t give up.  

Living in limbo is frustrating for all of us. My son and I keep hoping Amal will be released, and when she’s not, it’s heart-breaking and the cycle starts all over again, especially now her case is going to trial.

The Egyptian authorities have been using these charges against critics and journalists in an attempt to silence them. My wife was brave in speaking up about her experience of sexual harassment in Egypt and should be applauded for her courage – not put on trial.

Amal Fathy is part of Amnesty International’s Brave Campaign, which calls for the recognition and protection of human rights defenders around the world.