Egypt: Sanaa Seif’s conviction on bogus charges a travesty of justice

The 10th South Cairo Criminal Court today convicted Egyptian human rights activist and film editor Sanaa Seif on charges of spreading false news”, “misusing social media” and insulting a police officer on duty, and sentenced her to one and a half years in prison.

Responding to the conviction, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa,  Amna Guellali said:   

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. 

"Instead of ordering investigations into the assault against Sanaa Seif and her family on 22 June 2020 in full view of security forces, Egyptian authorities arbitrarily arrested her and have now imprisoned her on bogus charges stemming purely from her peaceful criticism, including expressing concerns for the lives and health of detainees crammed into Egypt’s notoriously overcrowded and dirty prisons amid the spread of COVID-19 

The Egyptian authorities have yet again demonstrated their unrelenting intent to punish any criticism of their dismal human rights record.
Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

The Egyptian authorities must immediately release Sanaa Seif and urgently open an investigation into the violent assault on her and her family, including the complicity of security forces in the attack."

Amnesty International has reviewed the evidence against Sanaa Seif including comments posted online about the 22 June attack - and found that the criticism she expressed did not amount to advocacy of hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.   

Under international law, “insult” is not a recognizable offense and does not justify a limitation on freedom of expression. In addition, the UN Human Rights Committee has stated that “the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties". 

Background 

Sanaa Seif was seized in broad daylight on 23 June 2020 by unidentified security forces, without a warrant, from outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office where she was planning to file a complaint about a violent assault she had suffered the day before, in full view of security forces. 

On 22 June 2020, Sanaa Seif was waiting outside the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo, to receive a letter from her arbitrarily detained brother, the activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. Her mother, Laila Soueif, and sister, Mona Seif, were with her. A group of women approached the family and beat them with sticks, tore their clothes, dragged them onto the ground and stole some of their belongings. One policeman reportedly pushed Laila Soueif towards the assailants, while another ordered the assailants to “take them out [of the designated waiting area]”. The assault left visible marks on the women’s bodies according to photos examined by Amnesty International. 

Amnesty International examined Sanaa Seif’s arrest order and found that it included fabricated information, claiming she was arrested at a checkpoint and was shown an arrest warrant. To date, the Egyptian authorities have failed to investigate the legality of her arrest or the attack against her family.  

Sanaa Seif was convicted on charges of “disseminating false news”, “misuse of social media” and insulting a police officer on duty. The latter charge relates to a verbal altercation with a police officer when he pushed her mother on the day of the assault and relaying the incident on her social media. Sanaa Seif had also been critical of the authorities’ mishandling of COVID-19 outbreaks in Egypt’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons, and has been calling for the release on those arbitrarily detained including her brother Alaa Abdel Fattah. 

Since 2014, Sanaa Seif has already been convictedsentenced to prison terms and imprisoned in relation to two other cases for exercising her rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.