Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah rearrested amid crackdown

Prominent pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who served five years in prison in Egypt, has been rearrested, according to his family and rights groups.

The blogger and software engineer was a leading voice among the young Egyptians who initially led the 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Government critics say his arrest is part of a wave of crackdowns, the largest since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in 2014.

Nearly 2,000 people have been arrested, according to rights groups, since anti-government protests began in Cairo and other Egyptian cities earlier this month.

The protests were spurred by exiled former military contractor Mohamed Ali.

Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office has denied those numbers, saying on Thursday that no more than 1,000 suspects had been questioned since the protests began. 

Abdel Fattah was initially arrested in November 2013 and charged with protesting without permission and assaulting a police officer.

After his release in March from the notorious Tora prison, Abdel Fattah was ordered to spend his nights at a police station for the next five years as part of his parole.

His family said he was preparing to leave that station when he was arrested on Sunday morning.

“I arrived at the police station and I found the place where he spends the probation empty, I asked them where Alaa was … The chief detective came out and told me that Alaa is at the national security prosecution,” his sister Mona Seif said, according to Reuters news agency. 

On Twitter, Seif, who is also an activist, said the family did not know what charges Abdel Fattah faced as of Sunday night. 

“Fed up doesn’t begin to describe how Im [sic] feeling,” she said in another post that included a picture of her brother. “He was really trying to rebuild a life that was completely crushed Had to restart everything: work, personal life & his role as a father.”

A security source told Reuters news agency an arrest warrant had been issued against the activist over accusations of publishing false news and inciting people to protest. The Interior Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment by several news agencies. 

Mohamed al-Baqer, a lawyer representing Abdel Fattah, was also arrested on Sunday at the national security prosecutor’s office, another lawyer who witnessed the incident, told Reuters. 

Al-Baqer had been waiting for an interrogation of Abdel Fattah to begin. 

“This is a blatant violation against lawyers. Lawyers are immune while working, just like judges and prosecutors. As a lawyer, I am afraid about getting arrested right now,” he said. 

Government crackdown

El-Sisi has downplayed the protests, calling them “no reasons for concern”, even as the police and army have tightened security in major cities across the country in recent days. 

Rights groups say those arrested include writers, activists and opposition figures.

Their defence lawyers say many have been investigated on allegations of using social media to spread false news, joining a banned “terrorist” group or protesting without a permit.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern on Friday.

“I remind the Egyptian government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully,” Bachelet said, adding they had a right to express opinions on social media.

“They should never be detained, let alone charged with serious offences, simply for exercising those rights,” she said.

Egypt’s foreign ministry dismissed the UN statement, saying it was “based on baseless information”.