Egypt: Activists Abdel Fattah, El-Baqer, and Oxygen Interrogated by SSSP

Human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim “Oxygen” were brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) for questioning on August 17.

This suggests that they could hopefully be referred to trial in the near future.

Investigators reportedly interrogated them for seven hours, asking Abdel Fattah about posts he made in 2019 and El-Baqer about his work with the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, which he established in 2014.

Ibrahim, better known as “Mohamed Oxygen,” was also reportedly questioned, but it is unclear whether he was simply interrogated or also rotated to a new case.

The trio’s unexpected summoning before investigators indicates that they could soon be referred to trial.

They have all spent nearly the last two years in pretrial detention on charges of allegedly joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news without ever facing the charges in court.

Alaa Abd El Fattah is an Egyptian activist, software developer, and blogger. His activism and use of technology made him a key voice during the Arab Spring, during which he began to develop Arabic-language versions of important software and platforms. In November 2013, he was arrested on a charge of allegedly organizing a political protest without a permit.

He was released on bail on March 23, 2014, and then was sentenced to 15 years in jail in absentia in June 2014, but was able to appeal. In February 2015, as a result of the appeals process, he received a reduced five year sentence which he served until March 2019. However, on September 29, 2019, Abd El Fattah was re-arrested and detained by authorities amid the widespread crackdown on protests that erupted in late September.

Mohamed El-Baqer is a human rights lawyer and the founder and director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms. He has been arbitrarily detained for more than 21 months without charge or trial, simply for his human rights work. El-Baqer has a long history of defending individuals whose rights have been violated, including civilians tried before military courts, protesters, and members of marginalized communities, including religious and ethnic minorities. The organization he founded focuses on criminal justice, the right to education, and minority rights.

On 29 September 2019, El-Baqer was arrested while representing his client, imprisoned human rights activist and blogger Alaa Abdelfattah, who was detained and being interrogated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP). During Abdelfattah’s questioning, a prosecutor informed El-Baqer that he too was under arrest pending investigations into unfounded accusations of “joining a terrorist group,” “funding a terrorist group,” “disseminating false news undermining national security,” and “us[ing] social media to commit a publishing offense” in Case No. 1356/2019.

Blogger Mohamed Oxygen, owner of “Oxygen Masr” blog, was arrested while he was at Al-Basateen Police Station to implement the precautionary measure pending Case 621 of 2018 State Security and was released thereafter. However, on 8 October 2019, the blogger appeared at the State Security Prosecution’s headquarters as a defendant who is accused of colluding with a terrorist group to achieve its goals and spreading false news and information in connection with Case No. 13 of 2019 State Security.

He continued to be held on remand until the 3rd of November 2020, when Cairo Criminal Court, convened at the Police Cadets Institute in Tora Prison Complex, ordered his release with precautionary measures. The security services, however, didn’t implement the decision and held “Oxygen” in their custody until 10 November 2020, when his lawyers were surprised at their client being referred, for the third time, to the Supreme State Security Prosecution over the same charges “joining a terrorist group” in connection with Case No. 855 of 2020, whose proceedings took place while “Oxygen” was languishing behind bars in the high-security prison in the security services’ custody and with the knowledge of the Public Prosecution.

On August 18, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a statement calling for the release of four Al Jazeera journalists detained in Egypt.

Despite restoring diplomatic relations with Qatar in January and even allowing Al Jazeera to broadcast from Cairo last month, authorities continue to imprison and mistreat the outlet’s journalists.

Al Jazeera Mubasher producer Rabie El-Sheikh was arrested on August 1 after landing at Cairo International Airport and charged with spreading false information. His arrest came after a recording was leaked in which he seemingly invited Abdel Nasser Salama, an Egyptian columnist and known critic of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to speak on Al Jazeera.

Salama, meanwhile, was arrested on July 19 and charged with spreading false information after criticizing the president’s handling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute.

Other imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists include Hesham Abdel Aziz and Bahaa Ed-Din Ibrahim, who were arrested in June 2019 and July 2020, respectively. Both were charged with “spreading false news” and “membership of a terrorist group” and have been subjected to medical neglect and torture. RSF did not reveal the identity of the fourth Al Jazeera journalist, who has been held in detention since June 2020.

Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk, said, “We urge the Egyptian authorities to go the whole way in their detente with Qatar by releasing all imprisoned Al Jazeera employees.” She added, “The resumption of activities by Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau won’t be regarded as complete as long as these journalists continue to suffer for the years of political rivalry between the two countries.”

Egypt’s repeated persecution of journalists and its obstruction of their work led RSF to rank it 166th out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.