These Are The Stories Of 12 Journalists And Activists Silenced In Egypt For Speaking Up

Over 41,000 people have been arrested, indicted or sentenced as part of the government's crackdown on dissent and activists since the 2011 revolution.

Five years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to demand the end of the regime of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

While hopes of democracy, freedom of speech and a brighter future motivated the crowds, Egypt’s subsequent leaders -- the military leadership that took over after Mubarak's fall, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, military-appointed interim President Adly Mansour and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi -- have waged an ever-intensifying crackdown on dissent.

Although Egyptian authorities have not disclosed an official count of detainees, human rights experts said over 41,000 people had been arrested, indicted or sentenced as part of the government's muzzle on dissent and activists since the 2011 revolution, according to a 2015 Amnesty International report.

Since coming to power in June 2014, Sisi’s government has been tarnished with allegations of torture, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances. "Enforced disappearances" are defined as when state officials abduct people secretly and then deny it, per Amnesty International.

Security forces have arrested some 22,000 people since July 2014, Human Rights Watch wrote in a report released Wednesday. Judges have convicted hundreds of people at a time during mass trials, and many of them were sentenced in absentia. In many court cases, judges handed down sentences based on little to no material evidence against defendants, Amnesty International said.

Last August, Sisi issued a counterterrorism law that further widened the government's surveillance powers.

In the weeks leading up to the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the country's officials have further cracked down on activists and dissenters, closing down cultural centers and cafes, and even encouraged imams to preach about the "sinfulness" of protests against Sisi, Reuters reported.

Here are the stories of 12 journalists and activists who remain imprisoned in Egypt for speaking up.

Ahmed Douma
Amr Dalsh / Reuters
Detained since Dec. 3, 2013; sentenced to life in prison on Feb. 4, 2015.

Ahmed Douma is an Egyptian political activist who gained notoriety for his involvement in the country's uprising against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and his arrests under the consecutive regimes of Mubarak, the military leadership, President Mohammed Morsi and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

He was arrested on Jan. 12, 2012, on charges of inciting violence against the army and encouraging attacks on public property during protests in Cairo. He was also detained on April 30, 2013, for calling the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi a killer and a criminal. He was arrested again on Dec. 3, 2013, and sentenced on Dec. 22, 2013, to three years in prison under charges of participating in demonstrations against a new law that required people to notify authorities at least three days before staging protests.

On Feb. 4, 2015, alongside 228 others, Douma was sentenced to life in prison and fined 17 million Egyptian pounds ($2 million) on charges of rioting, inciting violence and attacking security forces during cabinet clashes in late 2011. When the judge read his verdict, Douma laughed and clapped from his courtroom cage, Reuters reported.
Abdullah al-Fakharany
Imprisoned since Aug. 25, 2013; sentenced to life imprisonment on April 11, 2015.

Journalist Abdullah al-Fakharany is the co-founder and executive director of Rassd News Network, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood online outlet. Al-Fakharany is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights.

On Aug. 25, 2013, al-Fakharany was arrested in Cairo alongside fellow journalists Samhy Mostafa and Mohamed al-Adly after visiting the home of their friend Mohamed Salah Soltan, an Egyptian-American who was injured in deadly clashes between Egyptian security forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters, which took place after the Islamist regime was ousted by the military. Soltan's father was a deputy minister under the Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Al-Fakharany, Mustafa and al-Adly were originally charged with "disturbing the peace." In February 2014, then-Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat charged the three journalists with "spreading chaos" and "spreading false information" for the Muslim Brotherhood in their coverage about the fatalities and injuries during the August 2013 clashes, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported. Egypt's military-backed government had labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization in December 2013.

The journalists were sentenced to life imprisonment on April 11, 2015, according to Egyptian outlet El Watan News.

In a letter published on May 3, 2015, World Press Freedom Day, al-Fakharany wrote that he was "tortured, brutally beaten and deprived of any medical care."
Samhy Mostafa
Samhy Mostafa/Twitter
Imprisoned since Aug. 25, 2013; sentenced to life imprisonment on April 11, 2015.

Journalist Samhy Mostafa is the co-founder of online news outlet Rassd News Network. He was arrested in Cairo on Aug. 23, 2013, alongside Abdullah al-Fakharany, Mohamed al-Adly and Mohamed Salah Soltan. Mostafa was charged with "spreading chaos" and "spreading false information" for the Muslim Brotherhood about the August 2013 clashes, and sentenced to life imprisonment on April 11, 2015.

Mostafa and his friends reportedly underwent harsh treatment in prison. When they were first imprisoned, Soltan, Mostafa, al-Fakharany and al-Adly were forced to run in between two rows of officers, "Soul Train style, only we were greeted with batons, whips and belts," according to a testimony Soltan made to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2015.

"We want to go home already," Mostafa tweeted on Jan. 16.
Mohamed al-Adly
Imprisoned since Aug. 25, 2013; sentenced to life imprisonment on April 11, 2015.

Mohamed al-Adly worked as a presenter at Amgad TV, an Islamic satellite channel.

In February 2014, Egypt's prosecutor general accused the Muslim Brotherhood of using media outlets, including Amgad TV and Rassd, to spread lies about the military and the incumbent government, CPJ reported. Along with Samhy Mostafa and Abdullah al-Fakharany, Al-Adly was charged with "spreading chaos" and "spreading false information" about the August 2013 clashes.

Al-Adly was sentenced to life imprisonment on April 11, 2015. He was denied permission to visit his mother while she was sick in the hospital and denied permission to attend her funeral, according to Daily News Egypt.
Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein
Imprisoned since Jan. 25, 2014; formal charges have yet to be made.

Dubbed by the media as the “anti-torture T-shirt prisoner,” Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein was arrested at the age of 18 while walking home from a peaceful demonstration in Cairo to celebrate the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution, wearing a T-shirt that read, “Nation without torture.”

Hussein is accused of illegal protesting, getting paid to protest, possessing Molotov cocktails and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian government classifies as a terrorist organization.

While his detention has repeatedly been renewed, Hussein has not been formally charged or tried for any offense.
Alaa Abdel Fattah
Mostafa el-Shemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Detained for three months in 2014; currently serving a five-year sentence that began on Feb. 23, 2015.

Pro-democracy blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was a prominent figure in Egypt’s 2011 revolt, known for campaigning against military trials for civilians. He was detained for two months in 2011 for alleged involvement in violent protests, and during that time his first child was born.

Abdel Fattah was arrested again in 2013 during a protest outside the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters, but later acquitted of charges of inciting violence. He was also jailed on June 11, 2014, alongside at least 22 others, for violating protest laws, and was later sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. Abdel Fattah was released on bail later that year, following the death of his father. He was retried on Feb. 23, 2015, in a Cairo courtroom and given a reduced sentence of five years in prison on charges of organizing an illegal protest and assaulting a policeman.

In prison, Abdel Fattah described his conditions as “bearable” but said authorities were “intransigent” and did not let him read any books, as a means of isolation. "I have nothing to say: no hopes, no dreams, no fears, no warnings, no insights; nothing, absolutely nothing," Abdel Fattah wrote in an article for The Guardian marking the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution.
Dr. Taher Mokhtar
Imprisoned since Jan. 14, 2016.

Health care activist Taher Mokhtar was taken from his home in Cairo during a raid in January. The member of the Freedoms and Rights Committee of the Doctors' Union was arrested along with fellow activists Ahmad Hassan and Hossam al-Din Hamady.

The trio was interrogated for nine hours by National Security officers. Prosecutors reportedly decided to hold them for four days, and later extended the period to 15 days.

After the 2011 uprising, Mokhtar helped lead multiple strikes that led to increased funding for public health care and improved conditions for health workers. He also spoke out against police brutality, including the case of Khaled Said, who was beaten to death by police officers in 2010.

Mokhtar faces charges of possessing publications calling for the overthrow of the regime.
Omar Abdel Maksoud
Arrested twice; imprisoned since April 15, 2014.

Omar Abdel Maksoud, a photographer for independent Egyptian news website Masr al-Arabia, has been arrested twice. Many of Masr al-Arabia's reports reflect post-revolution attitudes.

Abdel Maksoud was first arrested on Feb. 19, 2014, when he was covering the baby shower of Dahab Hamdy, a woman who had been detained and forced to give birth in handcuffs, according to the Middle East Research and Information Project's November 2015 issue. Police stormed the celebration and arrested all those involved, CPJ said. Abdel Maksoud was charged with working for Al Jazeera, a publication that was banned in Egypt and accused of using its reporting to spread lies and rumors against the incumbent regime.

The photographer was released on bail a month later, on March 9, 2014, after which he continued to work for Masr al-Arabia.

On April 15, Abdel Maksoud was arrested again at his family's home in Mit Ghamr, along with his brothers Ibrahim and Anas, per CPJ. The three brothers were charged with setting fire to cars during Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's presidential campaign, MERIP reported. Abdel Maksoud was later charged with belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, but his friends and family publicly denied the accusation.

In jail, officers electrocuted Abdel Maksoud and pulled off his fingernails, forms of torture used to coerce a confession, Masr al-Arabia reported. Abdel Maksoud and his brothers were sentenced in absentia to life in prison on the charges on Jan. 19, 2015, CPJ noted.

A trial date for Abdel Maksoud on the charges of working for Al Jazeera has not yet been set, per CPJ.
Mahmoud Abou Zeid ("Shawkan")
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Imprisoned since Aug.14, 2013; formal charges have yet to be made.

Freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, was arrested along with U.S. journalist Mike Giglio and French photojournalist Louis Jammes on Aug. 14, 2013, while covering clashes between security forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters. He was then beaten and tortured by policemen, and held without charge in prison, Zeid wrote in a March 5, 2015, letter marking his 600th day of imprisonment.

Zeid was diagnosed with hepatitis C before his arrest, and the photographer's family said he was being denied medication in prison, according to Amnesty International.

"After more than 850 days in the black hole without fairness and justice, I am lost in limbo," Zeid wrote in a December 2015 letter from prison.

There have still not been any charges made against Zeid. His first court session, which was originally scheduled for Dec. 12, 2015, was postponed to Feb. 6, 2016, according to the Free Shawkan campaign.
Mahienour el-Massry
Mohamed Mahmoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Detained since May 20, 2014; sentenced to 15 months in prison on May 31, 2015.

On March 29, 2013, outspoken human rights lawyer Mahienour el-Massry was arrested outside el-Raml Police Station in Alexandria while staging a peaceful sit-in protest in solidarity with lawyers who said the station's officers had verbally and physically assaulted them, according to Amnesty International. Among the protesters were journalist Youssef Shaaban and political activist Loay el-Kahwagy, who were also arrested.

El-Massry, Shaaban and el-Kahwagy -- along with seven other people -- were sentenced in February 2015 to two years' imprisonment and charged with a string of offenses, including "protesting without authorization," "damaging police property," "attacking security forces" and "threatening public security," per Amnesty International. The prison sentence was later reduced to 15 months on May 31, 2015, according to Amnesty International.

Earlier, on Jan. 2, 2014, el-Massry was charged on a separate case with "protesting without a permit" and "assaulting security forces," and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in absentia, the International Federation for Human Rights reported. The lawyer filed a demurrer against the ruling, which an Alexandrian misdemeanor court rejected on May 20, per the International Federation for Human Rights. El-Massry was immediately detained after the hearing.

The January 2014 case was brought against el-Massry following her participation in a Dec. 2, 2013, protest denouncing police officers for the 2010 deadly beating of Khaled Said, who was killed by two officers on a public street after Said refused to show police his ID during a random raid. (The two police officers were sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of manslaughter in October 2011, and jailed for ten years in a 2014 retrial.)

In an October 2015 Facebook post, el-Massry's sister noted that the lawyer lived in "atrocious" conditions in prison, with some 27 prisoners crammed into a room 5 by 6 meters (16 by 20 feet) large, and in which women were forced to sleep on top of each other.

El-Massry was named the 2014 recipient of the Ludovic Trarieux prize, an annual award for lawyers recognizing their contributions to international human rights. She was the second person to receive the award in prison, after Nelson Mandela.
Islam Behery
Islam Behery/Twitter
Imprisoned since Dec. 28, 2015.

Egyptian authorities sentenced TV presenter Islam Behery to one year in prison for “contempt of religion” and defaming Islam on his show “With Islam” in late 2015, a reduction of a previous five-year sentence. In June 2015, he was acquitted of similar blasphemy charges that were also made in connection to his TV show, which is currently suspended. “With Islam” offered an understanding of Islamic doctrine and called into question the credibility of some of the sources of Prophet Muhammad's sayings, government-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported. Behery has reportedly maintained that his only intention was to revitalize religious discourse and protect Islamic theology from the influence of ultra-conservative jihadist interpretations.

"Egypt is the country of injustice," Behery posted in Arabic on his Facebook page after his sentencing.
Youssef Shaaban
Imprisoned since May 31, 2015.

Journalist Youssef Shaaban worked as the editor of Al-Bedaiah, an independent news website edited by Khaled el-Balshy, a journalist who heads the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate's Freedoms Committee and who has repeatedly protested for journalists' rights. Shaaban is also a board member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, Al-Bedaiah reported.

Shaaban was covering the el-Raml Police Station protest in Alexandria, at which Mahienour el-Massry was also present, on March 29, 2013, when he was arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. His wife, Ranwa Mohamed Youssef Ali, said police officers sexually assaulted her as they arrested her husband, Amnesty International added.

The journalist was sentenced in February 2015 to two years' imprisonment, based on charges including protesting in front and inside el-Raml Police Station, "attacking police officers and staff," and "insulting the Interior Ministry," per Amnesty International. An appeal court reduced his jail sentence from two years to 15 months on May 31, 2015.

Shaaban suffers from hepatitis C, and his wife said prison authorities denied him from receiving medication, Amnesty International reported. Last August, Shaaban's lawyer asked an Alexandria court to suspend the journalist's sentence, but the request was denied, according to state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

This post is part of a series looking back at the five years since the start of the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. More in the series:


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