According to his family, the transfer took place because Abdel-Fattah had been on a hunger strike for about 48 days in protest of his imprisonment. Abdel-Fattah has been serving time in one of the most notorious prisons in the Tora complex since his last arrest in September 2019.
“We are really happy that Ala Abd al-Fattah has been removed from the ‘guardianship’ of the officers who hate him personally. We are relieved that he is in a place where there are some medical facilities, ”wrote his aunt, award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soef, on his Facebook page.
Abdel-Fattah has been denied access to books, exercise outside his cell, regular visits and appropriate medical care, according to his family. He had earlier filed several complaints alleging his misconduct and alleged that he had been beaten and insulted by some prison officials.
Earlier this month, hundreds of Egyptian women filed a petition with the state-appointed National Council for Human Rights, entitled “A Mother’s Pleasure,” demanding the release of the 40-year-old programmer. In response, NCHR President Mushira Khattab announced that authorities had agreed to transfer him to the newly-built Wadi El-Nattern prison complex, where he said human rights standards had been met.
Abel-Fattah is an outspoken dissident who rose to prominence during the 2011 pro-democracy uprising that wreaked havoc in the Middle East and Egypt, overthrowing longtime President Hosni Mubarak. The activist has spent most of his life behind bars for the past decade, and his capture has become a symbol of Egypt’s return to authoritarian rule.
Last month, Abdel-Fattah’s family said he had obtained British citizenship through Laila Soeif, a mathematics professor at Cairo University who was born in London. The family said they wanted Abdel-Fattah a British passport as a way out of his “impossible ordeal”.
Abdel-Fattah arrived Wednesday morning at his new prison, located in a desert valley 150 kilometers north of Cairo, his sister said. He added that he had been kept in a large room with three other prisoners and had been allowed to sleep on a mattress for the first time in years.
The government of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a US ally with deep economic ties to European countries, has relentlessly silenced dissidents and cracked down on independent organizations, including arrests and sanctions, for years. Many of the top activists involved in the 2011 uprising are now in prison, mostly under a strict law passed in 2013 that effectively banned all street protests.
“We don’t know if that means an improvement in the situation,” her sister said in a video posted earlier on Facebook. “The problem with Ala’s prison is not only that it is a high-security prison, but also that the Ministry of Internal and State Security and the Egyptian authorities have actively deprived him of every privilege and every right that should be granted easily.”
Saif said his brother would continue his hunger strike until “an independent judge” reviewed his allegations about the conditions of imprisonment.
Abdel-Fattah was first sentenced in 2014 after being convicted of participating in an unauthorized protest and assaulting a police officer. He was released on a five-year term in 2019 but was re-arrested later that year in a crackdown following rare anti-government protests.
He was sentenced in December to five years in prison for spreading false news. Abdel-Fattah has been charged separately with abusing social media and joining a terrorist group – a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities declared a terrorist organization in 2013.