Egypt detains prominent women activists for demanding prisoner releases amid coronavirus epidemic

Egypt detains prominent women activists for demanding prisoner releases amid coronavirus epidemic
Egyptian police arrested four prominent women activists as they campaigned for the release of prisoners as the country grapples with a coronavirus epidemic.
2 min read
18 March, 2020
Most of the women are relatives of prominent imprisoned blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah [AFP]
Egyptian police arrested a group of prominent women activists on Wednesday after they campaigned for the release of prisoners over fears of potential coronavirus outbreaks in the country's overcrowded jails, AFP reported.

The activists included Mona Seif, her mother Laila Soueif and her aunt Ahdaf Soueif, in addition to academic Rabab Al-Mahdi. The group held a small demonstration in front of the cabinet building in central Cairo.

Mona is the sister and Laila the mother of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent blogger and activist, currently behind bars in Egypt.

Ahdaf Soueif, Abdel Fattah's aunt, is a respected novelist. Rabab Al-Mahdi is a political science professor at the American University of Cairo.

"We are in front of the cabinet building, asking for the state to take serious steps regarding coronavirus in prisons. As we know, at the best of times Egypt's prisons are clusters for disease," Mona Seif said in a Facebook Live broadcast before policemen interrupted her video and confiscated her phone.

Prominent human rights lawyer Khaled Ali told AFP the activists were referred to the prosecution for questioning.

Sanaa Seif, Mona Seif and Alaa Abdel Fattah's sister, said in a Facebook post she was prevented from seeing her family at a Cairo police station.

Mona Seif has raised awareness about conditions in Egyptian prisons and the dangers of contagion in recent weeks via social media.

On Tuesday, Laila Soueif wrote to Egypt's attorney general urging him to free prisoners, according to AFP.

"The only way to prevent detention centres becoming hubs for spreading the pandemic and endangering the entire population of the country is to release as many prisoners as possible," she wrote.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch called for Egyptian authorities to conditionally release "unfairly detained" prisoners, warning of a "disaster" during the public health crisis.

"Egyptian prisons are notorious for being overcrowded, dirty and unhygienic," wrote Amr Magdi, HRW Middle East and North Africa researcher.

Egypt has reported 196 COVID-19 cases and six deaths so far.

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