For Mother’s Day, which was yesterday in Egypt, Laila Soueif will receive as a gift the opportunity to visit her two children in prison once more than expected: today she will see Sanaa, the day after tomorrow Alaa. Usually – he tells us on the phone from Cairo – it is only possible once a month, for twenty minutes, and for only one family member. “They justify these restrictions with the coronavirus.”
Hers is the family of activists best known of Egypt. Last Wednesday, Sanaa Seif, 27, the youngest of her three children, was sentenced to a year and a half in prison: one year for having “published fake news” on the pandemic in Egypt and the spread of the virus in prisons; six months for offending a police officer. The young woman had criticized the handling of Covid by the prison authorities on Facebook. It wasn’t the only one. A UN expert report last August raised suspicions about outbreaks in several Egyptian prisons and police stations, and Human Rights Watch had “credible news” about the deaths from Covid of at least 14 prisoners between March and July.
Last June, Sanaa, with her sister Mona and her mother Laila, had slept for two nights in front of the Tora prison waiting to receive a letter from Alaa Abdel Fattah, the imprisoned brother since September 2019 on charges of organizing protests against the Al Sisi regime (it is only the last of his periods of detention; Alaa could neither see his father die nor see his 9-year-old son be born). His mother and sisters had not seen him since March 2020: visits were forbidden, even then for Covid, but the guardians had promised to deliver the letter. While the activists slept in front of the prison, were attacked and robbed by women they suspect were sent by the authorities. The next day, June 23, all three went to the prosecutor’s office, along with their lawyers, to file a complaint and show the bruises, and it was then that Sanaa was “kidnapped on the street by plainclothes officers.” They took her away in a white minibus at 2pm. Two hours later, she appeared at the State Security prosecutor who ordered her pre-trial detention on charges of inciting terrorism, spreading false news and misusing social media. Accusations similar to those that have reached, among others, Patrick Zaki, locked up in Tora.
Mathematics teacher, Laila is the sister of writer Ahdaf Soueif and her husband was human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif Al Islam, himself imprisoned four times under Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak and died in 2014. Mona, Sanaa’s sister, was the leader of the campaign against the military trials to which the army subjected at least 1,200 civilians after the 2011 revolution.
Last week 31 countries, including Italy, they declared concern for human rights in Egypt, including “the application of anti-terrorism laws to those who raise peaceful criticism”. Cairo replied that they received “inaccurate information”. “You Italians – says Laila Soueif – you have to put pressure on your government not to sell weapons to Al-Sisi ». If you ask her if she intends to continue her activism, she replies: “As long as my children are in prison, I have no choice.”
March 21, 2021 (change March 21, 2021 | 22:28)