Free Alaa Campaign Takes Social Media by Storm

It's been a year since the imprisonment of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, an icon of the Egyptian revolution, for his activism. Alaa was slapped a five year prison sentence for allegedly taking part in a protest and “assaulting a policeman and stealing his walkie talkie.” He was also fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds (13,000 US dollars). To mark the anniversary, netizens from around the world changed their avatars to Abd El Fattah's infamous picture on social media platforms to draw attention to his plight and that of thousands of other political prisoners in Egypt.

Abd El Fattah is one of 25 defendants in what has become known as the Shura Council case. He was first arrested for this case on November 28, 2013. Last June, he was sentenced to 15 years in absentia and given a 100,000 Egyptian pound fine after being convicted of attacking a police officer and violating a 2013 protest law that prohibits unauthorized demonstrations. According to Mada Masr, which quoted the state-owned Ahram Gate website, they are accused of: “organizing an unauthorized protest outside the Shura Council in Cairo, attacking a police officer, stealing a walkie-talkie, hooliganism, aggression against police officers, blocking the road, crowding a public place and destruction of public property.”

After an appeal by his lawyers, Abd El Fattah was issued a retrial in August 2014. On September 15, 2014, the presiding judge recused himself from the case after an incident a week earlier, in which the prosecution presented a video depicting Manal Hassan, Abd El Fattah’s wife, dancing. Taken from Hassan’s laptop, which confiscated by police when Abd El Fattah was arrested and taken from his family’s home in November of 2013, the video bears no discernible relationship with his political activities.

The saga came to a complete circle on February 23, 2015, with the new judge issuing a five year jail sentence against Abd El Fattah and another defendant Ahmed Abdel Rahman, who was passing by the protest, and was arrested along with Abdel Fattah, as he was helping some girls who were being harassed by the police. Abdel Rahman was also slapped a similar fine. Eighteen other defendants were sentenced to three years in prison and three years on probation, in addition to a similar fine.