CAIRO -- In a case closely watched by human rights advocates, a leading figure in Egypt’s 2011 revolution was freed on bail Sunday after spending nearly four months in jail.
Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested in late November, soon after a tough new anti-protest law took effect. He faces charges of organizing an illegal demonstration and assaulting police, both of which he denies.
Abdel Fattah’s arrest, together with that of several other prominent secular activists around the same time, marked the start of an expanded crackdown by the military-led interim government against its critics. The case has also cast a spotlight on Egypt’s harsh prison conditions, which Abdel Fattah and others have detailed in jailhouse letters.
Until late last year, Egyptian authorities had mainly targeted Islamist supporters of the ousted President Mohamed Morsi, but in recent months, activists, journalists, filmmakers and academics have been caught up in the wave of arrests as well. In all, an estimated 16,000 people have been jailed since the interim government took power less than nine months ago.
The imprisoned journalists include three men – two with foreign passports – who work for the broadcaster Al Jazeera English. Human rights groups, Western governments and media advocacy organizations have denounced as ludicrous the terrorism-related charges against them.
Qatari-owned Al Jazeera says it considers the case politically motivated. Egypt is locked in a dispute with Qatar over the wealthy Gulf emirate’s support for Morsi, who is also imprisoned and facing a variety of serious charges, including espionage.
The journalists’ trial, and that of 16 others charged along them, was to resume Monday.