Ahdaf Soueif, Leila Soueif, Mona Seif and Rabab al-Mahdi were taken from a protesting at overcrowding of Egyptian prisons and detention centers, where they were demanding the government take measures to limit potential spread of COVID-19:
On Thursday afternoon, Soueif’s son Omar Robert Hamilton said on Twitter that “Ahdaf, Mona and Rabab are finally out. Laila is still detained. More to follow.“
Then, late Thursday, he followed with: “Laila Soueif is released – on a further 3000 EGP bail on another set of (very similar) charges. So, for now, they are all out. Next we see how to deal with these cases.”
Mada Masr initially reported that the four — the acclaimed novelist and memoirist, two professors, and an activist-scientist — were taken from the Qasr al-Nil police station to the Qasr al-Nil Prosecution.
Writer and editor Yasmin El-Rifae explained that prison visits “the only point of contact for many prisoners – are suspended during #COVID2019. It’s been two weeks since @alaa‘s family have seen him or had any news from him, and he of them, while the pandemic spreads. That’s why @Monasosh & others held their small stand today.”
El-Rifae relayed Wednesday night that charges had been filed against Ahdaf Soueif: “Award-winning writer, @PalFest founder, all-around cultural exemplar Ahdaf Soueif charged with illegal protest and spreading false news about negligence within prisons regarding #COVID19, according to lawyers. Prosecutors still to question Mona, Leila, and Rabab.”
An announcement was made late Wednesday night that all four would be released on LE5,000 bail each, according to lawyer Khaled Ali. According to Omar Robert Hamilton, bail was paid at 4 a.m., but it wasn’t until Thursday evening that three of the four were released.
Further, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights:
2/ Spreading false news and rumors with malicious intent which would lead to the disruption of public peace and the instigation of panic among the public,
— المبادرة المصرية للحقوق الشخصية (@EIPR) March 18, 2020
Meanwhile, English PEN issued a statement, saying, “Egypt’s detention and arrest of several activists, including prominent Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif, demonstrates that the Egyptian government is more concerned with its reputation than the rights of its citizens, including their freedom of expression and right to information.”
The small protest was a request that the Egyptian state take measures to ensure COVID-19 not spread rapidly through its prisons.
As Soueif’s son, the novelist and filmmaker Omar Robert Hamilton said on Twitter, “Seems maybe the regime is banking that with the world’s attention on Coronavirus they can be done with these four women who are a constant problem for them.”
However, the arrest certainly did not pass unnoticed.
"Egypt's government should rise to its role and release Ahdaf Soueif and others who called for the release of prisoners to prevent #COVID19 exposure. Jailing writers who speak truth to power is an authoritarian trick; Egypt must walk back from that path."
— PEN International (@pen_int) March 18, 2020
More about the protesters’ call to the government here:
Authorities must end over-crowding in prisons & detention centres to limit potential spread of @V2019N
Laila Soueif letter to Prosecutor-General: decision is your responsibility & you will be held accountablehttps://t.co/PmVGAnTOuh#سجون_مصر #كورونا_مصر #فيه_وباء_خرجوا_السجناء pic.twitter.com/bbTBBaEKDZ
— Ahdaf Soueif (@asoueif) March 17, 2020