April 27, 2019
Egyptian authorities have arrested thousands in a crackdown on dissent, even its most benign forms. And some former prisoners are finding that they are not really free despite having been released.
Just before dawn on May 11 last year, Amal Fathy and her husband Mohammed Lotfy’s lives changed forever. As Amal was trying to get their young son to sleep, Lotfy heard a knock at the door. On the other side, a plainclothes security officer stood alongside a group of masked and heavily armed special forces. Lotfy let them in and invited them to sit down.
“The plainclothes security official pulled up a chair at the dining table. He said to me, ‘You must know why we are here,'” recalled Lotfy.
While Lotfy was working documenting human rights abuses with his organization, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, it had been Amal that was in danger, despite her having done no more than upload a video to social media complaining about sexual harassment she’d suffered during a visit to the bank. The video had gone viral, and smears about Amal, a former actress and activist, began to appear in the pro-government local media.
Still, said Lotfy, “I didn’t expect her to be arrested.” When the officers demanded that the couple come to the local police station, they found another dozen masked and armed special forces waiting outside their building who looked as though they were prepared to arrest hardened criminals.