(New York, NY) — PEN America today celebrated the release of Egyptian film editor, writer, and activist Sanaa Seif, who had been serving an eighteen-month sentence on spurious charges of “spreading false news,” “misusing social media,” and insulting a police officer on duty. 

“We are overjoyed and relieved to hear that Sanaa has been released from prison and our thoughts are with her and her family as she begins to recover from the horrible ordeal of the last eighteen months,” said Julie Trebault, the director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Sanaa was imprisoned on spurious charges related purely to her peaceful criticism of the government. She should never have been detained in the first place. We celebrate Sanaa’s freedom and we salute her courage and her tireless dedication to advocating for human rights and artistic freedom. Sanaa’s treatment is emblematic of the Egyptian government’s efforts to clamp down on any and all free expression and we call on the government to release those artists and activists who remain arbitrarily behind bars, including her brother Alaa.”  

Alaa Abd El Fattah, Seif’s brother and a prominent figure in the 2011 revolution, was sentenced to five years of prison on Monday, charged with “spreading false news undermining national security.” He was first detained in September 2019 and kept in continuous detention since then. In PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index 2020, Egypt ranked sixth worldwide in terms of imprisoned writers and public intellectuals, with Abd El Fattah among the at least 14 jailed during 2020. 

In June 2020, Sanaa Seif was waiting outside the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo to receive a letter from her brother, well-known activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, when she was attacked and beaten by a group of assailants. The next day, she went to the Public Prosecutor’s Office to file a complaint about the assault but was abducted in broad daylight by unidentified security forces without a warrant. Since then, she had been held in continuous detention until today. Seif’s trial began in September and she was eventually convicted in March 2021, and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, including time she had already served in detention.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.