(New York, NY) — PEN America denounced the jail term handed out to blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah on Monday after a Cairo court sentenced him to five years in prison for “broadcasting false news.” Abd El Fattah had shared a social media post in 2019 about the torture and death of an Egyptian prisoner. Abd El Fattah’s lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer and fellow blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim were given four-year jail terms for the same charges. 

“This wildly disproportionate sentence is an affront to all sense of decency and justice,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of free expression at risk programs. “Alaa Abd El Fattah has done nothing more than share information and is being harshly penalized for exercising his right to free expression. He has already suffered greatly in the Egyptian prison system, and PEN America fears for his health and safety. We call on the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately, and to cease the detention and prosecution of writers and advocates on spurious charges.”

Alaa Abd El Fattah was a major influence during the Arab Spring in 2011, using his background as a software developer, blogger, and activist to mobilize people during the uprising. He has spent most of the past decade imprisoned for his political activism. Though he was released on strict probation terms in March 2019 after serving a five-year sentence, he was re-arrested in September of that year. Ever since, he had been held in pre-trial detention in the notorious Tora Prison, where he has been subject to torture and denied due process and a fair trial. In April 2020, Abd El Fattah went on a hunger strike in protest of these inhumane conditions.

Egyptian authorities have regularly exploited pre-trial detention in order to hold detainees for years in jail without ever charging them or bringing them to trial. This mechanism has kept academics, human rights defenders, journalists, and other dissidents imprisoned with no charges and little legal recourse. 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.