Leading Egypt activist out on probation after 5 years in jail


Cairo (AFP)

Egypt's most prominent pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, was released on probation Friday after five years in prison on charges of organising an illegal protest.

The outspoken dissident and blogger, who was an iconic figure of the Arab Spring revolution that unseated longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was reunited with his family after being released from Tora Prison, in Cairo's southern outksirts.

"Alaa is out," his sisters proclaimed on social media.

His younger sister Sanaa Seif posted a short video clip of him playing with his dog.

Abdel Fattah now faces five years of strict supervision under a November 2017 appeals decision that reduced his original prison sentence.

He will be required to sleep every night at his local police station, a security source confirmed.

The secular activist and software developer, who has written extensively for progressive media, was caught up in the sweeping crackdown that followed the army's overthrow of elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

A wave of arrests initially targeted Morsi supporters, with thousands of Islamists detained and hundreds sentenced to death or long prison sentences after cursory mass trials that have been condemned by the United Nations and international human rights watchdogs.

But the crackdown swiftly widened to include secular opponents of the new regime installed by then army chief now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In November 2013, a new law was promulgated effectively banning public gatherings and Abdel Fattah was arrested from his home and later charged with organising a protest outside parliament in defiance of the ban.

Actors, novelists, singers and bloggers have all been caught up in the crackdown led by Sisi, who was re-elected virtually unopposed last year.

The former army chief says the protests ban is necessary to safeguard stability in the face of a persistent insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula inspired by the Islamic State group.

Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the crackdown but criticism by Western governments has abated in the face of what they see as the bigger threats posed by IS and the growing regional power of Iran.