Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Alaa Abd El-Fatah

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    February 23, 2015
  • Outcome
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Egypt, Middle East and North Africa
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
  • Tags
    Civil Society Organizations

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Alaa Abd El-Fatah and 24 others were arrested during a protest before the lower House of Parliament in Cairo (“Magles Al-Shura”).  The charges included assaulting a police officer, stealing government property (an officer’s walkie-talkie), and holding an unlicensed protest.  The lower court sentenced them all to 15 years in prison for violating the ban on unlicensed protests and demonstrations.  The sentence of the lower court included a 5-year probation component in addition to a 100,000 Egyptian pound penalty for each defendant (approximately 20,000 USD each).

According to semi-independent Egyptian news sources, the defendants are still in custody despite a prior court ruling to set them free.  On September 15, 2014 the appellate criminal court refrained from hearing the case but set some of the defendants free with no explanation. Later, however, on November 26, 2014, the court ruled that Alaa Abd El-Fatah and his co-defendants would remain in custody until February 2015.  There was a follow-up hearing of the defendants’ appeal on December 4, 2014, which resulted in further delay and no clear outcome. The court granted an extension to the defense until February 2015 to complete their investigations.

On November 8, 2017, the Court of Cassation confirmed the verdict against Abd El-Fatah, subject to probation measures which would effectively amount to a deprivation of liberty



Alaa Abd El-Fattah, an influential Egyptian blogger, was arrested in court as he appealed a 15-year sentence for violating Egypt’s ban on attending unlicensed protests.

Finally, on February 23rd, 2015 after numerous appeals, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced the activist to 5 years in prison in addition to a $ 13,000 fine. His co-defendants were sentenced to 3 years each in addition to comparable fines.

On November 8, 2017, the Court of Cassation confirmed the verdict against Abd El-Fatah, subject to probation measures which would effectively amount to a deprivation of liberty

Moreover, on November 23, 2020, the Cairo Criminal Court published in the Egyptian Official Gazette the decision it made on November 19, 2020 to add Abd El-Fatah, along with 28 other activists, to Egypt’s “terrorist list” for a period of five years in connection with State Security Case 1781/2019, on charges of “joining an illegal organization” and “being part of a criminal agreement with the purpose of committing a terrorist act from inside the prison”. The ruling includes restrictions such as a travel ban and a freeze on assets for three years.

On 12 April, Abd El-Fatah started a hunger strike in Cairo’s Tora maximum security prison to protest the dire conditions in Egypt’s jails and the ban on family visits amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The hunger strike followed a presidential decree to pardon a number of prisoners to mark Sinai Liberation Day, which excluded prisoners whose charges relate to national security or violation of the protests law – the most common charges against government critics.

Decision Overview

The defendant, Alaa Abd El-Fatah, appealed a lower court decision to imprison him and 24 others for 15 years.  The appeals court (Cairo Criminal Court, Felonies Part, Tora Region) refrained from reviewing the case and referred it to another criminal appeals court.  The court simultaneously issued a decision releasing the appellant, Alaa Abd El-Fatah, from prison and lowering the fines imposed by the prior ruling from 20,000 USD  to 1,000 USD  for each defendant.

On February 23, 2015, however, Cairo Criminal Court decided to hear the case. After a relatively brief hearing, the court sentenced Alaa to 5 years in prison and a $ 13,000 fine. His co-defendants were also sentenced to 3 years each and some fines.

The Cairo Office of Public Prosecutor, representing the government position, argued before the lower court that an “unlicensed gathering” of more than five people would undermine public peace and safety.

The main charge brought forward against Alaa Abd El-Fatah and his co-defendants was the violation of the Egyptian Protest Law (Law No. 107 of 2013). Despite this being a fairly new law, the law sets severe criminal penalties for those who hold unlicensed protests or violate other provisions of the law.  Additionally, the law reuses vague and broad language from older laws. For example, the law lists some undefined, or vaguely defined, offenses such as “undermining public order; wasting public resources; and halting public productivity.”  Under Articles 7 and 19 of the Protest Law, the state can punish anyone who is protesting in a way that “undermines public safety” with a sentence of up to five years imprisonment.

On November 8, 2017, the Court of Cassation confirmed the verdict against Abd El-Fatah, subject to probation measures which would effectively amount to a deprivation of liberty

There are many more examples of the law’s vagueness and its arbitrary application by Egyptian courts. Due to the recent nature of this law (2013), there has not yet been any serious attempts, at least not judicial attempts, to clarify the law’s meaning and limits.

Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The main charge brought forward against Alaa Abd El-Fatah and his co-defendants was the violation of Egyptian Protest Law (Law No. 107 of 2013). Generally, this new Egyptian protest law and its enforcement have been extremely controversial. Most of the law’s provisions are repressive, especially regarding the regulation of political speech.  Moreover, many Egyptian lawyers and scholars argue that the law should be declared unconstitutional under Egypt’s newly-drafted constitution.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The Cairo Criminal Court of Appeals, before which this case is pending, is one of several appeals courts throughout Egypt, all of which are intermediate level courts. While this Court does not have binding authority on other regional appeals courts, its persuasive precedent outweighs any other precedent at the same level. To date, there is no binding judicial interpretation of the Protest Law No. 107 of 2013.  Unless the case is later appealed to the High Court of Cassation (Supreme Court), the regional appeals courts are technically free to interpret the Protest Law as they see fit.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:

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