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‘Your password or your life’: Egyptian activist Israa Abdelfattah says she was tortured after arrest

Abdelfattah told prosecutors she was hung with her hands above her head for eight hours while she was interrogated, according to her lawyers and friends
Israa Abdelfattah was one of the most iconic leaders of the 2011 revolution (Twitter)

Prominent Egyptian activist and journalist Israa Abdelfattah has told prosecutors that she was tortured and beaten during her arrest in Cairo this weekend, according to her friends and lawyers.

One of the most iconic leaders of the 2011 revolution, Abdelfattah, 41, was picked up along with her friend, Egyptian journalist Mohamed Salah, by plainclothes officers on Saturday evening.

'She is ready to pay the price of exposing what happened to her, so that people could be aware of the truth'

- Mohamed Salah, Egyptian journalist

She is one of thousands of Egyptians arrested in recent weeks, and has been added to a case involving a group of dissidents who are all charged with joining an outlawed group, spreading false news and misusing social media, her lawyer Khaled Ali said. She has denied the charges.

Speaking to prosecutors on Sunday, Abdelfattah offered an account of her treatment after her arrest, including having her sweatshirt stripped from her and used to choke her, and being hung with her handcuffed hands above her head for eight hours.

The details were shared by Salah in a Facebook post on Monday. He said that Abdelfattah had been warned that if she spoke publicly about her interrogation, she would face worse torture and have personal photos leaked to the media.

But Salah said she had sent a message to her lawyers and friends that “she is ready to pay the price of exposing what happened to her, so that people could be aware of the truth”.

Another friend, Solafa Magdy, said Abdelfattah has decided to start a hunger strike as she is transferred to Qanati women’s prison.

According to Magdy, Abdelfattah currently suffers bruises on her hands, shoulders and back.

“Israa is telling you that she is strong and will persist, but please stand by her and talk about her case,” Magdy posted on Twitter.

Signs of beating

Abdelfattah co-founded the 6 April Movement in 2008 with Ahmed Maher to promote workers’ rights and rally Egyptians for a range of pro-democracy demands. The group was among the key organisers of the 2011 protests and is now outlawed.

She is currently a digital media specialist and journalist at pro-government newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea. 

She and Salah were both in her car on Saturday evening when they were stopped by two vehicles with “armed plainclothes security officers with walkie talkies”, he said in a Facebook post.

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“They took her into one car, and took me to the other for an hour,” he wrote. “After beating and blindfolding me for one hour, they dropped me on a motorway.”

According to Abdelfattah’s testimony on Sunday which was relayed to Salah, she said she was physically threatened when she refused to give her phone password at the Homeland Security agency headquarters in Cairo after she was arrested.

Several officers beat her severely, but she still refused to unlock her phone, Salah wrote.

“The officer then went mad, and stripped her of her sweatshirt, then used it to suffocate her from the neck,” he said. “He told her: I will either take your password or your life.” Faced with a death threat, Abdelfattah provided the officers with her password.

Salah added that the officer handcuffed her, hung her hands above her head on a wall, and tied her legs with a robe, a position she remained in for eight hours while she was interrogated about her social media activity and contact with people.

“This method of torture seeks to tighten the body without giving any space to bend the knee or to sit,” he said, citing the activist’s testimony.

'The beating marks were visible on her arms, where we saw inflammation on the arms and bloody bruise-like clusters'

- Khaled Ali, Abdelfattah's lawyer

Khaled Ali, Abdelfattah’s lawyer, said he witnessed signs of beating on her arms during her hearing on Sunday.

“The beating marks were visible on her arms, where we saw inflammation on the arms and bloody bruise-like clusters, which, from our point of view, were compatible with her testimony that she was punched with hands and fists,” he said.

Ali said that prosecutors ordered Abdelfattah’s pre-trial detention for 15 days pending investigations.

Her arrest comes as the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is facing the largest public show of discontent in years.

At least 3,120 people, including well-known activists, journalists and lawyers, have been arrested since 20 September, when protests erupted over a series of corruption allegations levelled by businessman Mohamed Ali against Sisi and other top officials.

Hundreds of those arrested in the September crackdown have been released over the past week. But others - including prominent activist Alaa Abdelfattah, who is not related to Israa Abdelfattah - have faced renewed detention.