Egyptian pro-democracy activist and blogger Abdelrahman ‘Moka’ Tarek has been released from prison. Moka works with the Al-Nedal Centre for Rights and Freedoms to defend freedom of expression and prisoner’s rights in Egypt. He won Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Award for Campaigning in 2021. In particular, the board of judges noted his commitment to protecting freedom of expression and his courage despite overwhelming adversity.
Moka has experienced persistent state harassment, arbitrary detentions, and abuse over the last decade. He was first detained in 2013 when he was involved in protests against military trials for civilians which were organised in front of the Egyptian Senate. He was released on probation in October 2018, but was forcibly disappeared a year later in September 2019. He was eventually placed in pre-trial detention and accused of “joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media”.
On two separate occasions, courts ordered the release of Moka. However, the release orders were blocked by the addition of new cases. Moka was prevented from communicating with his family and accessing legal counsel. He was subjected to poor detention conditions, torture, and abuse, including the use of electric shocks and prolonged solitary confinement. In 2021, Moka was transferred to the prison hospital after experiencing health complications due to a 53-day long hunger strike in protest of the poor conditions.
Reacting to his release, Ruth Smeeth, CEO of Index on Censorship said: “I am delighted that Moka has finally been released. We stand united with Moka and his detention was a travesty of justice. Today our thoughts are with him and his family who must be completely relieved.”
Tarek’s release comes after the reactivation of the Presidential Pardons Committee by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the subsequent appeal from eight Egyptian human rights groups for authorities to provide more transparency and clarity into review processes.
While this may indicate a shift towards more openness and transparency, Egyptian activists still face severe censorship and intimidation. Information received by Amnesty International suggests that those released will be monitored by Egypt’s National Security Agency, and that they may be threatened with re-arrest if they engage in activism.
A total of 986 inmates received a presidential pardon in May 2022 during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations, according to a statement released by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior. Egypt is estimated to have a prison population of more than 119,000, 31% of which are held on remand.