Nearly two years ago, along with the Media Legal Defence Initiative and with consent and input from his family, we submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) for the release of Egyptian coder, blogger, and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah. Abd El Fattah was arrested on November 28, 2013, two days after participating in a peaceful demonstration against a law allowing Egyptian civilians to be tried in military courts. His arrest was conducted without a warrant, he was beaten by police officers, and authorities raided his home while his wife and child were present. He was later sentenced to five years in prison.

The UNWGAD issued an opinion [PDF] last Wednesday stating that Alaa Abd El Fattah is being detained arbitrarily and calling on the Egyptian government to immediately release the influential activist. Specifically, the UNWGAD found that Abd El Fattah was arbitrarily arrested as a result from his exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and his participation in a peaceful protest, contrary to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 19, 21, and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore, the UNWGAD found Egyptian Law 107, on which his detention was based, to be contrary to international law.

Additionally, the Working Group: “expresse[d] its grave concern about the present case, which, when considered together with the previously adopted opinions relating to Egypt, indicates systemic and widespread arbitrary detentions of individuals in the context of peaceful protests.”

Indeed, his conviction is emblematic of Egypt’s efforts to target activists. It follows that the UNWGAD decision should be seen as a vindication of those Egyptians whose voices have been silenced.

MLDI and EFF are grateful to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and Leigh Day for their help in petitioning the Working Group.