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Coronavirus: Egypt detains novelist Ahdaf Soueif for demanding prisoners' release

Author arrested along with three others for calling on authorities to release prisoners from overcrowded jails
(L-R) Laila Soueif, Rabab el-Mahdy and Ahdaf Soueif protesting in front of the cabinet headquarters in Cairo on Wednesday (Twitter)

Egyptian police detained four prominent activists who staged a protest on Wednesday calling for the release of political prisoners to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus

According to human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, the women are currently detained at Qasr el-Nil police station in central Cairo, but they are held incommunicado. 

Earlier on Wednesday, sister of detained left-wing activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mona Seif, posted a live stream on Facebook showing a mini protest by her mother the academic Laila Soueif, her sister, novelist Ahdaf Soueif, and political science academic Rabab el-Mahdy.

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The four women held posters with demands to release prisoners, including their family members held in pre-trial detention. 

“We are in front of the cabinet headquarters, demanding the state to take serious measures regarding the coronavirus crisis in Egyptian prisons,” Mona Seif said.

“We all know that Egyptian prisons are epicentres of diseases even in normal situations, overcrowded cells, poor ventilation, and lack of sunlight,” she added.

During the protest, police officers approached the four women, asking them to stop, and confiscated their banners. 

They asked them to “discuss the matter” at a nearby police station instead of protesting.

Ali, an activist and lawyer, said the four women were then detained and held incommunicado, with no access to their phones. 

Several human rights groups have called on Egyptian authorities to release prisoners temporarily as an urgent measure to prevent an outbreak in the country’s notoriously overcrowded jails. 

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has reported 192 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths as of Tuesday.

But infectious disease specialists at the University of Toronto believe the number of infections in Egypt is likely to be much higher than the official figures.

“Under the conservative estimate of COVID-2019 burden, where linked and ambiguous cases are eliminated, we estimated an outbreak size of 19,310 cases in Egypt,” they said, using a mix of flight data, traveller data and infection rates, the Guardian reported.

Egypt on Tuesday revoked the press card of the Guardian correspondent who authored the report, accusing her of “misinformation”.

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