Writers, actors, filmmakers call for release of Egyptian film editor

Over 200 of the world’s most prominent artists, along with nearly two dozen leading human rights groups and film organizations, are calling for the immediate release of Sanaa Seif, a film editor arrested in Cairo last month.

Among the signatories to a public statement published on Tuesday, August 4 are Juliette Binoche, Laurent Cantet, Noam Chomsky, JM Coetzee, Judi Dench, Claire Denis, Dave Eggers, Danny Glover, Paul Greengrass, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Hall, Naomie Harris, Khaled Hosseini, Anish Kapoor, Naomi Klein, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Paul Mason, Simon McBurney, Ruth Negga, Thandie Newton, Michael Ondaatje, Philip Pullman, Miranda Richardson, Andrea Riseborough, Arundhati Roy, and Stellan Skarsgård.

In addition to Seif, the statement calls on Egyptian authorities to release “all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights,” and to “end the abuse of pre-trial detention” as well as a “global assertion of the rights of all people to live in dignity and justice.”

Leading advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, PEN America, PEN International, Human Rights Watch, and Reprieve, have also signed onto the letter, as have prominent film organizations, including Sundance Institute, IDFA, the European Film Academy and Société des Réalisateurs de Films.

Seif was abducted by plainclothes security forces on June 23 in front of the public prosecutor’s office in Cairo, where she had arrived to file a complaint as a victim of a physical assault and robbery that occurred in front of the Tora prison complex the day before. She is currently being held in pretrial detention, a widespread practice used by Egyptian authorities to keep thousands locked up for months or years without ever being convicted of a crime.

A film editor, writer, and activist, Seif worked on the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square, and the award-winning film In the Last Days of the City. Her brother, Alaa Abd El Fattah—a prominent figure of the 2011 revolution—was released from prison last year, after serving a five-year sentence on trumped up charges. Upon his release, he had to turn himself in to a police station for 12 hours every day, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m, as part of an additional five year probationary sentence. He was re-arrested in September and remains behind bars in pretrial detention.

Seif and Abd El Fattah are among thousands of activists, artists, lawyers, journalists, LGBTQIA+ people, writers, publishers, librarians, and translators held in prison in Egypt today.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, human rights groups have documented multiple cases of COVID-19 inside Egypt’s crowded prisons, as well as several deaths. In March, the Ministry of Interior banned all prison visits and thousands of detainees have little to no communication with their families in nearly five months.