Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah released after five-year prison term

Alaa Abdel-Fattah (right) and an unidentified person react after hearing a court sentence against his sister, Sanaa Saif al-Islam, in 2014
Alaa Abdel-Fattah (right) and an unidentified person react after hearing a court sentence against his sister, Sanaa Saif al-Islam, in 2014 PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CAIRO (WASHINGTON POST) - A prominent Egyptian activist emerged from prison on Friday (March 29) after serving a five-year sentence for organising and taking part in anti-government protests, his family and lawyer said.

But as in the cases of other recently released political prisoners, Alaa Abdel Fattah will not be entirely free: He is required to report to his local police station at the end of each day for the next five years.

Abdel Fattah played a leading role in the 2011 Arab Spring revolts that ousted Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Three years later, Abdel Fattah was jailed for taking part in a peaceful demonstration at a time when Egypt's government had banned public gathering and unauthorized protests.

His imprisonment was considered unjust by human rights activists and his supporters. Tens of thousands of opponents and critics have been jailed by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime, widely seen by critics as the most authoritarian in the country's modern history.

On Facebook, supporters of Abdel Fattah set up pages calling for his release, including one labeled "Free Alaa."

On Friday, his sisters and lawyer jubilantly declared that he had returned home, posting videos of him walking out of the police station and shaking hands with friends. His family also thanked those who pushed for his freedom over the past several years.

"We are truly grateful to all this support," Mona Sief, Abdel Fattah's sister, posted on her Facebook page.

It's unclear how much time Abdel Fattah will be allowed to spend in society. He has to report to the police every day. At the very least, he will need to sign a logbook at the station.

At worst, he will be required to spend the night. That's what happened to Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, widely known as Shawkan, who was freed from jail three weeks ago also after serving a five-year sentence.

Sanaa Sief, another sister of Abdel Fattah, wrote on her Facebook page that her brother will remain suppressed. Referring to him, she wrote, "the person under probation is a person still serving time. He is not a person who will get released and live as a normal and free human being. He is spending half his time 'under their grip.' "

Sisi, a former general, led a military coup that ousted democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The following year Sisi was elected president, and swiftly launched a campaign to silence his opponents and critics, targeting media organisations, human rights and pro-democracy activists and nongovernmental organisations.

Abdel Fattah, an influential blogger on social media, had long fought for civil rights. He has been detained for short periods by several governments, including Mubarak's, for his outspokenness. In 2014, when Egypt was under a temporary military-backed government before Sisi's ascent to office, Abdel Fattah was convicted and sentenced to five years for taking part in a protest against trials of civilians under military tribunals.

While in prison, Abdel Fattah's father died. His son Khaled, named after a pro-democracy activist who help trigger the populist revolution against Mubarak, was only two years old when he was jailed.

On Friday, one photo was widely circulated on social media: It was of a smiling Abdel Fattah playing with the feet of his now seven-year-old son at his home.