Ahmed Seif al-Islam, one of the leading human rights lawyers in Egypt died on Wednesday after slipping into a coma following open-heart surgery earlier this month, the family announced in a statement.
Involved in political activism since his student days, Seif went into law and became a human rights defender. Seif was imprisoned for five years in 1983, during which time he was reportedly tortured. Seif leaves behind his wife, university professor and activist Laila Soueif, a son and two daughters who have all followed his footsteps into political activism, and a grandson. Seif’s esteem as a human rights defender is uncontested across the political spectrum.
He defended Islamist detainees, arrested on terrorism-related charges in 2004 following the Taba bombings in Sinai, as well as fifty-two men arrested on suspicion of homosexual behavior in 2001, known as the “Queen Boat case.”
His younger colleagues often credit him for mentoring them and providing an example of a true human rights defender who transcends political differences and continues to struggle in the darkest times.
Seif started to pay the price for his activism when he was briefly detained for the first time in 1972, after participating in student protests, and continued to pay a price, along with his family, until his last days. His son Alaa and daughter Sanaa, both incarcerated in protest-related cases, could not be beside him on his deathbed.
Alaa was sentenced to fifteen years in absentia in June for protest related charges and was taken into custody only two months after his release pending investigation. He started a hunger strike last week after discovering his father’s critical condition during an authorized visit. His sister Sanaa was arrested in June while protesting for the freedom of her brother and others detained under the Protest Law.
Seif has been arrested four times throughout his life, the last of which was in 2011. He has also been part of his son’s legal team during the three rounds of detention that he endured in the last three years.
In 1983, the authorities offered Seif an opportunity to flee the country after he was sentenced to five years for his involvement in the socialist movement. Despite the fact that his wife Soueif was pregnant with their second-born Mona at the time, Seif turned himself in, opting to serve his sentence rather than be forced to stay out of Egypt for at least fifteen years.
Seif reported being severely tortured during his five years in prison. However, he was still able to make use of this time to finish his law degree and started practicing after his release in 1989.
In 1999, Seif co-founded the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, considered a school for human rights lawyers and one of the few go-to places in Egypt for those suffering injustice.
In an interview with Amnesty International in 2008, Seif said, “All that violates human dignity is an abuse to human rights.”
He continued to struggle against doctors’ orders until his recent operation, showing up in court with his son and daughter as well as other defendants whose cases he took on.
During a press conference, held as Alaa was incarcerated in January, Seif, who has struggled all his life for justice, said, “I wanted you to inherit a democratic society that guards your rights, my son, but instead I passed on the prison cell that held me, and now holds you.”
[This article was originally published on Mada Masr]