High time for authorities to end the detention, prosecution, imprisonment and harassment of peaceful critics and dissidents
The welcome end of the multi-year state of emergency in Egypt is marred by the ongoing trials of dozens of human rights defenders, activists, opposition politicians and peaceful protesters arbitrarily detained by courts exception, where procedures are inherently unfair, Amnesty International said today.
On November 1, blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, human rights lawyer and director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms Mohamed Baker and blogger and activist Mohamed Ibrahim (known as Mohammed “Oxygen”), will appear before a State Security Emergency Court (ESSC) to face politically motivated charges of “spreading false information to undermine national security” on their social media posts. All three have spent more than two years in abusive pre-trial detention in appalling conditions, deprived of private access to lawyers and regular contact with their families.
“The lifting of the state of emergency is good news as the authorities will no longer be able to refer new cases to the special courts that have been created under it. However, the news has a sting in the tail. The ongoing trials in these courts are expected to continue, their numbers swelled by a recent spate of referrals of human rights defenders and activists detained, ”said Philip Luther, director of research and advocacy for the Middle East and the North Africa to Amnesty International.
“For this to be a significant step towards resolving the human rights crisis in Egypt, the authorities must immediately and unconditionally release those tried by special courts solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights. Among them, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Baker and Mohamed ‘Oxygen’ Ibrahim, who have already spent more than two years in prison solely for their peaceful activism and the defense of human rights. The authorities should also stop using the emergency courts altogether, as their procedures violate the most basic standards of a fair trial, including the right of defendants to have their convictions and sentences reviewed by higher courts.
On October 25, 2021, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced that he would not extend the state of emergency, in force since 2017. However, in the three months preceding this decision, the Egyptian authorities have referred at least 20 human rights defenders, activists and opponents. politicians before exceptional courts.
Egypt’s ESSCs are activated during the state of emergency, as the emergency law allows the president to appoint judges to courts and designate crimes that fall under their jurisdiction. Prosecutors then refer all cases related to these crimes to ESSCs, but are no longer able to do so once the state of emergency ends. Article 19 of the law governing the state of emergency stipulates that ongoing trials must continue even after the end of the state of emergency.
Tried by special courts on false accusations of “false information”
The charges against Alaa Abdelfattah and Mohamed Baker stem from their criticism of the authorities’ treatment of prisoners and suspicious deaths in custody, while the charges against Mohamed “Oxygen” are based on his articles on the government’s poor record in the respect for socio-economic rights. . None of their messages contain incitement to violence or hatred and are therefore protected by the Egyptian constitution and international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression.
In addition to the trial of these three activists, Amnesty International is aware of at least 143 other cases tried by the CSSE since the state of emergency came into force in April 2017, including those resulting solely from the peaceful exercise. by the accused of their right to freedom of assembly and expression.
Among those currently on trial by the ESSC for spreading “false information” are human rights defender and student Patrick George Zaki; former parliamentarian and human rights lawyer Zyad el-Elaimy, journalists and politicians Hisham Fouad and Hossam Moanis; human rights defender Ezzat Ghoniem, human rights lawyer Hoda Abdelmoniem, former presidential candidate of the Masr al-Qawiya party Abdelmoniem Aboulfotoh and deputy party leader Mohamed al-Kassas. All have been held in prolonged pre-trial detention pending investigations into terrorism-related charges, some for more than two years, the absolute maximum length of pre-trial detention permitted by Egyptian law.
On June 22, 2021, an ESSC student for misdemeanors found Ahmed Samir Santawy guilty of publishing “false information” and sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment after a manifestly unfair trial for the content. of social media posts.
Procedures before CSSEs are inherently unfair. Defendants are denied the right to appeal their convictions and sentences to a higher court. Other documented violations of fair trial standards include the right to be given sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense, the right to communicate with a lawyer of their choice, and the right to a public hearing. For example, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Baker have not been able to see their lawyers in private since May.
In addition, ESSC judges routinely reject lawyers’ requests to photocopy files, which in some cases exceed 2,000 pages, asking them instead to review them in court. Prosecutors and judges also failed to provide copies of indictments to defendants and their lawyers, infringing their right to be informed of the exact nature and cause of the charges against them.
Reprisals in detention
Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed “Oxygen”, Mohammed Baker are being held at Tora 2 maximum security prison under punitive and abusive conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
Unlike other prisoners, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Baker are confined to their small and poorly ventilated cells, deprived of exercise and access to fresh air and any reading material. They sleep on blankets on the floor without beds or mattresses, which causes them joint and back pain. Formal complaints to prosecutors that this treatment violates the rights of detainees under Egyptian prison law have been ignored.
The three activists’ request for access to Covid-19 vaccines was ignored, and they were not allowed to wear face masks or use hydroalcoholic gel even though they were in overcrowded cells.
The mental health toll has been devastating. In August 2021, Mohamed “Oxygen” attempted suicide after being denied family visits and legal representation for months, according to the Arab Human Rights Information Network, a human rights organization. Amnesty International has learned that Alaa Abdel Fattah expressed suicidal thoughts to his lawyers last month and was denied regular correspondence with his family.
“The Egyptian authorities accuse courageous activists who dare to dream of a better future for Egypt of disseminating ‘false information’ endangering national security. It is high time for the authorities to end the detention, prosecution, imprisonment and harassment of peaceful critics and dissidents, and to stop equating peaceful human rights or political activism with terrorism ” , said Philip Luther.
Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested on September 29, 2019. His lawyer, Mohamed Baker, was arrested the same day from the prosecution where he went to meet his client. During their transfer to the prison in October 2019, prison officers blindfolded Alaa Abdel Fattah, stripped him of his clothes, repeatedly beat and kicked him, and l ‘subjected him and Mohamed Baker to threats and verbal abuse. The public prosecutor did not order investigations.
Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim has been arbitrarily detained since September 21, 2019.
On November 19, 2020, the Cairo Criminal Court arbitrarily added Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Baker to the “terrorist list” for five years without due process. The effect of the decision includes a travel ban and a ban on engaging in political and civic work for five years.