Egypt: authorities must effectively investigate deaths of lawyers in custody
The ICJ today called on the Egyptian authorities to ensure a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into the deaths of two lawyers, Imam Afifi and Karim Hamdi, who recently died while in police custody in Mataria police station.
The ICJ is deeply concerned that the deaths of Imam Afifi and Karim Hamdi while in police custody are part of a widespread and sustained campaign targeting hundreds of lawyers since 2013, including those defending political opponents of the regime and human rights activists, as well as lawyers exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
“The Egyptian authorities must effectively investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the alleged torture and death of Imam Afifi and Karim Hamdi while in police custody and must hold accountable any person responsible for wrongful conduct ,” said Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ MENA Programme.
“The authorities must bring an end to their ongoing campaign of harassing and persecuting lawyers, including arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, for simply discharging their professional duties or for speaking out against human rights violations,” he added.
Under international standards, lawyers should be able to carry out their professional duties free from hindrance, intimidation, harassment or interference, says the ICJ.
They should not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes or subject to arbitrary arrest and prosecutions as a result of the discharge of their functions.
On 10 April, Imam Afifi, a 63-year old lawyer, was assaulted and arrested in the Mataria neighborhood where a demonstration was taking place against the government.
He was detained in Mataria police station where he was allegedly subjected to torture, including a severe beating to his head.
On 11 April, he was transferred from the police station to Mataria hospital.
A medical report from the same day, to which the ICJ had access, indicates that Imam Afifi was admitted to the hospital with a massive trauma to the head. He died in hospital on 22 April.
On 22 February, another lawyer, Karim Hamdi, was arrested and questioned on suspicion of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, membership of which has been outlawed, and participating in an unauthorized demonstration against the government.
While in police custody in Mataria police station, he was reportedly severely beaten on his neck, chest and abdomen. He died two days later after being transferred to hospital.
Following a complaint by the Bar Association to the prosecutor’s office, two members of the National Security Agency were charged with torturing and murdering Karim Hamdi.
According to information available to the ICJ, attacks against lawyers since 2013 include the following:
On 23 April 2015, six lawyers were summoned for interrogation in relation to their participation in a demonstration on 9 March to protest against the death of Mr Karim Hamdi.
The lawyers also challenged the prosecutor’s decision to prohibit anyone from reporting on the investigation into Mr Hamdi’s case.
On 23 March 2015, human rights lawyer, Azza Soliman, was charged with breaching public order and security under the 2013 Demonstration Law after voluntarily providing testimony against police involved in the killing of Social People’s Alliance party activist, Shaimaa El Sabbagh, on 24 January 2015.
The Qasr El Nile Prosecution Office in Cairo subsequently changed her status from witness to defendant.
On 9 February 2015, a human rights lawyer, Ms Mahienour El Massry, was sentenced to two years imprisonment after she attended the El-Ramel police station in Alexandria, in March 2013, in order to defend demonstrators.
The charges against her included “insulting government employees in the performance of their duties”, “insulting representatives of the authorities” and “attempting to break into a police station”.
Three lawyers, Basma Zahran, Mahmoud Bilal and Oussama Al Mahdi, were referred for investigation, on 3 September 2014, for “disrupting and causing trouble” during trial proceedings for insisting that their client, the human rights activist Ahmed Douma, seated in a sound-proof glass cage, should be heard.
On 5 July 2013, Abdel Men’em Abdel Maqsoud was arrested while attempting to attend the interrogation of his clients, deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rachad Bayoumi, and Mohamed Saad Al Katanah.
He was detained before being released on bail on 2 September 2014.
Alice Goodenough, Legal Adviser of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: 44 7815 570 834, e: alice.goodenough(a)icj.org
Nader Diab, Associate Legal Adviser of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: 41 229 793 804, e: nader.diab(a)icj.org
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