The Egyptian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan and drop the charges against him or otherwise charge him with a recognizable crime consistent with international law, said the ICJ today.
Mohamed Ramadan was arrested, by plainclothes security officers on 10 December 2018, after attending proceedings concerning the renewal of a detention order against one of his clients. The client, Ayman Mahmoud, himself had been evidently detained for political reasons, and charged with joining and promoting an “illegal group” and “spreading false news on Facebook and Twitter to harm State interests.”
Following his arrest, Mohamed Ramadan was detained overnight in the National Security Agency Office. Ramadan’s family and lawyers did not know of his whereabouts until he was brought before the Alexandria Prosecutor on 11 December 2018.
According to information available to the ICJ, the Prosecutor charged Ramadan with joining a terrorist group, promoting its ideology including through social media and possession of publications supporting the group’s purpose (Case No. 16576/2018 Montaza), and ordered that he be detained for 15 days.
The charges appear to be to intended to prevent Ramadan’s exercise of freedom of expression and work as a lawyer. One of the lawyers who attended Ramadan’s interrogation on 11 December 2018 informed the ICJ that Ramadan had been informed by the Prosecutor to stop representing political detainees.
“The Egyptian authorities have engaged in a pattern of arresting, detaining and charging lawyers, human rights defenders and others perceived as opponents on unsubstantiated or illegitimate charges and in violation of their rights, typically under the pretext of fighting its ‘war on terrorism’,” said Saïd Benarbia, ICJ MENA Director. “The authorities should stop using laws that are purportedly designed to counter terrorism to silence persons exercising their human rights and lawyers carrying out their proper professional functions.”
According to lawyers who attended Mohamed Ramadan’s interrogation on 11 December, the Prosecutor alleged Ramadan possessed flyers opposing Egyptian President Sisi and multiple yellow vests. A credible news source reported that, prior to his arrest, Ramadan had posted a photograph on Facebook in which he wore a yellow vest to mock the government’s restriction on the sale of them.
According to media reports, earlier this month Egyptian authorities restricted the sale of yellow vests until the end of January 2019, in fear that opponents might be influenced by the French gilet jaunes protests to hold similar protests during the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak next month.
Mohamed Ramadan is one of a number of lawyers who have been targeted in connection with carrying out their professional functions or for being perceived as opposing the Egyptian authorities.
“Imprisoning human rights lawyers, charging them for posting comments online, and deterring them from defending clients hampers the independent role they should play as a lawyer and as a last line of defence against the authorities’ abuses,” said Said Benarbia. “Egypt must protect these lawyers and safeguard their security, not muzzle their voices through abusive criminal proceedings.”
In April 2017, the Alexandria Criminal Court convicted Ramadan in absentia of inciting terrorism, and sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment followed by five years’ house arrest and a five year ban on using the internet, for posting comments attributed to him on fake Facebook profiles which were critical of the Egyptian President. His retrial is suspended until the Supreme Constitutional Court decides on the constitutionality of the Counter-Terrorism Law.
Any person arrested has the right to inform, or have the authorities notify, someone that they have been arrested and where they are being held. Detainees must be given access to a lawyer, a doctor and their family, from the time they are taken into custody, including police custody.” Restrictions on communicating with a laywer during detention also undermines the rights to liberty and to a fair trial, including under articles 9 and 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party.
Articles 19, 22 and 25 of the ICCPR protect the rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of association and to participate in public affairs. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders commits States to generally protecting such rights exercised by HRDs and requires states to protect HRDs from violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action for the lawful exercise of such rights.
Paragraphs 16 and 18 of the UN Basic Principles on the role of Lawyers require states to ensure lawyers are able to perform of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, are not prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics, and can exercise freedom of expression.
The ICJ has previously expressed concern over the arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders, lawyers, and political activists and persons otherwise providing support to political detainees.
In June 2018, the ICJ also expressed its concerns about Egypt’s repeated renewals of the State of Emergency since April 2017, and the use of the state of emergency to suppress the activities of and persecute students, human rights defenders, political activists, union members and those suspected of opposing the government.
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