The Egyptian authorities must drop the charges against nine detainees arrested on 1 November 2018 and immediately and unconditionally release them and at least 31 others arrested and in some cases “disappeared” since late October 2018, or otherwise charge them with a recognizable crime consistent with international law, the ICJ said today.
Those arrested in the present sweeps include human rights defenders (HRDs), lawyers, and political activists and persons otherwise providing support to political detainees. Reports indicate that at least some of those detained are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The ICJ is concerned that many if not all of these detainees are being held solely for political reasons.
On Wednesday 21 November, nine detainees held since 1 November 2018—Hoda Abdel Moneim, Mohamed Abu Hurayra, Bahaa Auda, Aisha Al Shater, Ahmed El Hodeiby, Mohamed El Hodeiby, Somaya Nassef, Marwa Madbouly and Ibrahim Atta—were interrogated by the State Security Prosecution, who ordered they be held in pre-trial detention for 15 days.
According to information available to the ICJ, the prosecution charged the nine with joining and funding a terrorist organization and incitement to harm the national economy under Egypt’s Counter-Terrorism Law No. 94/2015 (Case No. 1552/ 2018).
Lawyers representing the detainees were not permitted to access the case files, nor were they allowed to speak with the defendants in private. One of the detainees interrogated on 21 November was also interrogated on 19 November 2018 without the presence of a lawyer. It is unclear when the State Security Prosecution ordered their pre-trial detention.
At least three other detainees also appear to have been interrogated on 24 November 2018, including Ahmed Saad, Ahmed Ma’touk and Sahar Hathout. No information is known about whether an order for their pre-trial detention has been issued.
“These arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges are yet another example of the relentless assault by the military and government on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association and to take part in political activity,” said Said Benarbia, ICJ’s MENA Programme Director. “Targeting anyone having any connection to opposition groups under the government’s ‘war on terrorism’ erodes the rule of law in Egypt, undermines human rights, and means there’s now very little, if any, room to carry out human rights work.”
According to public reports, at least 31 others were arrested by Egyptian authorities in raids in late October or early November 2018. Despite repeated calls on the authorities to provide information regarding their location, their whereabouts remain unknown, raising serious concerns for their health and safety. After human rights lawyer Hoda Abdel Moneim—one of the nine now charged—was held incommunicado for 21 days, her family issued a statement expressing concern about her “dire [physical and psychological] health condition.”
It is well established that the Egyptian authorities engage in the widespread and systematic use of torture. Although Egypt’s Constitution, Criminal Procedure Code and Penal Code require that detainees be held in official places of detention with judicial oversight and prohibit torture and other mistreatment, these safeguards have proven ineffective in practice.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture previously reported on the torture of hundreds of people disappeared by the Egyptian authorities. The ICJ is concerned about the high probability that these detainees have been tortured.
“The authorities should unconditionally and immediately release those arrested solely for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, bring any others immediately before a judge to review whether there is any lawful basis for their detention and for any charges brought, and ensure that all those deprived of their liberty are protected against torture and other ill-treatment,” said Said Benarbia.
Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41-22-979-3817; e: said.benarbia(a)icj.org
Among those arrested in late October and early November 2018 were human rights lawyer and former spokesperson of the ECRF, Mohammed Abu Hureira, and his wife, Aisha al-Shater, daughter of imprisoned deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, as well as human rights lawyer Hoda Abdelmoniem, a former member of the National Council for Human Rights, who was arrested at her home after it was raided without warrant. At least eight of the 40 arrested are women. Reports from local human rights lawyers and organizations suggest that the number of persons arrested and arbitrarily detained could be higher.
The arrests are part of Egypt’s orchestrated crackdown on human rights work, in which human rights defenders and critics are arbitrarily arrested and detained, subjected to enforced disappearance, prosecuted in unfair trials, and sometimes sentenced to death. Two other members of the ECRF, including its Executive Director, were arrested in March 2018 and forcibly disappeared in September after an Egyptian Court ordered their release. Following the latest arrests, the ECRF—which documents enforced disappearances and Egypt’s increasing application of the death penalty—suspended its operations in protest.
On 10 September 2018, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted 739 defendants for their participation in the Raba’a Al Adaweyya square protests in August 2013 after a grossly unfair trial, sentencing 75 defendants to death and 658 defendants to life or five to 15 years’ imprisonment.
On 24 April 2018, following an unfair trial, the Cairo military court convicted former judge and former head of the Central Auditing Authority, Hisham Geneina, to five years in prison for “publishing false information harmful to the national security.”
The arrests place Egypt in breach of its international legal obligations, including under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 9 of the ICCPR protects freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention and imposes an obligation on States to ensure a number of protections in respect of detention.
These include the requirement that detainees be brought promptly before a judge so their detention can be reviewed; have the right independently to challenge the lawfulness of their detention; and have the right to access legal counsel. Article 14 of the ICCPR also requires states to ensure detainees have access to legal counsel. Judicial oversight of detention is particularly necessary to protect detainees from torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
Articles 19, 22 and 25 of the ICCPR also protect the rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of association and to participate in public affairs. Articles 5-8 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders similarly protects such rights exercised by HRDs and Article 12 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.
Under Egyptian Law, Article 56 of the Constitution and Articles 41-42 of the Criminal Procedure Code require that detainees be held in official places of detention and subject to judicial supervision, including judicial power to inspect places of detention and review each detainee’s case. Articles 51-52 and 55 of the Constitution, Article 40 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 126 of the Penal Code prohibit torture and other mistreatment.
In June 2018, the ICJ 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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