Egypt: Escalating Reprisals, Arrests of Critics’ Families

The Egyptian authorities’ targeting of families in Egypt of activists and human rights defenders living abroad has been escalating, demonstrating a clear pattern of intimidation and harassment, 22 Egyptian, regional, and international organizations said today.

Since August 2020, the authorities have targeted the families of four critics who live in the United States, as well as one in Turkey, one in Germany, and one in the United Kingdom.

These cases are among dozens reported in recent years. The authorities try to intimidate critics with unlawful home raids, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and prolonged detention of family members without trial or charges.

“The Egyptian families of dissidents abroad have been increasingly caught in President al-Sisi’s government web of oppression,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “President al-Sisi should immediately rein in his security forces and end these hostage-like arrests.”

On February 13, 2021, the authorities raided the homes of six members of the extended family of Mohamed Soltan, a US-based human rights advocate. Soltan, the director of the Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights group, and two other sources with direct knowledge of the arrests told Human Rights Watch that security agents arrested two of his cousins, Mostafa Soltan and Khairi Soltan, at their homes in the Menoufiya governorate. The two sources also said security authorities arrested a third relative of Soltan’s, Mahmoud Yousri al-Naggar.
Officers told another cousin to turn himself in once a cast on his broken leg was removed. Three of Soltan’s other cousins whom officers wanted to arrest were not at home during the raids; their families were told that the cousins were wanted by the National Security Agency. Those detained were interrogated mainly about Mohamed Soltan and his activities. On the evening of February 17, authorities released Mostafa and Khairi, following their detention and interrogation by National Security officers, the two sources said.

Security agents had previously arrested five of the six targeted cousins in June 2020 and detained them without trial until shortly before Joe Biden won the US presidential election in November. Soltan has been a prominent target of Egyptian government and pro-government media defamation campaigns because of his human rights work, most recently because of his organization’s support for the establishment of the Egypt Human Rights Caucus in the US House of Representatives.

The authorities disappeared Soltan’s already-jailed father, Salah Soltan, on June 15, 2020, when officers escorted him from Wadi al-Natrun prison to an unknown destination. Since that time, the authorities have refused to provide his family and lawyers information about his whereabouts. Soltan said that Egyptian intelligence agents in Washington, DC have harassed him with “bump-ins” at the local mall, at a Freedom Initiative’s Egypt advocacy event, which Human Rights Watch and the Project on Middle East Democracy co-sponsored in March 2019, and with threatening phone calls, telling him that he should “be careful” for his father’s sake. Soltan said he reported all incidents to the US authorities and his lawyers immediately.

Aly Hussein Mahdy, a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student and video blogger with over 400,000 followers on Facebook, was ridiculed by a pro-government TV outlet on January 17. Between January 28 and February 2, National Security officers raided the homes of several of his family members in Alexandria and arrested his father, uncle, and cousin because of his videos, Mahdy told Human Rights Watch.

“They raided the home at dawn,” Mahdy said in a Facebook video on February 11. “They took my father from his wife and my younger siblings, terrifying them. They messed up the whole house and stole everything they found.” He told Human Rights Watch that his family has not been able to learn the whereabouts of the three family members arrested.


Egypt-Arrests-Joint-Press-Release-2021-ENG (full statement in English)

Egypt-Arrests-Joint-Press-Release-2021-ARA (full statement in Arabic)


Asser Khattab, Research and Communications’ Officer, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, e: asser.khattab(a)

NewsPress releases