Egypt: wave of unfair “emergency” trials
(Beirut) – The Egyptian government has opened at least five emergency trials in the State Security Court against prominent human rights defenders, activists and political opponents for alleged expression offenses before the statement by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on October 25, 2021, ending the nationwide state of emergency, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately put an end to these unfair trials before special courts where no appeal is possible.
On December 20, a verdict is expected in the case of Alaa Abdel Fattah, an activist; Mohamed al-Baqer, lawyer specializing in human rights; and Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim, a blogger, who are accused of “” spreading false news affecting national security. “On December 15, the trial of 31 members and suspected members of the Egyptian Coordination for the Rights and freedoms (ECRF), a leading Egyptian rights group, has been postponed to December 26.
“The trials of human rights defenders and peaceful critics in these special tribunals for peaceful dissent constitute a grave injustice, as the president’s broad authority over these tribunals undermines their independence and impartiality,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East. -East and North Africa to Human Rights Watch. . “The government’s haste to resort to emergency courts before declaring the end of the state of emergency, after having illegally detained people for years in pre-trial detention, confirms that the fierce repression of peaceful critics remains in the spotlight. agenda in Egypt.
At least 48 unfairly detained rights defenders, activists and opposition politicians who had languished in pretrial detention for months and years were brought to emergency courts just before the president lifted the state. emergency. This decision indicated the government’s determination to subject these detainees to the exceptional rules of these courts.
The courts are established under the Egyptian Emergency Law of 1958, which allows these courts to continue to oversee previously postponed trials even after the state of emergency is lifted. New cases can no longer be referred to these courts once the state of emergency has ended. The emergency law gives the president, or someone delegated by him, the power to ratify or overturn decisions and reduce sentences, compromising the independence and impartiality of these courts. The president president also has broad authority to appoint judges of state of emergency security courts and to monitor their composition.
In October 2017, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail issued Decree 2165 of 2017, placing numerous speech-related offenses under the jurisdiction of state of emergency security courts, including the charge of “disseminating false news “.
Abdel Fattah, al-Baqer and Ibrahim were arrested in September 2019 and held in pre-trial detention for more than two years, exceeding the maximum provided for by Egyptian law. Lawyers and family members told Human Rights Watch they discovered the case was referred to the State of Emergency Security Court for trial on October 15, 10 days before the president Sisi announces the end of the national state of emergency.
Among those recently referred to the special courts are Ezzat Ghoneim, executive director of the ECRF, who was arrested and forcibly disappeared in March 2018. Khaled Diaa, prosecutor general of the Supreme State Security Prosecutor’s Office, referred him along with 30 other defendants in that case to court. Emergency Criminal Court for State Security on August 23. Diaa also referred Abd al-Moniem Abu al-Fotouh, a former presidential candidate and leader of the Strong Egypt party, to the special courts to stand trial on August 25. He had been in pre-trial detention since February. 2018. Ziad al-Elaimy, former deputy, was brought before the special courts on July 25. He had been in pre-trial detention since June 2019.
The verdicts of special courts are not subject to appeal to a higher court, but require the final approval of President al-Sisi or a person designated by him.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Egypt, guarantees the right of anyone convicted of a crime to appeal the decision and have their conviction and sentence reviewed by an independent judicial body. The Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Aid in Africa state that the right to a higher judicial body is one of the âessential elements of a fair trialâ.
“The referral of these cases to special courts for trial – immediately before the end of the national state of emergency – is a blatant attempt by the Egyptian government to undermine justice for these well-known activists and politicians,” Stork said. âThis legal manipulation reveals the parody of the Egyptian legal system in terms of political dissent. “
Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed al-Baqer, and Mohamed Ibrahim
The trial of Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed al-Baqer and Mohamed Ibrahim before the State of Emergency Security Court was marred by numerous violations of the right to a fair trial and due process. Members of Abdel Fattah’s family told Human Rights Watch that his lawyers were only able to view the case files in the presence of the state security prosecution and that the court systematically ignored their statements. repeated requests for a copy of the document of approximately 2,000 pages. The announcement of a verdict in the case was scheduled after just three sessions for December 20.
All three faced horrific conditions of detention in the Tora prison complex. A statement his family released on October 9, 2019, said Abdel Fattah was “slapped and kicked as he walked through the prison door, told to undress to to his underwear, and then being forced to walk down a hallway of people who hit him on his back and neck. His family told Human Rights Watch that authorities denied him access to reading materials, the prison radio and library, and recreation outside of his cell.
In November 2020, Egyptian authorities arbitrarily placed Abdel Fattah, al-Baqer, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former presidential candidate and leader of the Strong Egypt party, on the country’s terrorist list. The Court of Cassation dismissed their appeals on November 18, 2021.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Ibrahim’s legal representatives, told Human Rights Watch that authorities had denied him visits from his lawyers and family since February 2020. The group said reported that after his suicide attempt in August, his lawyers were unable to visit him to “determine the extent of his physical, mental and psychological well-being”. Even after his lawyers obtained an official permit, the prison authorities refused to allow them to visit Ibrahim in Tora prison.
Egyptian coordination for rights and freedoms
On September 11, the day that President al-Sisi released Egypt’s âNational Strategy for Human Rights,â a trial in a security court began for Ezzat Ghoneim, the group’s executive director, and 30 others. allegedly associated with the organization for leadership, membership, funding, or support of a terrorist organization. Seventeen of them are tried in absentia.
The Supreme State Security Prosecutor’s Office also accused Ghoneim and three other defendants of using the group’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to document and expose âthe alleged involvement of the police in the arbitrary detention of people; kill, torture and mistreat others; and willful medical negligence of prisoners. The order also accused the four men of criticizing the judicial authorities for “having pronounced death sentences without proof” and for “the lack of guarantees of fairness in criminal trials”.
The Egyptian National Security Agency arrested Ghoneim in March 2018 and refused to reveal his whereabouts to his family and lawyers, forcibly missing him for three days. After a judge ordered Ghoneim’s release on September 4, 2018, authorities forcibly disappeared for nearly five months.
Human Rights Watch documented the abusive detention conditions the defendants faced. Prison authorities have systematically refused visits to prisons and essential medical treatment.
On September 9, ten Egyptian human rights organizations urged the authorities to immediately release the organization’s 14 defendants in detention, stressing that the special courts “are far from the minimum guarantees of a fair trial” and have said the charges were “at the heart of self-defense of human rights, both a right and a duty.”
Ziad al-Elaimy, Hisham Fouad and Hossam Mo’nis
In June 2019, authorities arrested Ziad al-Elaimy, a former parliamentarian, and Hisham Fouad and Hossam Mo’nis, both journalists, after considering forming a political coalition to run in the 2020 legislative elections.
Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the case was referred to a state of emergency security court for trial on July 25 after being held in pretrial detention for more than two years. On November 17, an Egyptian emergency court for state security offenses sentenced al-Elaimy to five years in prison and Fouad and Mo’nis to four years for “spreading false news”. There is no indication that President al-Sisi ratified the decision.
Abd al-Moniem Abu al-Fotouh
In February 2018, Egyptian authorities arrested Abd al-Moniem Abu al-Fotouh, 2012 presidential candidate and leader of the Strong Egypt party, for “spreading false news” and “leading an outlaw group. And kept him in pre-trial detention for over three years. On August 25, authorities referred her case to an emergency state security criminal court for trial, which began on November 24.
Security forces arrested Abu al-Fotouh hours after returning from London, where he gave interviews to several media outlets, including Al Jazeera, BBC Arabic and Al Araby TV, criticizing President al-Sisi and what he said. called the âenvironment of fearâ surrounding the 2018 presidential elections.
The 69-year-old former presidential candidate has been held in solitary confinement in Tora prison. His family reported that he was suffering from symptoms resembling a heart attack in July. He asked the prison guards for help for hours without a response, his family said.
Prolonged solitary confinement amounts to inhuman or degrading treatment and may amount to torture under international legal standards.
Abu al-Fotouh suffers from a number of health problems prior to his detention, including high blood pressure and diabetes, and developed a herniated disc in prison. Authorities prevented him from undergoing prostate surgery that was scheduled before his arrest.
On December 12, during a re-detention hearing, his lawyer, Ahmed Abo Elela Mady, said Abu al-Fotouh’s health was deteriorating due to his isolation.