Egypt: Close Case 488 and immediately release all defendants

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

100 days since the imprisonment of  Esraa Abdel-Fattah

Detention renewed for  journalists Hossam al-Sayyad, Sulafa Majdi, Khaled Dawoud

We, the undersigned organizations, renew our demand for Case no. 488 of 2019 to be closed and all defendants immediately released. We condemn the state authorities for  prolonging the detention of these defendants and charging new defendants in the case; with some of the most prominent journalists, rights defenders, politicians, and lawyers in Egypt now being prosecuted under a case that was opened nearly a year ago. Furthermore, a serious investigation must be opened into the grave violations-  including torture and enforced disappearance – suffered by several of the accused in this case before and during their detention.

The undersigned further demand an end to the practice of charging peaceful critics of the government with terrorism. The defendants in Case 488 are media, civil society, political or legal professionals; none of the defendants discussed in this statement are known to belong to extremist groups or to have committed violent acts, yet they are being charged with terrorism. This underscores an abysmal reality in Egypt, which is that any Egyptian citizen who exercises their right to freely express themselves, including by offering a critique or analysis of public affairs within the scope of their professional responsibilities or expertise, potentially faces charges of joining a terrorist group – in virtually all cases left unnamed. They also are likely to face other dubious or open-ended charges, such as publishing false news or misusing social media; or threatening or disturbing national security, the public order, or public morals.

Case 488 has in practice become a widening net targeting anyone critical of the Egyptian government, including researchers, politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and social media activists. Despite their wide array of backgrounds and professions, and the disparities in the times of their arrests and the circumstances surrounding their interrogations, and in many cases, the lack of a clear link between them; all of these persons are being charged under a single case.

Case 488 has been fraught with violations and irregularities. The State Security Prosecution has still not investigated the  torture and 167-day enforced disappearance of Ibrahim Ezz el-Din, a researcher on urban affairs at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.  Ezz el-Din was disappeared on June 12, 2019 before appearing on November 26th for interrogation, in retaliation for his legitimate work on the right to housing.

The prosecution has likewise failed to investigate the torture of journalist and rights activist Esraa Abdelfattah, who has been held in custody for 100 days in connection with the same case. Although she knew it would put her life at risk, Abdelfattah had declared hunger strikes in prison to protest the prosecution’s failure to investigate the torture she experienced during and after her arrest. After she carried out a full hunger strike for ten days, her health rapidly deteriorated and she was moved to Qanater Prison hospital on December 17th.

There has been a recent surge in prosecutorial activity in connection with Case 488. Yesterday January 22nd, journalist Hossam al-Sayyad appeared before the High State Security Prosecution to be interrogated again under the case. He had been arrested last November 26, along with his wife Sulafa Magdi and Mohamed Salah, both journalists as well, as they sat in a café.  The journalists face the usual facetious charges:  publishing false news and misusing social media, based on the investigations of Homeland Security. Thus far, their defense counsel has been unable to view the investigation report and other relevant case documents, and the prosecution has repeatedly renewed their remand orders. A day earlier on January 21st, the prosecution renewed the detention of journalists Mohamed Salah, Sulafa Magdi, and Esraa Abdelfattah

Journalist Ahmed Shakir was also detained in connection with the case on November 28, when he was arrested from his home at dawn. He appeared before the prosecution two days later and was charged with the same offenses; the prosecution continues to renew his remand order. Another journalist –  photojournalist Islam Mossadeq – was also arrested at dawn on September 25, 2019, in connection with the case.

In December 2019, Shady Srour, a social media activist, was arrested upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport. On 24 December, he was interrogated in connection with the same case and the prosecution charged him with participating in a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

Two of Egypt’s most prominent human rights activists and lawyers, Mahienour El-Masry  and Amr Imam, have also been charged in Case 488. El-Masry was arrested in front of the State Security Prosecution in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement on 22 September 2019 after defending individuals detained for exercising their right to peacefully demonstrate. Amr Imam, a human rights lawyer  at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), was arrested from his home at dawn on 16 October.

Several well-known politicians and academics are also defendants in the case. The first defendants in Case 488 included political science professors Hassan Nafaa and Dr. Hazem Hosni, and politician Khaled Dawoud, former president of the Dostour (Constitution) Party and also a journalist. Nafaa and Hosni were arrested on 25 October on charges of spreading false news, while Dawoud was arrested on 24 September on the same charge, as well the charge of inciting to violence.

Abdel Nasser Ismail, the deputy head of the Popular Alliance Party and labor leader Kamal Khalil were also arrested, on September 22nd and September 16th respectively. Their detention has been renewed by the prosecution over the past two days.

Case 488 of 2019  was opened in February 2019—eight months before any of the above persons were arrested—after small-scale spontaneous demonstrations and critical social media posts reflecting widespread anger following a train accident at Ramses Station that killed at least 22 people on February 27th. Following the demonstrations of September 20th, many people suddenly found themselves named as defendants in the case, amid a broad crackdown with over 4,000 arrested, many of whom are still detained.

Signatory Organizations

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
  • Committee for Justice
  • Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  • Nadeem Center

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