Egypt: Government must stop arbitrary arrests and respect freedom of expression

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

The undersigned human rights organizations renew their demand for the Egyptian government to respect the rights of free expression and privacy, and for state security to immediately stop arbitrarily arresting citizens and searching their phones. The government’s escalating assault on fundamental freedoms coincides with the one-year anniversary of the September 20, 2019 demonstrations.

The organizations also call for the immediate release of all persons detained for participating in or being in the vicinity of the 2019 demonstrations, who have now endured a year of unjustified pre-trial detention. State security’s widespread practices of stop and frisk and arbitrary arrest will only inflame tensions, and result in more innocent people deprived of their freedom in overcrowded prisons. Under the current onslaught of Covid-19, Egypt’s filthy, inhumane prisons are already turning into pandemic hotspots.

State security forces have increased their presence in the vicinity of downtown Cairo over the past few days, continuing to arbitrarily search and arrest citizens as they did during last September’s protests. Over 4000 citizens were arbitrarily arrested last September, some of whom are still languishing in pre-trial detention on the basis of fabricated charges solely reliant upon National Security Agency investigations, which are patently motivated by the government’s fixation upon exacting vengeance against human rights activists, journalists, political opponents, and other peaceful dissidents.

Rights lawyers Mohamed El-Baqer, Mahienour El-Masry and Amr Imam remain in pre-trial detention under Case no. 488 of 2019 , simply for legitimately practicing their profession as defense lawyers for  September 2019 protesters. The other defendants in Case 488 include a number of journalists prosecuted under the same fabricated charges: Solafa Magdy, Hossam al-Sayyad, Esraa Abdelfattah, Mohamed Salah, and Ahmed Shakir. Among the thousands held in pre-trial detention since September 2019 are politician and journalist Khaled Dawoud, former president of the Dostour (Constitution) Party, and Abdel Nasser Ismail, the deputy head of the Popular Alliance Party.

The protests that began on Friday evening September 20, 2019 constituted a warning of the swelling public rage against the current government’s authoritarian practices, which include seizing the rights to free expression and privacy, and monopolizing media platforms. This intensifying repression is coupled with deteriorating economic conditions and an alarming increase in poverty.

One year later, the Egyptian government is escalating the very same draconian practices that fueled the protests to begin with. Citizens continue to be arbitrarily searched and detained, and independent media outlets raided and shut down. In addition, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al- Sisi and his government, especially the military, face grave allegations of corruption and squandering public money; allegations made by a former military contractor last year that sparked September 2019’s demonstrations. Since then, the authorities have failed to open a serious investigation into these allegations; a failure denounced by the undersigned organizations. Accountability, not further corruption and waste of public funds, is essential to addressing the issues causing public unrest and suffering throughout the country.

At the same time, the national economy continues its plummet, with social, health, and educational services further dwindling under the added strain of the Covid-19 pandemic this year. Rather than aid its citizens under these extraordinary circumstances, the Egyptian government instead has pursued policies that cause even more suffering to Egyptians. New economic burdens have been added, such as the reconciliation law over building violations, which provoked anger and protest this month in several governorates, among them Giza and Alexandria.

The culmination of the state’s repressive policies, including its brutal response to demonstrations – exemplified yet again by the torture and murder of citizen Islam el-Australy in Moneib police station –  will not lead to stability. Instead, the Egypt government will push the country even further into turmoil and violence, amid an unprecedented global pandemic.

Signatory Organizations

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  3. Committee for Justice
  4. Freedom Initiative
  5. Nadeem Center
  6. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

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