The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) condemns the Prosecution’s decision to detain Hisham Kassem, the head of the board of trustees of the Free Current, a newly established coalition of liberal political parties and opposition figures. Kassem is a press publisher and is one of the most prominent secular opposition figures to be detained by the government of President Abdelfattah al-Sisi; his arrest constitutes a serious escalation. The Egyptian authorities’ unrelenting targeting of peaceful dissidents clearly indicates their lack intent to ease repression, as Egypt approaches presidential elections while facing a severe economic crisis. Between April 2022 and July 2023, for every political prisoner that has been released, nearly three others have been imprisoned.[i] CIHRS demands the immediate release of Kassem and the tens of thousands of peaceful political prisoners held in Egyptian prisons.
On 20 August, the Public Prosecution summoned Kassem under the pretext of taking his statements as a witness concerning a defamation complaint but questioned him as an accused under Case 5007 of 2023. The complaint against Kassem was filed by Kamal Abu Eita who served as minister of manpower and immigration between July 2013 – March 2014, following the military coup against former President Mohamed Morsi. The complaint alleges that Kassem defamed Abu Eita through his Facebook posts citing newspapers’ reports of the latter’s financial corruption when he was a minister. The Prosecution ordered Kassem’s release on bail, however his defense appealed having to pay a bail. According to a statement by the Free Current, before the Prosecution issued a decision on the appeal, three police personnel filed another complaint against Kassem for defamation and assaulting a public servant. The second complaint was added to Case 5007 of 2023, according to which the South Cairo Prosecution ordered Kassem’s detention on 21 August, pending further investigation.
The Public Prosecution’s decision to immediately act twice within 24 hours upon the complaint and to detain Kassem contrasts with its persistent dismissal of complaints filed by dissidents. After being assaulted and seriously injured in 2019, Gamal Eid, the director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, filed a complaint with the Prosecutor, however the complaint was shelved without an investigation taking place. Similarly, the Prosecutor shelved a complaint filed by Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, against a talk show host who incited his murder on TV.
The detention of Kassem is clearly motivated by his political activity and is a sign of the government’s escalation against peaceful opposition, as well as a testament that the alleged political opening announced last year is a mere ruse.
[i] According to the “Till the Last Prisoner” campaign, between April 2022 and mid July 2023, 1,662 prisoners have been released while 4,968 others have been newly arrested on political charges.
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