The undersigned rights organizations call for the freedom of human rights lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim, the director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms. Despite state representatives’ claim that there are no human rights violations in Egypt, Ghoneim is being persecuted for the newly labeled crime of “rights terrorism,” which effectively criminalizes the defense of human rights as an act of terrorism. Ghoneim joins the ranks of many others before him—including journalists, writers, and activists—who have faced a similar charge of “terrorism” for simply exercising their right to free speech and association or defending human rights.
Ezzat Ghoneim was disappeared on March 1st 2018 and held in an undisclosed location where Homeland Security subjected him to unlawful threats and psychological torture, as later learned by the undersigned organizations. He resurfaced three days later, on March 4th, at the State Security Prosecution in the Fifth Settlement. There he was interrogated without a lawyer in the early hours of the morning and detained. He was brought before the prosecutor on Thursday, March 5, with his lawyer, and faced the usual raft of charges: joining an illegal group and promoting its ideas, publishing false news, and supplying international institutions with false information. Although none of the charges were proven, the State Security Prosecution renewed Ghoneim’s detention for 15 days pending investigations in Case no. 441/2018.
Following his abduction and before his appearance in front of the prosecutor, Ghoneim was held in the Tora Prison, where he was compulsorily filmed for a video while wearing civilian clothing. He was unaware of the purpose and contents of the video, which was filmed without the knowledge of the prosecution. On March 16, the Egyptian Interior Ministry released a video titled “The Spider’s Web” promoting the state’s efforts to combat terrorism. A section of the film titled “Rights Terrorism,” shows Ghoneim’s image—he appears extremely distressed—and segments of the BBC documentary on human rights abuses in Egypt, as well as stills featuring the logos of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The video labels individuals who expressed opinions deviating from the state narrative as “terrorists” and similarly smears Ghoneim, a human rights defender, as a terrorist. Ghoneim’s lawyers filed a complaint with the prosecution on Sunday, March 18, 2018.
This incendiary propaganda issued by the Interior Ministry is yet another unmistakable confirmation of the Egyptian state’s war against the human rights movement and its suppression of any attempt to exercise the right to freedom of expression. It represents a further escalation of the state’s assault against Egyptian human rights organizations, coming in the wake of asset freezes, interrogations, and While the state’s persecution of Ghoneim under the rubric of “rights terrorism” clearly demonstrates that it treats the defense of human rights as a crime, the state does not dare affirm this reality in international forums, where its representatives continue to deny – in the face of overwhelming evidence to the – that any human rights violations occur in Egypt. The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marwan outlandishly claimed at the UN that there is no torture or enforced disappearance in Egypt, despite Ghoneim’s enforced disappearance and the disappearance and torture of many others.
The undersigned organizations are highly concerned about the pressure and duress inflicted upon our colleague Ezzat Ghoneim by Egypt’s state security, as a means of coercing him to confess to crimes he did not commit. We urge the Public Prosecution to release Ghoneim without bail, as his disappearance and detainment are undoubtedly political retaliation for his role as a director of an Egyptian rights group. We fear that the newly minted crime of “rights terrorism,” for which Ghoneim is the first persecuted, will become yet another weapon in the state’s arsenal against civil society and rights organizations; serving to perpetuate the intensifying wave of persecution and intimidation that began in late 2014.
- Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Hisham Mubarak Law Center
- Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
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