Egypt: Human rights organizations condemn harassment of peaceful opponents to the constitutional amendments 

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papersby CIHRS

The undersigned organizations resolutely oppose the Egyptian authorities’ targeting of political activists for their peaceful opposition to the constitutional amendments  and call for the immediate and unconditional release of those arrested.  Security forces are to be held responsible for the physical safety of those persons in case of any violations during their arrest and interrogation.

A wave of arrests targeting political activists occurred in the run-up[1] to the constitutional referendum and during the referendum voting process at the end of April 2019, after which the referendum was approved by 88.83% according to the High Electoral Committee, in a tainted process lacking in integrity and partiality.  During the three-day referendum, political activists were arrested, forcibly disappeared, and detained under spurious charges for peacefully expressing their opposition to the constitutional amendments. Among those arrested were members of the Dustour (Constitution) Party and the Strong Egypt Party.

Ahmed Badawi, a member of the Strong Egypt party, was arrested on the second day of the referendum, April 21, after he raised a banner calling on citizens to reject the amendments.  He was forcibly disappeared for six days before appearing before the state security prosecution, where he was interrogated in case No. 674 of 2019[2], charged with joining a terrorist group and intending to commit crimes disrupting and jeopardizing public order and safety. He was not shown any evidence of these allegations.

The same day of Badawi’s arrest, Ameer Issa, secretary of the Popular Activities Committee of the Dustour Party, was arrested by police while photographing procedural violations in front of a polling station at a school in northern Cairo. Issa was forcibly disappeared for eight days before appearing on April 30th before the state security prosecution. The prosecution extended his detention for 15 days pending investigation.

Activist and journalist Abeer al-Safti was arrested in Alexandria on the third day of the referendum when the microbus she was riding was stopped by police, who ordered the passengers to vote at a nearby polling station. When passengers protested, Al-Safti and another passenger were arrested. She was forcibly disappeared for two days. Her family, unable to contact her, submitted complaints to the authorities until she appeared before the state security prosecution on April 28th. She was charged with joining a terrorist group and using an internet account to harm public order and security.  Like Badawi and Issa, the prosecution detained her for fifteen days pending investigation.

Badawi, Issa, and al-Safti were charged under case No. 674 of 2019, under vague, overly-broad charges typical to cases processed by the state security prosecution, in the context of a continuous state of emergency repeatedly enforced in Egypt since 2017. The undersigned are highly  concerned about a potential widening of the scope of arrests to include more citizens who have expressed their rejection of the amendments peacefully through sanctioned, legal channels. Those already unjustly detained must be immediately and unconditionally released if Egypt is to begin upholding its international obligations as well as the fundamental rights of its citizens.

The undersigned further assert that the integrity and impartiality of the referendum process was marred by practices such as forcing citizens to cast their vote in polling stations, voter bribery, and preventing journalists from monitoring the counting procedures. Such practices violate Egypt’s international obligations to promote and consolidate democracy in accordance with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 55/96 of 2001; and Article 19 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which calls on states to uphold freedom of expression.

Signatory Organizations

  • The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  • The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Al-Nadeem Center
  • Adalah for Rights and Freedoms
  • Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

[1] It is worth noting that security forces arrested four members of the Dustour Party from the governorates of Cairo, Giza, and Aswan, after they announced their rejection of the constitutional amendments. On February 22, 2019, Ahmad al-Rassa and Ramadan Abu Zeid  were arrested upon leaving the party’s general secretariat meeting at its headquarters in Dokki.  Hilal Samir and Jamal Fadel were arrested from their homes in Cairo and Aswan, respectively.

The four party members were held in custody by the Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges in two different cases:  security case no. 277 of 2019, charged with joining a terrorist organization; while Ramadan Abu Zeid was charged in state security case 1739 off 2018, accused of helping a terrorist organization achieve its objectives, and using a personal social media account to disseminate and broadcast false news and rumors intended to harm national security.

[2] In the case file, Badawi’s lawyers proved that he was taken to the Fifth Settlement Police Station and illegally detained at the National Security headquarters annexed to the police station. He was not brought before the prosecution but was interrogated by national security officers for four hours while being denied access to both his lawyer and his family. He was blindfolded and chained to a seat during six days of enforced disappearance, during which officers at the police station denied his arrest or presence in their facility. The Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to resume questioning of Badawi on May 9.

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