Ramy Shaath before the European Parliament: “Egypt has turned into a republic of fear.”

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

On January 26, 2022, former political detainee Ramy Shaath spoke before the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, following his recent release from Egyptian prisons after 915 days of arbitrary detention.  Shaath, an Egyptian-Palestinian national,  was set free after being coerced to renounce his Egyptian nationality as a precondition for his freedom.

He described the  dire conditions of his detention in Egypt and exposed the plight of thousands of political detainees in the country who have been languishing in prisons for years with no due process.

Ramy Shaath’s statement,  which was endorsed by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), highlighted that “Egypt is boiling from the inside…if people think that this is stability, it’s a delusional stability, unstable stability, and non-permanent stability.” The ex-political prisoner further stressed that “The entire region is boiling, not just Egypt, and the dualism based on occupation and dictatorship cannot continue. Unfortunately, Europe pays the price of that with immigration, terrorism, and instability in the Mediterranean and the Middle East  in its long-term relationships. We have to change the story, change the narrative…” Ramy also called on the European Parliament and other democratic forces around the world to continue to advocate for the release of political detainees in Egypt: “You succeeded in securing my release and that of some detainees, yet there are still 60 thousand Egyptians detained in draconian  prisons without any justification and without any real hope for change unless we all act”.

In the Q&A that followed the debate, several MEPs took the floor to demonstrate solidarity with Ramy Shaath and other political detainees in Egypt and highlight the urgent need for more political pressure on Egypt to reform and improve its human rights record. MEP Mounir Satouri spoke about the need for the EU to address the human rights situation in Egypt more consistently. MEP Miguel Urban Crespo slammed the EU-Egypt joint bid for the chairmanship of the UN Global Counterterrorism Forum GCTF and denounced that Ramy Shaath was forced to renounce his nationality to be released.

Shaath was released on January 8, 2022, after a cross-regional campaign calling for his liberation. His pre-trial detention was renewed more than 30 times after his arrest in relation to Case 930 of 2019, which became known as the “Hope Coalition Case”. Other defendants in the case detained around the same time as Shaath include prominent figures in Egyptian politics and civil society: Zyad el-Elaimy, a lawyer, former parliamentarian, and a leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party; political activist Hossam Mo’anes and journalist Hisham Fouad. After spending more than two years in pre-trial detention, in November 2021, Zyad el-Elaimy, Hossam Moanis and Hisham Fouad were convicted and sentenced to between three and five years in prison following a grossly unfair trial by an emergency court.

The human rights violations suffered by the Hope Coalition Case defendants are emblematic of the Egyptian authorities’ ruthless crackdown on all forms of dissent and of the cruelty of the fundamentally flawed criminal justice system where due process and fair trial rights are systematically violated. Meanwhile members of the security forces enjoy impunity for crimes under international law and serious human rights violations including unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearance. In April 2020, a chamber of Cairo’s Criminal Court decided to arbitrarily add Shaath  to Egypt’s “terrorist list” for a period of five years, along with politician Zyad el-Elaimy. The Court of Cassation rejected Shaath and el-Elaimy’s appeal and upheld the listing decision, condemned by UN rights experts.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the European Parliament, Chairperson Madam,

Thank you for the invitation and thank you for your support of the campaign initiated by my wife. Thank you for supporting the campaign during my imprisonment and for welcoming her when she came to the Parliament two years ago, in support of the campaign for my freedom. Your support was very important. Your message of solidarity reached me in my cell in Egypt, and it gave me a degree of protection during my imprisonment. Most importantly, it merged with other efforts around the world and led to my release.  This has allowed me to be with you here today in this session, so I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Dear friends, I spent 915 days in detention. This started with three days of enforced disappearance in a state security services site. For three days I was blindfolded, and my hands tied and shackled to the wall. On the third and last day of my disappearance, they took me to the Supreme State Security Prosecution. When we returned to the security site, one of the individuals asked me about my number, I did not know. You was here yesterday, he said to me, so you should know your number. I told him that I do not know my number, so he went to ask. He returned shortly,  telling the others there that I was the one “without a number.”

When I went to prison, I came to understand from the thousands of detainees I met during my detention that during enforced disappearances, people are given numbers. They remain lying on the ground, their eyes blindfolded and their hands tied, shackled to the wall for days, weeks, and months. Some of them spend years forcibly disappeared, and by ‘forcibly disappeared,’ it means: their family does not know where they are; their lawyers do not know where they are. The place where he is held during his disappearance is illegal, and it is the main venue  for “torture parties”- held every night from nine in the evening to four in the morning. During this “party”, detainees  are exposed to torture, coercion, beating and electrocution in attempts to extract false confessions from them. I also spent the last days before my release from prison in another enforced disappearance detention center of the General Intelligence Service. For two days, I was again blindfolded and my hands were tied.

During the two and a half years of the security service investigation I was in Tora Prison. This prison has cells of 23 square meters by 240 square feet, in which between 18 and 32 detainees lived in the same cell. This is where we lived, ate, drank and moved. We slept on the floor, on a small blanket; we used a 1.75 meter-sized bathroom. This bathroom was a hole and above it was a cold water sprinkler, this is where we showered, used the toilet, and we washed our clothes and food in it.

A large part of our lives were spent in inhumane and degrading conditions, in rooms teeming with insects of all kinds; it was difficult to be permitted to bring anything to protect us from insects. When we reached thirty-two prisoners in a cell, our sleeping places were hardly two and a half fists. This space allowed the cell to accommodate 32 people, so we took turns sleeping.  I can tell you at length about family visits, the humiliation and the corruption that  families are subjected to during such visits, including being forced to pay money for the visit.

I can also tell you about solitary confinement in a cell measuring one and a half meters in size in which it is difficult to even spread your legs. Detainees used to spend a week or two in solitary confinement as punishment for the most trivial of reasons. I witnessed the death of one of my comrades, because he was unable to be in a closed and dark place without water or a bathroom for two weeks.

I can also tell you about my wife not being allowed to visit me, except once under pressure from the French government, for two and a half years. I can tell you about lawyer visits being refused to me for two and a half years, with the exception of a business lawyer for a company and not a lawyer relevant to my arrest.  I can tell you about many scenes of detainees being beaten and humiliated during investigation and during their entry to prison, an inhumane and illegal practice.

Another issue was the politicized and dependent judicial system. Officers in the prison were constantly  reiterating that they do not obey any law. “No law protects you from us. We can take you, kill you, bury you, (exhume you), torture you. You belong to us, we do not have to abide by any law, not even its formalities.” This is part of the terror we were exposed to.  I can tell you about my arrest, since the first day, July 5, 2019. Dozens of armed men barbarically raided my home, with rifles and machine guns.  They took Celine, my French wife, and deported her illegally and arbitrarily.  They confiscated my belongings – including computers, phones, papers and books – without giving me any paper. Even when I was released, they refused to return the things they took from my home, which they entered without authorization and without identification.

I can tell you about the ten visits to the Attorney General of the State Security Prosecution or the twenty visits to the judge. Thirty times my detention was renewed over two and a half years. I was interrogated for only forty-five minutes, and in those only forty-five minutes I was asked about my opinion on the January 25, 2011 revolution and who I voted  for as President of the Republic. When I yelled, asking about the relevance of this to the accusations against me, the response was always that I was accused of “joining a terrorist group.” When I asked about the name of this terrorist group, they answered that they cannot tell me. They told me that I am accused of spreading false news on social media, yet I do not have any social media pages; however, this is not important. What is important is that this accusation or this cocktail of charges is what activists, politicians, human rights defenders, doctors and the Egyptian people of all classes are constantly accused of in order to terrorize them. The fact is that Members have asked, more than once, to prosecute the regime in Egypt. I have seen you and your decisions about illegal and inhumane practices. Unfortunately, your demands were not fulfilled. Attempts to transform this willingness into genuine ability and clear action that impacts and changes the ways of the Egyptian regime have not succeeded. With the human rights situation, this has not yet happened.

On the other hand, we see support, legitimacy, cooperation and funding from many European countries, which calls the regime to wonder about the price it pays for the continuation of its practices. Is there a penalty for continuing these practices? Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any yet.

Members of Parliament, Egypt has turned into a republic of fear, terrorizing human rights organizations and impeding their work. Some of these organizations have disbanded themselves out of fear of security persecution, travel bans, property confiscation, and members being thrown into prison. Activists fear to take action, political parties cannot organize an event inside party headquarters for fear of people being arrested as soon as they leave the headquarters. Among the thousands of people who were with me in prison, hundreds of them were arrested because they were stopped by a security officer who searched their phones. So if there was any comment or even a joke on Facebook, that was sufficient cause to arrest them and send them to the courts as ‘terrorists.’ This society’s terrorism continues in all its forms, including the terrorism to which I am subjected even after leaving prison, in order to silence me.

I will not be silent, and I insist on continuing my dialogue with you. Egypt is boiling from the inside, people are subjected to oppression and poverty. If people think that this is stability, it’s delusional stability, unstable stability, and non-permanent stability. There is no stability with fear, there is no stability with poverty, there is no stability with silencing, and there is no stability while preventing free opinion and expression and political action. If you want a long-term strategy, a long-term economy and a long-term relationship with Egypt, you need genuine stability based on freedom of expression and human rights. The entire region is boiling, not just Egypt, and the dualism based on occupation and dictatorship cannot continue.  Unfortunately, Europe pays the price of that with immigration, terrorism, and instability in the Mediterranean and Middle East and in its long-term relationships. We have to change the story, change the narrative to a new relationship with the Middle East that counteracts occupation and dictatorship.

I know that you will soon have a visit from Egyptian government delegations. They will lie to you. In the ward where I had been staying for two and a half years, there was a very narrow place within which they allowed us to move and exercise for up to an hour and a half.  Next to this place there was a spacious recreational area, a mosque and a large bathroom that we were never allowed to use. It is only available for your visits or the visits of other organizations to the prison, so that a picture can be taken and it can be said that there are human rights. But the detainees were not allowed to go out to this recreational area, nor to the mosque, nor to the space.

This is the same method, of deception and distortion, that they use today in the so-called human rights strategy. The deceptive image they proffer has no connection to the actual human rights situation,  it is an image that has no effect on the ground. Neither does the cancellation of the Emergency Law, in a few days, have any impact on the ground.  The Terrorism Law was amended to include all the tools of repression that were present in the Emergency Law. We have heard for months about the promises to release detainees, the hopes and appeals for the imminent release of detainees. You succeeded in securing my release and that of some detainees, yet there are still 60 thousand Egyptians detained in draconian prisons without any justification and without any real hope for change unless we all act. We must change the rules of the game. We must force them to end the human rights crisis and the crisis of detainees in Egyptian prisons.

At a time when governments in Europe are unable to act and see their short-term interests and thus adopt a relationship of this kind, it is your role as the parliament and as the legislators to act.  You helped me come out with your statements, decisions, and speeches, and by raising your voice. I ask you to continue, and to raise your voice even louder, and to contact your colleagues in various European parliaments to take actual decisions that hold the Egyptian government accountable. All of this has succeeded and will succeed if we can all cooperate in setting a strategy that will maintain the pressure. There are 60,000 Egyptian detainees, including many of my friends, each one of whom is a person who has anguish and sorrow, and who has a devastated family.

Thank you.

This post is also available in: العربية

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