The Egyptian Bar Association announced Thursday an “indefinite” strike to protest the imprisonment of six colleagues for a brawl with clerks earlier this month.
“We immediately suspend all our activities, we will stop appearing in court and participating in the investigations of the prosecution from January 19 and for an unlimited period,” the lawyers announced on their union’s website.
On Wednesday, the criminal court of Marsa Matrouh (north-west) sentenced six lawyers to two years in prison following a brawl between them and three court clerks in the coastal city on January 5, according to the state-owned daily al-Ahram.
The Egyptian lawyers believe that there was “a clear intention to keep their colleagues in custody without real justification” and denounce a “rush to bring them to trial without taking the time to conduct a real investigation”, according to the statement of their union.
The lawyers of the six convicts have appealed the decision and the court is expected to consider their request on Sunday.
In December, thousands of Egyptian lawyers demonstrated outside their union’s headquarters in central Cairo – an unusual occurrence in a country where public demonstrations are banned – to protest a new electronic billing system introduced by the Ministry of Finance.
Egyptian security forces arrested two lawyers from their homes in Cairo and Giza, a rights group said on Tuesday, as world leaders convened in Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss climate change at the Cop27 conference.
The home of Ahmad Natheer al-Helo in the capital Cairo was raided by police on Monday, before he was taken away to an unknown location, according to the Egyptian Network for Human Rights (ENHR). The reasons for his arrest were not made clear.
A day earlier, the home of another lawyer named Ahmad Ghurab was raided in the neighbouring Giza governorate. Ghurab was asked about the whereabouts of his son, who was not home at the time, before being detained, ENHR said.
Ahmed Attar, executive director of ENHR, told Middle East Eye the arrests come amid a “fierce crackdown campaign” by the government in recent weeks.
“Up to 1,000 people have been detained, most of them young people, in a campaign that targeted journalists, lawyers and other citizens in fear of possible protests on 11 November,” Attar said.
‘Up to 1,000 people have been detained, most of them young people, in a campaign that targeted journalists, lawyers and other citizens in fear of possible protests on 11 November’
– Ahmed Attar, ENHR
Egyptian authorities have increased security across the country ahead of hosting the Cop27 summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh between 6 and 18 November.
Topic: arrest, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention of human rights lawyer, Mr. Youssef Mansour.
Mr. Youssef Mansour is a lawyer, formerly with the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, a non-governmental organisation that shut down in January 2022. He was the defence lawyer of another human rights defender, who was sentenced in December 2021 to four years in prison.
On 24 March 2022, around 30 security personnel, who arrived in police and civilian cars, arrested Mr. Youssef. Some were armed, some were in civilian clothing, and they produced no arrest warrant but told Mr. Youssef “we are affiliated with the government,” and gave him three minutes to get ready.
It is reported that Mr. Mansour was forcibly disappeared for two days, during which his family had no information about his whereabouts. In addition, his official arrest document was dated 25 March 2022, one day later than his actual arrest. He later told his lawyers that he had been held at the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency in Cairo, and was questioned about his social media postings.
On Friday 25 March 2022, he was moved to al-Basatin police station, also without the knowledge of his family or lawyer.
On 26 March 2022, Mr. Mansour appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecutor (SSSP) in Case No. 330/2022 on accusations of spreading false news inside Egypt and outside. Mr. Mansour was questioned about Facebook postings he had made regarding the prison conditions of on of his clients. Mr. Mansour had mentioned in his posts that the prison service sector had refused to implement official family and lawyer visiting permits to his client, held in the maximum security facility within the Tora Prison complex south of Cairo, known as Scorpion 2. He was ordered to be held in pre-trial detention pending investigations.
Mr. Mansour was accompanied by two lawyers during the interrogation, and was allowed to meet privately with them for a few minutes after the interrogation and before he was returned to his place of detention. His lawyers were reportedly not permitted to view the charge sheet or the evidence held against him.
Mr. Mansour has since been held in al-Basatin Police Station, and his pre-trial detention has been renewed twice for 15 days each time.
According to Mr. Mansour’s lawyers, the accusations in Case 330/2022 under which he is held are based on anti-terrorist Law No. 94 of 2015, and on Penal Code No. 95 of 1937 (updated) and they include the crimes of joining a terrorist group, which carries the death penalty, or long-term detention; incitement to commit a terrorist crime, punishable by up to one year in prison; and the dissemination of false news and statements harmful to the national interest, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to LE 500 (€ 25).
Egyptian authorities ordered the release of several pretrial detainees pending investigations, member of Presidential pardon committee and prominent lawyer Tarek El-Awady announced on his social media accounts on Saturday.
According to El-Awady, among the released pretrial detainees will be ex-ambassador Yahia Negm, former Al-Ahram Daily editor-in-chief Abdel-Nasser Salama, human rights lawyer Amr Emam, and political activists Mohamed El-Ibrashi , Bassam El-Sayed, and Momtaz Kassam.
The detainees were all arrested on charges related to spreading false news and joining an illegal group.
Earlier this month, the Egyptian authorities released 60 pretrial detainees in what is described as the biggest release of pretrial detainees by the members of the Presidential Pardon Committee since its reactivation in April.
Reactivated in April, the Presidential Pardon Committee is mandated to review the cases of those imprisoned for political crimes and others who meet certain conditions, such as families who have more than one relative in jail.
In May, El-Awady said the committee is working on a list of pardon requests for 2,418 detainees and prisoners drafted by human rights groups.
Life-Destroying Bans, a Key Tactic Against Lawyers, Journalists, Activists
Egypt is using arbitrary travel bans to target key members of civil society for their peaceful work, including rights lawyers, journalists, feminists, and researchers, FairSquare and Human Rights Watch said today.
The bans, which authorities usually do not formally announce and provide no clear way to challenge them in court, have separated families, damaged careers, and harmed the mental health of those subjected to them.
“Arbitrary and open-ended travel bans enable the Egyptian authorities to impose a life-altering system of punishment that is barely visible to anyone except those whose lives they are destroying,” said James Lynch, director of FairSquare. “The bans have allowed Egypt to silently pummel its critics without fear of attracting the ire of its donors and supporters in London, Paris, and Washington, DC. Egypt needs to end these arbitrary abusive practices immediately.”
FairSquare and Human Rights Watch spoke to 15 Egyptians whom authorities have subjected to travel bans, for up to six years in some cases.
Following an arbitrary asset freeze since 2016, prominent feminist lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, Azza Soliman, could no longer work for the United Nations after losing her access to the banking system, which precluded her from receiving a salary. She also could not sell her car, as it would be considered transferring an asset. Gasser Abdel Razek, a rights defender,said he was blocked from renewing the license for his car, seemingly because it is an asset.
The travel bans have effectively sidelined members of civil society who were regularly in contact with policymakers in the US, Europe, and the United Nations. Mohamed Zaree, the Egypt director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, has been banned from travel since 2016, preventing him from attending events such as the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Egypt’s human rights record in 2019.
The award-winning human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry’s passport was confiscated by security agents upon her return from the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Conference in Prague in 2018. She was arrested in September 2019 in the crackdown on anti-government demonstrations and arbitrarily detained until July 2021.
On Thursday, 20 human rights groups issued a statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, director of Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms.
They said that El-Baqer’s detention was arbitrary and was intended to punish him for his legitimate work. They added that his detention puts his psychological well-being and life in grave danger.
On June 25, 2022, El-Baqer completed 1,000 days of arbitrary detention in Tora High Security 2, a prison known for its harsh and inhuman conditions. He is banned from leaving his cell, denied access to decent health care, and allowed to see his family only once a month.
El-Baqer was arrested on September 29, 2019, while performing his duties as a human rights lawyer when attending the interrogation of blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was arrested the same morning.
Rights groups said that the Egyptian authorities had ignored the numerous appeals issued for the release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, such as the statements published by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the two resolutions issued by the European Parliament on the situation of human rights defenders in Egypt. They asserted that the Egyptian authorities routinely resort to repressive tactics such as prolonged pretrial detention, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, and judicial harassment to silence dissenting voices. They called on the United States and the European Union to condemn the repressive actions against human rights defenders, journalists and political activists in Egypt. They also called on them to use all possible tools to address the human rights crisis in Egypt.
Lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer must be released immediately and unconditionally, stated 19 human rights organisations, including Lawyers for Lawyers. His detention is arbitrary, aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights work and is only putting his life and psychological well-being at serious risk.
June 25, 2022 will mark 1,000 days of Mohamed El-Baqer’s arbitrary detention. El-Baqer, a human rights defender and lawyer and Director of Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms, is currently detained in Cairo’s Tora High Security Prison 2, which is notorious for its cruel and inhuman conditions. He is forbidden to leave his cell to walk or see the sun, and is denied access to adequate healthcare, a bed or mattress, and hot water. His relatives are only allowed to visit him once a month and cannot provide Mohamed with family photos as he is not allowed to keep them.
On September 29, 2019, El-Baqer was performing his duties as a human rights lawyer at the State Security Prosecution premises in Cairo representing blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah—who had been arbitrarily arrested earlier that day—when he was himself arrested.
They were both accused within Criminal Case 1356/2019 of vague and unfounded charges that have been broadly used to criminalise dissenting voices in Egypt such as: “joining a terrorist group,” “funding a terrorist group,” “disseminating false news undermining national security,” and “using social media to commit a publishing offense”.
Nearly one year later, on August 30, 2020, El-Baqer was brought in for questioning and added to Case No. 855/2020 on nearly identical charges, a practice by Egyptian authorities commonly known as ‘’rotation.’’ Only three months later, in November 2020, El-Baqer along with 27 other activists, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, was added to Egypt’s “terrorist list” for a period of five years in connection with State Security Case 1781/2019. As a result of this designation, El-Baqer is subject to a travel ban, his assets are frozen, and he is prohibited from engaging in political or civic work for five years. On November 18, 2021, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeal presented by his lawyers against the decision to include him in the “terrorist list”.
After more than two years in pre-trial detention, the Misdemeanours Emergency State Security Court sentenced El-Baqer to four years in prison, and Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years, on charges of “spreading false news undermining national security” in yet another criminal case: Criminal Case 1228 of 2021. Rights defender and blogger Mohamed Oxygen was also sentenced to four years of imprisonment under the same case. They were all convicted for spreading false news on social media, as the prosecution claims that they posted or shared false news on their social media accounts in 2019. The verdict is not subject to appeal.
The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Egypt on 17 March 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government did not respond within this period. Replies, if received, will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Mr. Mohamed El-Baqer is a lawyer and human rights defender who has actively used social and other media outlets to publish and write about human rights issues, including on cases of enforced disappearances and torture allegedly involving the National Security Agency. Following his arrest in September 2019, he was detained arbitrarily for an extended period. He was also placed on Egypt’s domestic terrorist entities and terrorist list (hereinafter “terrorism watch list”) under Case No. 1781/2019.
We previously raised our human rights concerns with the Egyptian Government about the arrest and detention of Mr. El-Baqer and the inclusion of his name on Egypt’s terrorism watch list in communications EGY 11/2019, EGY 10/2020 and EGY 8/2021.. We regret that no reply has been received to any of these communications.
The case of Mr. El-Baqer was also included in the 2020 report of the Secretary-general (A/HRC/45/36, Annex I paras. 45-46) on cooperation with the UN on allegations that he had been targeted in relation to his engagement with the Universal Periodic Review of Egypt.
On 16 October 2021, Mr. El-Baqer was referred to the Emergency State Security Court (ESSC) by the Supreme State Security Prosecution under a new case without the knowledge of his lawyers who were prevented from presenting their defence, and who were not allowed to access his case file.
Mr. El-Baqer was accused under case No. 1228/2021 of “spreading false news undermining national security” and “using social media to commit publishing offenses.” These charges were among four accusations brought against him under an earlier case in 2019, case No. 1356/2019, which included accusations of “belonging to a terrorist group”, and “funding a terrorist group”, both of which remain in place and for which Mr. El-Baqer is held in pre-trial detention.
Although the state of emergency in Egypt was lifted on 26 October 2021, the ESSC remains in place for cases referred to it beforehand. Emergency Court verdicts are not subject to appeal and can only be commuted or overturned by the President of the republic.
On 11 November 2021, the ESSC rescheduled Mr. El-Baqer’s trial to 20 December 2021. His lawyers were not allowed to meet him or to have access to his case file, in violation of due process.
On 23 November 2021, the Court of Cassa tion rejected Mr. El-Baqer’s appeal to remove his name from the terrorism watch list issued a year earlier under Case No. 1781/2019, despite a lack of evidence or verdict justifying its decision.
On 20 December 2021, the ESSC Misdemeanor Court in New Cairo sentenced Mr. El-Baqer to four years in prison in case 1228/2021. In addition to his four-year sentence, Mr. El-Baqer continues to be held in pre- trial detention under Case No. 1356/2019 and, if tried and convicted by a Supreme State Security Court, he could face long-term imprisonment.
Without prejudging the accuracy of the information received, we express serious concern regarding the allegations that Mr. El-Baqer was denied the right to due process and fair trial throughout his arbitrary detention and trial, his continued arbitrary detention, and the continued inclusion of his name on the terrorism watch list without apparent evidence, in what appears to be a misuse of this listing procedure against human rights defenders. We express further concerns regarding the reported lack of adequate sanitary conditions and adequate medical care to Mr. El-Baqer, as well as the alleged lack of regular access to and contact with his family and legal representatives.