EGYPT: Release human rights defenders Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohamed Oxygen
Joint statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohamed Ibrahim “Oxygen”.
December 16, 2021. Ahead of the verdict of the Emergency Court on 20 December, we, the undersigned organisations, call upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohamed Ibrahim “Oxygen” and to drop all charges and cases against them. Their detention and imprisonment create an environment where freedom of expression is not respected. States and international institutions should raise these cases directly with their Egyptian counterparts and urge immediate release and dismissal of all charges.
On 20 December 2021, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohammed Ibrahim “Oxygen” will appear before Egypt’s Emergency State Security Misdemeanour Court to hear their verdict in Case 1228/2021. They are being accused of “spreading false news undermining national security” in connection with several messages posted in 2019 on their social media accounts documenting human rights violations in Egypt.
On 16 October 2021, Abdel Fattah along with blogger Mohamed Oxygen, and human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer were referred by the Supreme State Security Prosecution to the Emergency State Security Court. Their lawyers were not informed about the decision to refer them to trial and were hence prevented from presenting their defence. Moreover, the prosecutor only allowed the lawyers to read the case file but denied them access to copies of the documents.
The three human rights defenders had been held in pre-trial detention for over two years, the maximum legal period of pre-trial detention under Egypt’s Criminal Procedure Code, pursuant to charges under Case 1356 from 2019. The October referral of Case 2021 consists solely of a misdemeanor charge that is identical to that in Case 1356; this re-charging is consistent with a strategy systematically used by the Egyptian authorities to extend the pre-trial detention of human rights defenders once they have reached the maximum detention limit for a case. Their continuing pre-trial detention is both arbitrary and punitive. This is in violation of their right to liberty as set out under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). We the undersigned call upon the Egyptian authorities to end their arbitrary detention immediately without release conditions.
The Emergency State Security Court (ESSC) has jurisdiction over issues relating to the state of emergency and although the state of emergency ended on 26 October 2021, the ESSC will remain in place for any cases referred beforehand. Despite their lawyers not being able to present a defence, the ESSC is expected to issue a verdict for all three on 20 December 2021. The composition of the ESSC is determined by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who also appoints the judges and who has the absolute power to alter the judgments and the sentence of the ESSC.
The use of emergency courts against civilians is a violation of Article 4 of the ICCPR which only permits derogations when strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, and only so long as such measures are not otherwise inconsistent with a state’s international legal obligations. We condemn the use of Emergency State Security Courts against civilians to suppress freedom of expression. These prosecutions should be terminated and convictions rescinded immediately.
The three human rights defenders have not been presented with the evidence against them in any of the pending cases, they have not been permitted to prepare their defence, and the authorities have failed to try them without undue delay. Fair trial standards and due process have been denied in violation of Article 14 of the ICCPR. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Abdel-Fattah, El-Baqer and Oxygen and to drop all unfounded charges against them.
Abdel-Fattah, El-Baqer and Oxygen are currently detained at the maximum-security Tora prison. Upon arrival he was beaten, stripped, and threatened. All three are denied the right to go outside, to reading material, a watch or a clock, adequate clothing and hot running water. El-Baqer and Oxygen are also denied a mattress, and this might also be the case for Abdel-Fattah. Oxygen has been denied family visits since March 2020 and his mental health has deteriorated to the point that he attempted to commit suicide in the summer of 2021. The ill treatment and poor conditions all three of them have been subjected to upon their arrival at Tora prison amount to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR and in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment . They are also in violation of Article 10(1) of the ICCPR which provides that all those deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for their inherent human dignity. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to end the prohibited treatment against Abdel-Fattah, El-Baqer and Oxygen and improve the conditions of detention in all its prisons, as well as providing effective training of prison guards.
The arrest and detention of all three human rights defenders has a clear objective: to act as a chilling effect and suppress any criticism of the Egyptian authorities and the government. They are political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. This is in clear violation of Egypt’s obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR and of the Egyptian Constitution. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to end their campaign of harassment against Abdel-Fattah, El-Baqer and Oxygen, and create an environment which enables freedom of expression to be exercised without fear of reprisals.
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Committee for Justice
The Freedom Initiative
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
US Committee to End Political Repression in Egypt
Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)