The Committee for Justice said that the issuance of a UN memorandum by a group of United Nations human rights experts regarding the continued detention of 4 human rights defenders in Egypt, in addition to criticizing their harsh conditions of detention, comes as a culmination of the efforts made by the organization to end the injustice against these individuals and informing the UN international mechanisms of their cruel and inhumane conditions of detention.
The UN experts had issued a UN memorandum on November 5, 2021 (Egyptian authorities have not yet responded) in which they discussed the conditions of detention and trial of blogger and human rights defender Alaa Abdel Fattah, human rights lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim, human rights lawyer Hoda Abdel Moneim and Aisha Al-Shater, in which they criticized their detention, describing it as “arbitrary,” and demanded Egyptian authorities to provide more information about the conditions of their detention, the charges against them, and the reasons for their continued detention.
In their memo, the experts also expressed their grave concern for the physical and psychological integrity of these bloggers, lawyers and human rights defenders, stressing that this concern is exacerbated by Egypt’s use of counter-terrorism legislation to criminalize the exercise of freedoms of expression and association by these individuals, describing their work on human rights as a threat to Egyptian national security, and that their criminalization is a clear retaliation for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association to criticize state authorities and discuss human rights violations.
The experts also made clear in their memorandum that discussing and exchanging information on human rights issues should never be considered a threat to national security, noting that even those accused of terrorism-related offenses deserve the same level of care in prison as everyone else, while information received indicates that the aforementioned individuals have been denied access to necessary medical care, which may amount to a violation of the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
CFJ pointed out that these UN actions were based on a complaint it submitted about these defenders, and that their detention came as a result of their human rights activism, after the Egyptian authorities have increasingly transformed pretrial detention from an exceptional legal measure into a punitive tool that is used systematically against defenders and the political opposition in the country in general.
Executive Director of CFJ Ahmed Mefreh commented on the international move, saying:
“It is good to see the fruits of our efforts on the ground. The ongoing international pressure on the regime in Egypt may push it to release these defenders, or even work to improve their conditions of detention, and this is our main goal to raise the injustice and to try to convey the voices of victims to the whole world in general and to international organizations in particular.”
In its complaint, CFJ confirmed that the charges against these defenders are generally fabricated and politically motivated in most cases, noting that the Supreme State Security Prosecution accuses the defendants without providing witnesses or evidence to prove the alleged charges, and does not provide an official written copy of the charges. In general, formal legal documents relating to the case are not made available to the defendants or their attorneys.
In its complaint, the organization also addressed the Egyptian authorities’ use of pretrial detention as a punitive tool against human rights defenders and dissidents in Egypt, stressing that in the past several years, the Egyptian authorities have increasingly transformed pretrial detention from an exceptional legal measure into a punitive tool that is used systematically against human rights defenders and political opposition in general.
The organization added that after the expiry of the two-year pretrial detention period according to Egyptian law, an order must be issued to release the detainee if the Public Prosecution did not confirm any of the charges against him. However, what is actually happening is either that the release doesn’t happen or the defender remains frequently behind bars, or defenders finding themselves accused in a new case before a release order is issued or during the completion of the release process.
“The Egyptian state is good at playing with laws and formulating them in a way that can be used to suppress opponents and human rights defenders, and the phenomenon of renewed detention is resulting from the authorities in Egypt using laws to their advantage in order to keep anyone who opposes them or exposes their human rights violations behind bars for the longest period of time possible.”
In its complaint, CFJ demanded that the UN experts intervene with the Egyptian government to get it to release all detained human rights defenders and stop their release.
It also called for the Egyptian authorities to intervene, pending their release, to compel them to take all necessary measures to ensure that these defenders are treated in accordance with the conditions stipulated in the “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Subjected to Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.”
At the conclusion of its complaint, the organization urged the experts to push the Egyptian authorities to fulfill their obligations to respect and protect human rights and freedoms in all circumstances, and to immediately end the crackdown on peaceful critics and opponents, which is what the experts called for in their memorandum addressed to the authorities in Egypt.