Egypt: Remote renewal of pretrial detention is another attempt to undermine the rights of detainees
The administrative decision issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Justice to start implementing the system of remote renewal of pretrial detention (via video conference) is yet another attempt to undermine the rights of detainees in Egypt, the Committee for Justice (CFJ) said in a statement.
Egyptian authorities are once again trying with all their might to deprive detainees of their rights that are safeguarded by international laws and covenants, as well as stipulated by Egyptian law.
The Egyptian Ministry of Justice has recently announced that, in cooperation with the Ministries of Communications and Information Technology, and the Interior, it had completed the first phase of the project to renew pretrial detention remotely, which it launched on October 18, in the context of its claim to achieve prompt justice through the use of digital technology in the field of facilitating and improving litigation procedures. The system involved the appearance of accused persons who are being held in pretrial detention in public and central prisons before the courts and the judiciary through closed circuit television, according to what was published by Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper on March 1, 2021.
The ministry explained that the aim of the project is to hold the renewal sessions with a mechanism that enables the judge to initiate the procedures for renewing the detention of the accused who are being held in pretrial detention without the need to transfer them from their places of detention, justifying this by several goals: the first is a security goal, which is to reduce security risks during the transfer of the accused; an economic goal, which is to save the expenses of transporting the accused; and a health goal, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, by limiting the exposure of detainees in pretrial detention to contact with others.
The ministry indicated that after 4 months of launching the project, it succeeded in linking the New Cairo Court of First Instance, the South Cairo Court of First Instance, the North Cairo Court of First Instance, and the Helwan Court of First Instance, as well as the Heliopolis and Abdeen District Courts, with the Tora General Prison and the Tora Prison, Al-Qanater al-Khayreya Public Prison, Cairo General Prison, and al-Nahda and 15th of May central prisons. The East and West Alexandria Primary Courts were also linked to the prisons of Burj Al Arab, Gharbaniyat, Al Hadra, Damanhour for women, Damanhour for men, and Karmouz Central Prison.
CFJ believes that the information published about this new system indicate that Egyptian authorities continue to confiscate the remaining rights of detainees, and to violate the basic principles of a fair trial required by international and humanitarian law, such as the right of the accused to appear before a natural judge, as well as depriving the accused of communicating with their lawyer and being alone with them, as well as having lawyers present to them the defense plan.
“The principles of fair trial are among the basic pillars of human rights in the global system, and the administrative decision issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Justice to implement this project completely undermines this principle,” said Ahmed Mefreh, the executive director of CFJ.
“The trial sessions and the renewal of imprisonment will be held indirectly in detention centers and prisons, where the accused will be subject to the executive authority, which opens the door for the detainee to be exposed to more violations. They will also be far from any judicial oversight, as the judge will only see what the executive authority wants to show him from the camera only, and where are the rights of defense?”
According to CFJ’s report entitled “2020: The year of breaching the right of defense”, when communicating with Egyptian lawyers to ask them about their opinion on this electronic litigation technique, and the extent of its smooth implementation, the lawyers confirmed that, in addition to the severe faults with regards to defense rights, the law also faces many infrastructural challenges related to Egyptian courts.
One of the lawyers quoted in the report said: “With regard to digital litigation, the law faces several obstacles, the most important of which is the weakness of the Internet in Egypt, which often leads to the downfall of the electronic system in the courts, in addition to the ignorance and lack of English literacy by most court employees, as well as proficiency in using computers, which will lead to more slowdowns in procedures.”
The lawyer added: “In my imagination, if the system proceeded and was completed in this way, that is, if all forms of litigation became digital, and not only the procedures for litigation in light of the current challenges and obstacles, it is certain that severe disruption will occur.”
Concerning the Ministry of Justice’s argument that this system will seek not to endanger the lives of detainees, by limiting their mixing with others, CFJ stresses that the authorities should not take advantage of the precautionary measures applied to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic to undermine more rights of detainees.
Shaima Abu al-Khair, CFJ’s advocacy officer, said: “The Egyptian regime has used the Covid crisis in the most horrific way by turning it into a pretext for more repression. The new system constitutes the end of the principle of fair trial in Egypt.”
Based on the above, CFJ rejects the implementation of the system of renewing pretrial detention remotely in the courts in Egypt, as it will have a severe negative impact on the principles of fair trial that Egyptian courts lack in the first place. It will open the door to more violations against detainees, in addition to its violation of many international covenants, laws, and even Egyptian law.