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Human Rights Strategy in Egypt?

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CFJ: Third quarterly report of 2021 (July to September)

Announcing the Egyptian “Human Rights Strategy”, a complete separation from the reality of prisons and detention centers.

The Committee for Justice (CFJ) said that the human rights strategy recently announced by Egypt utterly contradicts the reality that the organisation has documented and verified in the country, particularly in prisons and places of detention. International pressure was the main motive for the authorities in Egypt to announce their efforts to improve human rights conditions.

The third quarterly report covering the period from July to September 2021 and entitled “Human Rights Strategy in Egypt?”, comes as part of CFJ’s Detention Watch project. The launch of the human rights strategy coincided with an unstable pattern of diplomatic relations between Egypt and the United States. The announcement mainly aims at winning US support and silencing dissenting voices abroad, rather than a political decision to improve the humanitarian and human rights conditions in Egypt.

The report highlighted the deteriorating conditions in Aqrab (Scorpion) Pison, and the extortion that hundreds of detainees are subjected to in connection with cases of a political nature in Tora Prison by National Security officers, who trained them to deliver speeches about fake “good” prison conditions in exchange for a presidential pardon, which is the same as what happened in Wadi El-Natrun and Minya prisons.

The report also pointed out that arbitrary arrests affected even workers, including the workers of Universal Company for the manufacture of stoves. Three of Universal workers were arrested on September 27 after calling for a strike at the company’s headquarters until their late wages and incentives were paid. The businessman, Safwan Thabet, founder and former president of the Juhayna dairy and juice products company, has been detained since December 2020 in Tora Prison, and was placed on the list of “terrorist entities.”

On the legal level, the report mentioned the approval of the Egyptian House of Representatives, on July 28, 2021, of the controversial legal and constitutional law, which provides for the “dismissal of government employees suspected of belonging to terrorist groups,” as well as the parliament’s approval on July 18 of the law extending the state of emergency, then announcing the end of the state of emergency by the time of writing (October 2021).

The report added that the third quarter of 2021 coincided with the anniversary of the September 2019 demonstrations, which led to an increase in the severity of crackdown even in the absence of protests. Out of a total of 2,077 violations during that period, arbitrary deprivation of liberty accounted for most violations,  with approximately 59 percent of the total violations documented (1237/2077), followed by enforced disappearance, which represented about 37 percent (769/ 2077), then poor conditions of detention, deaths inside detention centers, and torture, at (54, 14, and 3) violations, respectively.

The report documented violations in 11 Egyptian governorates, topped by Cairo with approximately 82 percent of the total documented violations (1,708), followed by the Sharkia governorate with approximately 12 percent of the total violations.

An analysis of the data of the victims whose professions the report was able to identify shows that the share of journalists and media professionals during the reporting period was 20 violations. This can be explained by the extensive use and accusations of spreading false news to suppress voices wishing to highlight violations against citizens. This was followed by medical professionals with 15 violations, in addition to 13 violations against students that were documented during the reporting period.

The report also documented the spread of several other violations, such as arbitrary detention and prolonged enforced disappearance (7 verified cases), enforced disappearance and forced confessions, detention renewal, denial of health care (in 5 cases, the deteriorating health conditions and neglect after torture have been verified), poor conditions of detention (5 cases verified in Aqrab, Al-Qanater Prison for Men, Istikbal Tora Prison, and Prison 440 in Wadi Al-Natroun).

The report refers to the work of the UN communication team, which is focused on the use of UN mechanisms to pressure Egyptian authorities. The team submitted 19 complaints on behalf of 37 victims of violations inside detention facilities, the most important of which were directed to the teams working on arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and the Special Rapporteurs on arbitrary executions, the situation of human rights defenders, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The team’s efforts during the reporting period – and before it – resulted in the issuance of UN communications, the release of a number of victims of arbitrary detention, or the families’ request to close the complaint file. Among the most prominent of these complaints was EGY 9/2021 regarding the victim Mahmoud Obada Abdel-Maqsoud Eid – born in 1996 – who is at risk of arbitrary execution. Another complaint was submitted by the Committee for Justice in cooperation with several human rights organizations, which resulted in the issuance of the legal analysis Al EGY 6/2021 on July 8, 2021, regarding the NGOs Law 149/2019 and its violation of the principles of international law and basic civil and political rights that Egypt should be committed to safeguarding. Additionally, the legal analysis EGY 7/2021 was issued on July 16 to demand halting the expected execution of the death sentences issued against 12 Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the case known in the media as the “Rabaa dispersal.”

At the conclusion of its report, CFJ recommended directing dialogue efforts with the Egyptian authorities towards stopping the prosecution of opponents using terrorism laws and decisions of listing on “terrorist lists” to retaliate or exploit citizens. The organization also called for immediately releasing prisoners of conscience and those who have exceeded their prison terms, and putting an end to circumventing the law with the practice of recycling and re-arrests aimed at keeping opponents behind prisons for as long as possible.

CFJ also called on Egyptian authorities to stop targeting members of civil society in Egypt with raids, arbitrary arrests, and referral to emergency state security courts, and instead to create methods for dialogue and cooperation that work on the actual improvement of the human rights reality in Egypt, not just a superficial improvement.

CFJ also called on the international community to pressure Cairo to join the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and to establish a legislative framework criminalizing this practice, as well as pressure authorities to improve conditions of detention to protect prisoners from deprivation of health care and ill-treatment, and to release the elderly and those with chronic diseases.


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