The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms: Two years of arrest and repression
By: Committee for Justice
Geneva: December 2, 2020
The Committee for Justice (CFJ) said on Wednesday that two years after authorities in Egypt launched a campaign of arrests against members of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), and three years after the arrest of its chairman, the Egyptian lawyer and human rights defender Ezzat Ghoneim, injustice against them continues, amidst a deliberate absence of the principles of international and Egyptian law and in what appears to be clearly revenge for their effective role in the human rights field in Egypt.
On March 4, 2018, Egyptian authorities arrested lawyer and human rights defender Ezzat Eid Taha, known as Ezzat Ghoneim, in connection with Case No. 441 of 2018, and on September 4, 2018, a decision was issued to release him with probational measures, but authorities did not release him; he was instead forcibly disappeared for five months, after which he appeared in custody and his detention was renewed for 45 days pending the same case, for allegedly avoiding attending the probationary measures sessions.
On June 15, 2019, the 29th circuit of the Criminal Court decided to release Ghoneim in the same case, but the 15th circuit rejected the release decision, and issued a decision to continue his imprisonment on June 18, 2019.
On July 28, 2019, the State Security Prosecution summoned Ghoneim from his prison and charged him with joining a terrorist group, in Case No. 1118 of 2019, while he was still imprisoned pending Case No. 441 of 2018, and the Public Prosecution ordered his imprisonment for 15 days pending the new case and starting from the date of his release in Case 441 of 2018.
The Egyptian authorities also launched arrests campaign against the ECRF’s Board of Directors and its members, in addition to its executive director who was previously arrested, including lawyer Hoda Abdel Moneim Abdel Aziz, Aisha Muhammad Khairat al-Shater, and the lawyer Muhammad Abu Hurairah Muhammad Abd al-Rahman.
Shaima Abu al-Khair, Advocacy Officer at CFJ said:
“The arrests and repression against the ECRF and its staff have been well documented by the United Nations human rights protection mechanisms, the latest of which was the report of the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, Andrew Gulmer. Instead of more intransigence against the detainees, we demand Egyptian authorities to respect those reports and release them.”
Egyptian authorities have charged the detained members of the group with joining a terrorist group, financing it, and publishing false news. These are the charges that the authorities in Egypt are now employing against anyone working in the human rights field, stigmatizing them as terrorists, and using the term “terrorist group” to refer to civil society organizations working in the field, in a serious shift in dealing with civil and human rights organizations in Egypt.
The ECRF detainees, including Abdelmoneim and Shater, were subjected to many violations, including solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and only allowed them out of their cells for approximately 30 minutes twice a day in order to use the toilet and shower. Since their arrest, visits have also been banned for most of the detainees in that case, in clear and explicit violation of prison regulations in Egypt, the Nelson Mandela International Rules, and international laws and norms.
Medicines were also prohibited for many of them, despite the fact that some of them suffer from rare diseases that threaten their lives in the absence of the necessary treatment and health care. In the case of Aisha Al-Shater, she suffers from aplastic anemia, which is a rare and serious condition that affects the blood, and was exposed as a result of medical negligence to severe bleeding, which necessitated her transfer to the hospital several times, and that prompted her to announce her hunger strike more than once, despite her deteriorating health condition. Until now, the prison administration is still stubbornly refusing to meet her basic demands and bans family visits for her despite her serious health condition.
Likewise, in the case of lawyer Hoda Abdel Moneim, her husband announced on January 14, 2020, that she suffered severe stiffness in the knee, and cartilage erosion, due to which she could not move or walk. She has also suffered a heart attack, high blood pressure, and a stroke in her left leg possibly due to her solitary confinement since her arrest. On November 29, 2020, her husband once again demanded her release after two years of her in pretrial detention, after he received information about her deteriorating health condition, as she was transferred to an outside hospital for treatment, and then she was returned to her prison without regard to her deteriorating health condition.
Despite the spread of Covid-19 inside prisons in Egypt, authorities refused to allow the entry of any personal care tools or sterilization for many of the ECRF’s detainees, which exposes them to the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
Abu al-Khair added: “Despite all these violations that the ECRF detainees were subjected to, the Egyptian regime went even further, placing members of its board of directors, and many of its members on “terrorism lists”, in a clear message to the human rights community in Egypt that the rules of the game have changed, We have seen the same policy recently in the arrests of members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, whose detainees were similarly charged with accusations related to joining and financing a terrorist group.”
CFJ said that it has taken several steps in an attempt to alleviate the injustice committed against human rights defenders of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms. It addressed the United Nations mechanisms through two UN memoranda in November 2018, and the other in February 2019, when it called on the UN mechanisms to address the Egyptian authorities to disclose the whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared detainees from the ECRF, to stop, and to investigate incidents of torture that took place against some of them, as well as to provide them with basic rights as persons deprived of their liberty, in accordance with international law, and to release them.
CFJ added that the Egyptian authorities, with their new method of dealing with civil society organizations as terrorist organizations, introduced a challenge for the international community to press for an end to the indiscriminate war against Egyptian civil society and the release of all human rights defenders in Egypt. It also called for reviewing the legislation that curtails the power of Egyptian civil society and allows the interference of security authorities in their work, stressing on the need to open a horizon of dialogue between the regime in Egypt and those organizations in their capacity as an essential vehicle for monitoring the human rights situation in Egypt and an important guarantor for upholding those rights.