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UN experts criticize the continued imprisonment of Egyptian activists, including Oxygen and Patrick Zaki, and demand an end to the violations against them

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Country: Egypt

News briefing

Edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: February 23, 2021
A group of United Nations human rights experts have expressed their grave concern about the alleged arbitrary arrest of human rights defender Mohamed Radwan, also known as Mohamed Oxygen, and the alleged arbitrary arrest of Kamal Elbalshy (brother of activist and human rights defender Khaled Elbalshy), and the prolonged pretrial detention of human rights defender Patrick Zaki.

In a memorandum sent to the Egyptian authorities on December 24, 2020, the experts mentioned some of the violations that were committed against the three upon their arrest, and after that.

Mohamed Radwan, also known as ‘Mohamed Oxygen‘:

Radwan is a human rights defender and blogger. Prior to his arrest on 6 April 2018 on charges of “publishing false news” and “joining an illegal group”, he had used his social media platforms to write and publish on human rights issues, including cases of enforced disappearance and torture allegedly involving the National Security Agency.

After a series of renewals pending investigations, and on 7/31/2019, Radwan was released on parole, requiring him to attend the police station twice a week for monitoring. On September 21, 2019, he was arrested in the police station, on charges of protesting, and his whereabouts were not known until October 8, 2019, when he appeared before the Public Prosecution Office, which ordered his pretrial detention for a period of 15 days on charges of “belonging to a terrorist organization”, “defamation” and “insulting” using social media, and he was detained pending Case No. 1356 of 2019, with which several other human rights defenders are associated.

On August 24, 2020, Radwan’s family was informed of his transfer from Tora Prison to Scorpion Prison, which is a high-security facility inside the Tora complex, south of Cairo, and his family or his lawyer were not informed of the reason for this transfer, and since March 2020 family visits have been prevented for him, allegedly implementing the precautionary measures to confront the Coronavirus.

On November 3, 2020, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered the conditional release of Radwan in Case No. 1356 of 2019. However, this order was not implemented, and he was later added to the new case No. 855 of 2020, by the Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges of “joining a terrorist organization,” and several other human rights defenders have also been added to this case.

Kamal Elbalshy (brother of the journalist and defender Khaled Elbalshy):

Kamal Elbalshy works in the tourism industry in Cairo. He is the brother of journalist and human rights defender Khaled Elbalshy. He has not participated in any human rights or political activity, and he has no criminal record. His detention is clearly aimed at the targeting of his brother due to his human rights work. On September 20, 2020, coinciding with the anniversary of demonstrations against the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Kamal was returning home from the gym, when he was stopped at a police checkpoint, and police officers asked him if Khaled Elbalshy was his brother. To make sure of this, the officers confiscated his identity and arrested him, without informing him of the reasons for his arrest, then he was taken to the Qasr al-Nil police station, and on September 22, he was transferred to the Central Security Forces camp in al-Jabal al-Ahmar outside Cairo, where he was detained incommunicado, and his family and lawyer were unable to call him and were unaware of his whereabouts. Kamal was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on October 1, 2020, where he was charged with illegal protest, belonging to an illegal organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media, and he was detained pending Case No. 880/2020.

Patrick Zaki:

Patrick Zaki is a human rights defender and researcher in human rights and gender with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and has participated in many national campaigns against violations of civil and political rights. He was arrested on February 7, 2020, while traveling through immigration security at Cairo airport, after his arrival from Bologna. He remained for 24 hours detained in an unknown location, and was transferred to the National Institute of Statistics facility in Cairo, where he was reportedly interrogated there for 17 hours. During this period, he was allegedly handcuffed, blindfolded, and beaten on the stomach and back, tortured with electric shocks, and had no access to his lawyer. He was brought before the Public Prosecutor in Mansoura on the same day, who ordered his detention in Mansoura General Prison before the trial, and then on March 5, 2020, he was transferred to Tora Prison. Patrick was accused of violent and terrorist crimes, spreading false rumors and news aimed at destabilizing social peace and sowing chaos, under the Egyptian Anti-Terrorism Law, as well as running an account on social media aimed at undermining social order and public safety under the Egyptian law to combat cybercrime, and calling for the overthrow of the state according to Egyptian penal code, and incitement to protest without permission from the competent authorities with the aim of undermining the authority of the state under the Egyptian Protest Law. Patrick is still in pre-trial detention in Tora Prison, where he has limited access to his lawyer and family members. His interactions with his lawyer are limited to a few minutes of calling upon leaving the remand sessions. One of his family members is allowed a monthly visit for 20 minutes, and he suffers from Asthma and an increased risk of infection with Covid-19.

Suppression of freedom of expression and targeting of activists’ relatives:

The experts emphasized that the detention of Oxygen without trial appears to be a response to his exercise of the right to freedom of expression in the context of the alleged conviction of human rights, noting also that the arrest of Elbalshy and his continued detention before trial are an apparent attempt to target his brother for his efforts to report human rights violations in Egypt, which is of particular concern due to the apparent lack of a legal or factual basis behind the arrest of Elbalshy, apart from his intimidation, threats and deterrence to continue his legitimate work. The experts also pointed out that the targeting of family members of human rights defenders in Egypt is a source of grave concern, as it represents a systematic approach to silence their efforts to promote and defend the rights of others while also implicating their relatives. As for the arrest of Patrick, the experts expressed their concerns about his pretrial detention, the criminalization of his legitimate activities in the field of human rights, which amount to involvement in terrorism, spreading rumors and false news, and incitement. The experts reiterated their call on the Egyptian authorities to stop misusing anti-terrorism and national security legislation to criminalize human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society actors in the country.

UN demands from the Egyptian authorities:

The experts called on the Egyptian authorities to provide information on the legal and factual basis for the arrest of Radwan, Elbalshy, and Zaki, and their pre-trial detention, and compatibility with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, as well as provide specific information on how the authorities guaranteed the rights of these individuals to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, including by allowing them to obtain legal aid upon arrest.

The experts called on Egypt to provide information on why charges related to belonging to a terrorist organization were brought against Radwan and Zaki, with an explanation of how this is consistent with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, and an accurate understanding of the definition of terrorism as set forth by international law standards, including the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004). The experts also requested information about the whereabouts of Radwan during the period between September 21, 2019 and October 8, 2019, and the reason for his transfer from Tora prison to Scorpion Prison, and to confirm his current location.

They also called for providing information on the conditions of detention of the three, including details of family visits, materials handed over to them by their families, and communication with their lawyers, and in the event that visits by family members or lawyers for these human rights defenders continue to be refused after the measures taken to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Egypt, to determine the exact legal basis for these restrictions, and what are the alternative means of contacting the family? Has legal counsel been provided to them? The experts also demanded that the authorities in Egypt clarify how the systematic imposition of pre-trial detention, especially in cases of human rights defenders, and in light of the current context of the Coronavirus, is in line with the human rights obligations of the government, while clarifying the measures that have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and favorable environment in Egypt without fear of threats or acts of intimidation or harassment of any kind.

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