UN human rights experts warn of the risk of prolonged detention of human rights defenders in Egypt amid COVID-19 pandemic
UN human rights experts have warned that the prolonged and unnecessary pre-trial detention of dozens of Egyptian human rights defenders exposes them to a serious and unnecessary risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The death toll is higher than the declared, due to prison conditions in Egypt:
In a statement published by the media center of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the experts said: “With few physical distancing measures in place in these prisons, we fear that the death toll may be much higher than the cases so far corroborated.”
The experts added that detained human rights defenders have few opportunities to make their health conditions known, as they are not being given a chance to individually contest the charges they face under national security legislation.
What is happening is a denial of the right to a fair trial:
The experts stressed that ‘’the way Egypt is handling their detention and trials violates international human rights standards as many pre-trial detention renewal hearings take place in the absence of defendants and lawyers. Where defendants are being transferred to court, they have been tried in big groups without individual consideration of personal or medical circumstances.’’
In their statement, the experts emphasized: “What we are seeing is the denial of the right to a fair trial, at a time when authorities should be stepping up efforts to facilitate the release of prisoners detained without sufficient legal basis or with pre-existing medical conditions.”
The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Marie Lawlor, said: “There are credible allegations that some Egyptian defenders have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or tortured simply for standing up for human rights,” stressing that “Egypt must release imprisoned human rights defenders and recognise the vital role they play in society.”
A UN pledge to monitor conditions inside Egypt’s prisons:
The experts cited in their statement the case of the detained Egyptian activist Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a defender of the right to housing and against unlawful evictions, who was forcibly disappeared for 167 days last year and was allegedly tortured and is now in prison but has not been able to request temporary release on the basis of his pre-existing respiratory condition.
The experts pointed out that Ezz El-Din is just one of many human rights defenders whose lives are increasingly at risk, including Esraa Abdel Fattah and Sanaa Seif, both of whom are women human rights defenders, as well as Ramy Kamel, a defender of the rights of the Coptic Christian minority, and according to the information received, none have been allowed to communicate regularly with their families or lawyers.
In the conclusion of their statement, the experts stressed that independent access to information on the well-being of the detainee is paramount, and it is an important measure to reduce the risk of torture, ill-treatment and other serious violations of human rights and that during a pandemic, it becomes even more vital. They added that they are in direct contact with Egyptian authorities on these and other cases and pledged to closely monitor the situation.
The Committee for Justice (CFJ) has recently documented the rise in the number of confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 among detainees, police officers and workers in detention facilities in Egypt to a total of 331 cases, with 220 suspected infections and 111 confirmed cases in 48 detention facilities in 13 governorates, according to the Coronavirus Meter recently launched by CFJ to monitor the spread of the virus in detention centres in Egypt.