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19 May 2016

Egypt - Escalating judicial harassment against human rights defenders

Between April and May 2016, scores of arbitrary arrests, abusive detentions, unlawful house raids, enforced disappearances, violence and unfair trials targeting civil society and human rights defenders have taken place in Egypt. With over 300 arrests in Cairo, Alexandria and other governorates, repression and human rights violations committed by the authorities have reached an unprecedented level. They were triggered by a recent call made by several civil society actors to protest on 25 April 2016 against human rights abuses and crimes committed by the security forces, the ruling regime's policies and the recent government decision to cede the sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. As a result, on 14 May 2016, Egyptian courts sentenced, in a single day, 152 pro-democracy activists to up to five years imprisonment.

Human rights defenders, including Negad El Borai, Mohamed Nagui, Sanaa Seif, Malek Adly and Haytham Mohamadeen have been direct targets of the security forces and were accused in separate cases of, inter alia, “insulting a public official, deliberately spreading false information with the purpose of harming public order or public interest, calling for protests to overthrow the regime and  participation in an illegal demonstration”.

Negad El Borai is a well-known figure in Egypt's human rights movement, who has advocated for freedom of expression, assembly and association. He is an attorney-at-law and senior partner at “United Group - Attorneys-at-law, Legal Advisors". In January 2014, the human rights defender resigned from Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) in protest against its politicisation and inconsistent approach when dealing with human rights abuses.

On 15 May 2016, Negad El Borai was summoned by an investigative judge for a fifth interrogation session, scheduled for 17 May 2016. The hearing was eventually postponed. The investigation is based on an anti-torture bill drafted by the human rights defender and submitted to the President. Negad El Borai faces several charges including “establishing an unlicensed entity, receiving illegal funds, and deliberately spreading false information with the purpose of harming public order or public interest.”

Mohamed Nagui is an Egyptian journalist and human rights defender, and director of Students' Rights and Freedoms at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), a non profit and independent legal firm working on the defence and protection of freedoms of thought and expression. Mohamed Nagui has mainly worked in research, reporting and documenting violations against students, and has also organized several solidarity and advocacy campaigns supporting students imprisoned for their activism.

On 14 May 2016, the Agouza Court of Misdemeanor sentenced Mohamed Nagui to five years' imprisonment with hard labor over charges of “participating in an illegal demonstration.” He was arrested following the call to protest on 25 April 2016, and was interrogated by state security investigation in Agouza police station, Cairo. On 18 May 2016, he began an open-ended hunger strike.

Sanaa Seif is a human rights defender who was actively involved in the peaceful demonstrations during the Egyptian revolution in 2011. She is a member of No to Military Trials for Civilians and the founder of the independent newspaper Al-gornal, which addresses issues raised by civil society during the revolution including human rights abuses and prison conditions.

On 14 May 2016, Sanaa Seif turned herself in to the authorities to serve a sentence to six months imprisonment that was handed down on 4 May 2016 on charges of insulting a public official. Sanaa Seif is is currently held in Qanatar Women’s Prison in Cairo and is not permitted family visits for one month. In separate proceedings, on 27 April 2016, the human rights defender was summoned to report to the South Cairo prosecution for a hearing over charges of plotting to overthrow the regime and distributing flyers calling for protests.

Malek Adly is a renowned human rights lawyer and director of the lawyers network at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). He is a founder of the Front for Defending Egypt's Protesters, a group comprising thirty-four human rights organisations and several lawyers, documenting illegal practices carried out by state police forces against peaceful protesters, and providing assistance to protesters and prisoners including victims of torture and forced disappearance.

Upon his arrest in Cairo’s Maadi district on 5 May 2016, he was charged with attempting to overthrow the regime and transferred to Tora prison, Cairo where he is currently detained. An interrogation session was scheduled for 18 May 2016 but was postponed to 1 June 2016. There are reports that he was mistreated and beaten in detention, and that he was denied family and lawyer visitation rights. The human rights defender was brought food, clothes and medication by his family as the prison was not providing them, but he was not allowed to receive them. His health is reported to be rapidly deteriorating.

Haytham Mohamadeen is a lawyer and a labour rights defender, who offers pro bono legal aid to workers. He is a member El-Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an Egyptian NGO dedicated to combating torture and providing medical and legal care support to victims of human rights violations.

Haytham Mohamadeen was arrested from his home on 22 April 2016, following the call to protest of 25 April 2016. He is currently detained awaiting the next interrogation session scheduled for 1 June 2016, on charges of “joining a banned group, participating in an illegal protest and plotting the overthrow of the state.”

Furthermore, human rights defender Ahmed Abdullah remains in detention pending investigation over charges including “terrorism and threatening national security and calling to overthrow the regime”, as does journalist Amr Badr, who was arrested on 1 May 2016 in relation to the call to protest and who faces charges including “affiliation to a banned organisation” and “promoting false news”. Human rights lawyer and programme director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms Mina Thabet was arrested in his home in Cairo on 19 May early morning by plain-clothed police and transferred to an unknown location.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its deep concern about the Egyptian government's crackdown on  human rights defenders and the criminalisation of civil society, and calls for an immediate end to the persecution of human rights defenders.