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11 December 2017

Egypt: Nubian human rights defenders on trial for peacefully protesting

Update: The verdict hearing has been adjourned by the State Security Court judge to 13 March 2018.

Update: The verdict will be announced on 27 February 2018.

Update: On 26 December 2017, the appeal to have the trial transferred to regular procedural court was rejected. The next hearing is adjourned until 30 January 2018 and the trial is to be held in State Security Court.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the ongoing persecution of Nubian human rights defenders in Egypt, 32 of whom will face trial on 12 December on charges of inciting protest, disruption of public order, and participating in an unauthorized demonstration. Following the arrest of dozens of Nubian activists in September and October 2017, one of the detained human rights defenders, Gamal Sorour, died due to medical negligence in Aswan Prison on 5 November.

The Nubian people are indigenous to present-day Sudan and Egypt. In the Aswan region, they have been subjected to land expropriation and forced displacement by the Egyptian government, and face cultural marginalisation and racial discrimination across the country. By 1970, more than 50,000 Nubians had been forcibly relocated away from their homes on the Nile, having lost their houses, their farms, and their livelihoods. The Egyptian government has targeted Nubian human rights defenders leading the community’s peaceful struggle to return to their land.

“The Egyptian government has extended its infamous crackdown on human rights defenders to Aswan, persecuting Nubian activists in 2017 in a way the community has never seen before,” said Front Line Defenders Executive Director Ander Anderson.

“Egypt has targetted Nubian rights defenders with mass arrests, defamation, surveillance, threats to their families, and allowed the death of an unjustly detained HRD, who died in a cell he never should have been in.” - Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson

Cycles of Arrest

At the trial on 12 December 2017, 25 of the 32 human rights defenders who will be tried were arrested at a peaceful march on 3 September, at which they sang traditional songs to mark Eid al-Adha and campaign for the Nubians’ "right of return" as guaranteed by Article 236 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution. The demonstration was scheduled to take place in the centre of Aswan but was relocated to the square of Midan Al-Guzzayra due to a security presence at the original spot. At Midan Al-Guzzayra, the demonstrators were met by eight security vehicles and two military tanks. Armed police physically assaulted protesters and arrested the human rights defenders, then detained them at Aswan Central Security Camp in Shalal.

In October 2017, seven more Nubian human rights defenders were arrested outside the security camp as they peacefully protested for the release of the 25 detainees.

In Noveber 2017, following the death of detained HRD Gamal Sarour due to medical negligence, 10 more Nubian activists were arrested for protesting against his death. The 10 will be tried in a separate case.

Death in Prison

Gamal Sarour was arrested along with 24 others in September 2017 following the protest in Aswan, was held in an overcrowded cell without proper access to medical or legal aid, and died in Aswan Prison on 5 November 2017. He was known across the Nubian community for his years of peaceful activism and support for the Nubian cause.

Prison authorities denied Gamal Sorour, who was in his early 50s, his diabetes medication for five days prior to his death. Prison authorities claimed the medication was delayed because the label was in French and required translation. Human rights defenders detained with Gamal Sorour, however, say authorities only began withholding medication from prisoners when several went on hunger strike in protest against their detention.

Activists on Trial

In an attempt to silence the Nubian peoples’ peaceful and legitimate demands, the Egyptian government is targetting human rights defenders leading the cause.

Seham Osman is a Nubian activist and founding member of Genoubia Hora, the first organised feminist group in Aswan. Nubian women human rights defenders (WHRDs) founded the organisation in 2013 in response to what WHRDs call “widespread acceptance” of both police violence and violence against women. In November 2016, Seham Osman and other Nubian rights defenders in Aswan organised a “Nubian Caravan,” driving dozens of cars towards their indigenous Nubian land. As much of their territory has been placed under military control, the Nubian Caravan was caught between a series of check-points and forced to turn back after more than three days in the desert.

Mohamed Azmy is a lawyer and human rights defender and former President of the General Nubian Union, based in Aswan. He advocates for land rights of Nubian people and fair resettlement in their historical homeland in the south of Egypt. The General Nubian Union in Aswan is a movement active in promoting the right to return of the Nubian community to their ancestral land since their forced displacement as a result of various government-led projects such as the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.

Maysara Abdoun is a Nubian human rights defender, actively involved in the defence of minority and Nubian rights in the Aswan governorate. He is the training coordinator at Border Center for Support & Consulting (BSC), an organisation led by a group of youths with experience in the field of community development and human rights.

In addition, the following defenders will also be tried: Mohammad Osman, Wafaa Ali, Hamdy Ali, Moneer Basheer, Mohammad Fadl, Tamer Taha, Safwat Ahmad, Hamdy Abdelhafez, Waleed Nasser, Zakareya Ahmad, Tariq Khaleel, Abdelqader Mohammad, Bakry Karar, Yehya Suleiman, Magdy Mohammad, Ahmad Abdelmalik, Hamza Hammoud, Hisham Taha, Saleh Ahmad, Mohsin Mohammad, Ammar Abdennaeem, Mohammad Hussein, Mostafa Taha, Fahd Sayyed, Khaleefa Khaleefa, Yasser Mohammad, Magdy Ibrahim, Ezzeddeen Ali, and Fawzy Gaber.

Demands for Justice

Front Line Defenders renews its condemnation of the death of Nubian rights defender Gamal Sorour due to medical negligence and again calls for an immediate investigation into the circumstances of Gamal Sorour's death, followed by the criminal prosecution of the authorities responsible.

Front Line Defenders furthermore calls upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately cease the continued harassment of Nubian human rights defenders and drop the charges against them. It also strongly condemns the trial of the human rights defenders by Egypt’s State Security Emergency Court, as sentences handed down by the court cannot be appealed due to provisions under Egypt’s State of Emergency. Instead such sentences can be confirmed for implementation merely by approval of the President.