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24 March 2020

Egypt should release imprisoned human rights defenders as COVID-19 spreads

Front Line Defenders calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release the detained human rights defenders who are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the overcrowded, unhealthy prison conditions, limited access to medical care and underlying medical conditions.

Although no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Egyptian prisons, the overcrowded cells, denial of adequate medical care, and unhygienic conditions inside these facilities raise concerns that the virus could quickly spread among prisoners, including the detained human rights defenders. Many Egyptian human rights defenders remain in repeatedly renewed pretrial detention, such as Ibrahim Ezz El-Din and Mohamed El-Baqer, who have been denied access to essential medication. Ibrahim Ezz El-Din suffers from severe depression and respiratory problems, which make him particularly vulnerable to the virus. Tora prison administration has refused basic hygiene products to Mohamed El-Baqer, and cancelled his regular medical check-ups.

The preventive detention of woman human rights defender Esraa Abdel Fattah was most recently renewed on 4 March 2020. Her health has reportedly deteriorated as a result of a hunger strike which she started in protest against the ill-treatment and physical abuse she had been subjected to following her arrest. The authorities have previously refused to transfer her to a hospital despite her critical health condition. This is especially alarming given the ban on doctor visits inside the prison.

Human rights lawyer Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy has been under preventive detention on terrorism-related charges since his arrest on 10 September 2017, which exceeds the legal period of preventive detention under Egyptian law. Although he suffers from serious neurological problems, his request for a transfer to a hospital has been refused by the authorities.

As concerns about a potential COVID-19 outbreak in Egyptian prisons arise, Front Line Defenders renews its calls for the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, provide them with appropriate medical attention, and take all necessary measures to guarantee their physical and psychological integrity and security.