Egypt must stop ‘wave of unjust emergency trials’ of activists and dissidents – HRW


Human Rights Watch on Sunday calls for a halt to unjust trials in Egypt after the government initiated at least five Emergency State Security Court legal proceedings against high-profile human rights defenders, activists, and political opponents on alleged speech offences.

The trials went ahead despite President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s 25 October declaration ending the country’s nationwide state of emergency.

On Monday (20 Dec.), a verdict is expected in the case of Alaa Abdel Fattah, an activist; Mohamed al-Baqer, a human rights lawyer; and Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim, a blogger, who are charged with ““spreading false news undermining national security”.

Last 15 December, the trial for 31 members and alleged members of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), a prominent Egyptian rights group, was postponed until 26 December.

“Trials of human rights defenders and peaceful critics in these special courts for peaceful dissent constitute a grave injustice because the President’s broad authority over these courts undermines their independence and impartiality,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The government’s rush to use emergency courts before declaring the end to the state of emergency, after holding people illegally for years in pretrial detention, confirms that fierce repression of peaceful critics remains the order of the day in Egypt.”

At least 48 unjustly detained rights defenders, activists, and opposition politicians who had languished in pre-trial detention for months and years were referred to the emergency courts for trial just before the president lifted the state of emergency.

The courts are established under Egypt’s 1958 Emergency Law, which allows these courts to continue to oversee previously referred trials even after a state of emergency has been lifted. New cases can no longer be referred to these courts once a state of emergency has ended.

In October 2017, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail issued decree 2165 of 2017, placing many speech- related offenses within the jurisdiction of the Emergency State Security Courts, including the charge of “spreading false news.”

Abdel Fattah, al-Baqer, and Ibrahim were arrested in September 2019 and held in pretrial detention for over two years, exceeding the maximum under Egyptian law. Lawyers and family members told Human Rights Watch that they found out the case had been referred to the Emergency State Security Court for trial on 15 October, 10 days before President Sisi announced the end to the nationwide state of emergency.

Those recently referred to emergency courts include Ezzat Ghoneim, executive director of the ECRF, who was arrested and forcibly disappeared in March 2018. Khaled Diaa, attorney general for the Supreme State Security Prosecution, referred him along with 30 other defendants in that case to an Emergency State Security Criminal Court on 23 August. Diaa also referred Abd al-Moniem Abu al-Fotouh, former presidential candidate and head of the Strong Egypt party, to the emergency courts for trial on 25 August. He had been in pretrial detention since February 2018.

Ziad al-Elaimy, a former member of parliament, was referred to the emergency courts on 25 July. He had been in pretrial detention since June 2019.

The emergency courts’ verdicts are not subject to appeal before a higher court, but require final approval by President al-Sisi or someone designated by him.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Egypt, guarantees the right of everyone convicted of a crime to appeal the decision and have their conviction and sentence reviewed by an independent judicial body. (Source: HRW)