Egypt: All are vulnerable as government plunges into frenzied quest to eliminate opposition

Egypt /Road Map ProgramStatements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The arrests of Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed al-Baker are the latest in escalating state retaliation against peaceful and lawful opposition and human rights defenders

The undersigned rights organizations denounce the Egyptian government’s intensifying crackdown in the wake of last week’s protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. With over 2000 people already behind bars, the recent arrests of prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baker are clearly demonstrative of the Egyptian state’s fixation on eliminating any remaining dissidence in the country, especially from individuals active in politics, law, media, journalism or human rights.

Alaa Abdel Fattah was kidnapped in the early morning of Sunday September 29th shortly after leaving the Dokki Police Station, where he spends 12 hours in solitary confinement each night as part of a five-year parole sentence. He was then transferred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution office; family members who had been waiting for him outside of the police station were not notified. When Mohamed al-Baker arrived to the State Security Prosecution office to attend to Alaa’s case, he was also arrested. Both were charged in Case 1356 of 2019 with the usual specious charges, including spreading false news and misusing social media, and joining and funding a terrorist group established in breach of the law (tellingly, the authorities refused to identify this group). Abdel Fattah and al-Baker are currently remanded on a 15-day pretrial detention in the notoriously inhumane maximum security wing 2 of Tora Prison, where they are prohibited from receiving visitors.

The arrest of lawyer Mohamed al-Baker, who is the director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, comes only days after the state’s abduction of lawyer Mahinour Al-Masry, in front of her colleagues as she stepped out of a Supreme State Security Prosecution office where she was representing a client under investigation.  They join an ever-lengthening list of human rights lawyers[1] prosecuted by the state on the basis of fabricated charges, including Ezzat Ghoneim, director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, and Ibrahim Metwally,  founder of the League for the Families of the Disappeared, who was himself forcibly disappeared in September 2017 at Cairo International Airport as he headed to Geneva to attend a meeting of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance. Both remain in pretrial detention to this day.

The prosecution of lawyers who were simply defending their clients or otherwise doing their work is yet another manifestation of the extreme extent to which the Egyptian government will retaliate against even the most peaceful and lawful activity it deems oppositional to its authoritarian rule. In tandem with its escalating prosecution, the state and its security apparatus are conducting new smear campaigns against human rights defenders at home and abroad.

A few days ago, the newspaper Al-Dustour – considered close to state security – published a story accusing a number of political parties and human rights organizations – including the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms directed by Mohamed al-Baker –  of receiving foreign funding for the purpose of destabilizing the state, and incited for “decisive action” to be taken against them. Then today October 1st, Al-Dustour published a libelous article masquerading as an investigatory report of six human rights organizations purportedly conspiring with a terrorist group; the organizations’ real crime was to condemn the widespread arrests in the aftermath of the recent protests. Numerous television programs and other state-aligned media outlets add to cacophony of invective and slander seeking to silence voices perceived to be speaking out against state brutality and repression.

The undersigned warn that virtually all persons in Egypt are vulnerable to the state’s widening crackdown. This will only lead to greater instability throughout the country; as arbitrary arrests, threats, and other retaliatory measures grow, so too does popular hostility toward the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  The immediate and unconditional release of all those detained in the brutal crackdown that began on September 20th is vital if the government is to truly grasp the gravity of the situation; particularly the increasing likelihood that popular rage will explode relatively soon if repressive measures continue; increasingly inflicted upon a long-suffering citizenry.

The undersigned reaffirm their appeal to UN experts and special rapporteurs on human rights to request an invitation to Egypt to closely monitor the current situation. The undersigned also call on the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to urgently intervene to protect Egyptian lawyers; enabling them to conduct their work without jeopardizing their own safety and security.

Signatory Organizations

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Committee for Justice
  3. Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  4. Nadeem Center
  5. Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
  6. Freedom Initiative
  7. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  8. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  9. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

[1] The Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate issued a statement late yesterday condemning the harassment and prosecution of lawyers; the signatories affirm the Syndicate’s demand for the immediate release of lawyers arrested during the performance of their professional duties, together with assurance that lawyers are able to conduct their work freely and without retaliation.