Egypt: Prison sentence against human rights defender Zyad Elelaimy represents politically-motivated vengeance

This post was first published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

The undersigned rights organizations denounce the one-year prison sentence of human rights lawyer Zyad Elelaimy, and demand his unconditional release and the dropping of all charges against him.  The sentence represents a continuation of the Egyptian government’s politically-motivated prosecution of Zyad in retaliation for his peaceful rights advocacy for free expression and democratic political participation in Egypt.

Zyad Elelaimy, a former parliamentarian, was charged in case no. 694 of 2020 with “insulting the president”  for a 2017 BBC television interview. The sentence was issued on March 10th  by the Mokattam Misdemeanor Court, and included a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds.

Zyad was transferred from Tora Prison on February 11 to attend the first investigation session of case no. 694 of 2020. Although he had already been detained since June of 2019 in connection with another case (no. 930 of 2019), neither he nor his lawyer were notified of the pending investigation this new case. During the March 3rd session, Zyad presented his legal defense, stating that the case was groundless due to fabricated charges, tampered evidence, and flaws and inconsistencies in the investigative reports, including an unlawful investigation report from 2017 that accused him of “spreading false news” and “disturbing the public peace” during the interview.  Although the report is purportedly from 2017, it did not surface until 2019.

Last year, Zyad al-Elaimy was arrested in a dawn security raid in June and detained on specious terrorism charges under Case no. 930 of 2019, known as the Hope Case. The case was brought to smother an emerging secular and civil coalition that Zyad and others were forming to participate in the 2020 parliamentary elections, representing the Egyptian government’s alarming forfeiture of peaceful and lawful participation in the political process.

Zyad was intentionally denied healthcare during his detainment, and suffers from unstable blood pressure, asthma, and a rare autoimmune disease while being held in poor and unsanitary conditions at Tora Prison. He was also recently diagnosed with infiltrative cardiomyopathy, a set of cardiovascular diseases and disorders. Despite his direly deteriorating health, and his family’s lawsuit demanding that he be transferred to an external hospital at his own expense for urgent testing and treatment, the lawsuit remains pending. The prison administration refuses to hand over a detailed statement of Zyad’s current health status to his family, despite local and international campaigns and demands.

The signatory organizations hold the Egyptian authorities responsible for Zyad Elelaimy’s life and health, and denounce the prolongation of his detention pending the two cases. These two cases against Zyad are part of the Egyptian government’s unprecedented retributive campaign against political opponents, with the security authorities in Egypt flouting the nation’s constitution and law, as well as international agreements and standards.

Enforced disappearance and torture have become pervasive and systematic practices, while pretrial detention has been distorted from a precautionary measure to a punitive measure; all with the aim of eliminating any and all political opposition. Other unlawful practices include medical negligencesolitary confinement,  and arbitrarily renewing detention pending new cases – an unlawful practice known as recycling cases – in which new cases are fabricated against detainees to increase detention periods. These illegal and abusive practices are a manifestation of the Egyptian judiciary’s role not as an arbiter of justice, but as a tool for enforcing vengeance and intimidation, often through torture, to deter political opponents, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and others perceived to be critical of the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Signatory Organizations

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Committee for Justice
  • Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support Center
  • Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  • Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  • Freedom Initiative
  • Nadeem Center