Further Violations of Freedom of Belief and Torture Allegations in Latest "Contempt of Religions" Case

Press Release

24 October 2004

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIRP) today asked the Prosecutor General to immediately release ten men and three women arrested on the basis of their religious beliefs in the latest of a series of "contempt of heavenly religions cases.

In a complaint submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor General this morning, the EIPR also called on the Prosecutor General to order a prompt investigation into the allegations that the defendants were tortured while in detention, and to oblige State Security prosecutors to grant access to defense lawyers to all the contents of the case-file, registered under number 620/2004 State Security- Emergency.

State Security Investigations (SSI) officers had in the early hours of 8 July 2004 detained Ahmed Ibrahim Ahmed at his house in Mit Nama, Qalioubeya in addition to his 14-year-old son and seven people who worked with him or lived in the same building: Youssef El-Sayed Youssef, Ashraf Youssef El-Sayed, Ashraf Mohamed Mortada, Mohamed Ahmed 'Abdalla, Mahmoud Ahmed Taha, Hussein Ahmed Taha and Mohsen Khalifa Aba-Zeid. Two days later, SSI detained Ossama Mohamed Mortada, Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed, Hanaa 'Ali 'Abdel-Aziz, Nadia Diab Selim and Marwa Mostafa Mohamed.

While the thirteen people were detained in the absence of an arrest warrant, a decree was later issued by the Interior Minister under the Emergency Law on 8 July that placed Ahmed Ibrahim under administrative detention for "being an active element of extremist activities who promote ideas that contradict Islamic religion and Islamic Shair'a.The decree accused Ibrahim of claiming divine traits and arguing that visiting the shrines of religious leaders was better than visiting Mecca. The EIPR suspects that similar decrees were issued for the rest of the defendants.

The language of the detention decree suggests that Ibrahim and the rest of the defendants were detained solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. This is also consistent with the content of the interrogations of the defendants by the State Security Prosecution Office, attended by EIPR lawyers throughout September and October. The defendants had to answer questions that mostly revolved around their personal religious beliefs, such as "have you ever seen the Prophet in your dreams.

The EIPR's complaint reminded the Prosecutor General that interrogating citizen about their religious beliefs, not to mention detaining them on their basis, violated the rights to freedom of religion and belief and the right to privacy. Both rights are guaranteed under the Egyptian Constitution as well as the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, ratified by Egypt in 1982 and 1984, respectively.

The EIPR also learned during the interrogation that some of the defendants were tortured during the initial period of detention which lasted for more than fifty days at the SSI headquarters in Shubra al-Kheima. Some male defendants testified at the State Security Prosecution Office that they were beaten with fists, sticks, shoes and plastic hoses; received electroshocks; and forced to strip naked and stand close to each other in sexually-suggestive manners. The defendants testified that they were subjected to this torture and humiliating treatment at the orders of SSI Officer Amgad Shahine and in his presence. The EIPR lawyers were unable to reach the three female defendants to verify if they had also been tortured or mistreated.

And while the Supreme State Security Emergency Court ordered the release of Ahmed Ibrahim on 5 October 2004 in appeal number 29962/2004, he remains in custody at the Istiqbal Tora Prison pending the prosecution's investigations. The rest of the defendants are distributed between the Mazra'at Tora Prison and the Women's Prison in Qanater. Fourteen-year-old Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim was released after forty days of detention.

The EIPR also complained to the Prosecutor General that State Security prosecutors were acting with prejudice against the defendants, first by refusing to allow the defendants to contact their defense lawyers during the interrogations and then by so far denying defense lawyer access to the contents of the case-file. Violating the defendants' right to due process only adds to the long list of human rights violations that the defendants have endured over three months.

"Everyone has the right to adopt whichever religious beliefs that they choose to adopt without interference from the State, which now holds the responsibility to investigate all the violations that the thirteen defendants had to endure, punish their perpetrators and compensate their victims, said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the EIPR.