Rights organizations and public figures: the case lays the groundwork for the confiscation of the right of academic research and freedom of information and infringes freedom of association and freedom of opinion and expression
The undersigned public figures and rights organizations are gravely concerned by the ongoing detention of writer and researcher Hisham Gaafar, the head of the board of trustees of the Mada foundation for Media Development, who has spent 100 days in detention. We demand his immediate release.
We also condemn the stubborn refusal of the investigating bodies to provide defense lawyers with the case files, instead choosing to inform lawyers of developments in the case orally, although their client has been detained for 100 days. This is a violation of the law, regulations, investigation safeguards, and the defendant’s right of defense. The investigating bodies have also repeatedly denied Gaafar’s requirement for transfer to the prison hospital, although his health has deteriorated and he suffers from chronic illnesses.
Police forces, backed up by forces from Homeland Security, arrested Gaafar on Wednesday, October 21, 2015, after raiding his workplace, Mada for Media Development, in Sixth of October City. The forces held several staff members for nearly ten hours without offering grounds or showing a warrant from the Public Prosecution, after which they confiscated documents, books, and computers. The forces then went to Gaafar’s home in the same area and searched it as well.
Security forces took Gaafar to an undisclosed location. He was missing for 48 hours until his lawyers found him by coincidence at the High Homeland Security Prosecution. It was later discovered that Gaafar was detained at the maximum security Aqrab Prison. He was brought before the High Homeland Security Prosecution while he was disappeared and was without a lawyer in the preliminary interrogation. He was then held in solitary confinement for 50 days, with no reason given, and denied outdoor exercise breaks for 70 days. He was also denied his prescription glasses and medications, though he has recently been allowed medication after his health deteriorated.
The prosecution charged Gaafar with belonging to a banned group and receiving a bribe from foreign bodies in exchange for information that the security apparatus considered harmful to national security. Mada conducts several research projects in various fields, including national dialogue, tolerance, conflict resolution, the family, and women and children; findings of which are published on the organization’s website. Although the law does not require it, the security apparatus believes approval must be obtained before conducting such research and the findings brought to the security bodies before official publication at home or abroad, although the research is conducted in cooperation with official bodies and with the participation of public figures and officials. It was suggested during questioning that the charges against Gaafar are based on Article 78 of the Penal Code. Known as the article on foreign funding, the provision was amended by President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in September 2014 to stiffen penalties for receiving foreign funding.
The undersigned organizations and persons are extremely troubled by the use of this article, which has been described by legal and rights experts as characterized by vague and sweeping language. The article defines neither the criminalized act nor the prohibited type of funding in a precise, unequivocal way, and it uses vague terms such as “other things.” As such it may arbitrarily allow the criminalization of permitted, lawful acts depending on the body interpreting the article. The undersigned organizations and persons add that if the provision is used for the first time in the case of Hisham Gaafar, they expect it to be applied to other academics, journalists, rights workers, researchers, and students. All such persons would face up to 15 years in prison, or life imprisonment if they are public employees, due to overbroad, vague wording in the law, such as “harming the national interest,” “disturbance of public security and peace,” and other terms that are now being used to rein in the public sphere.
Gaafar’s experience constitutes a clear assault on the freedom of academic research, enshrined in Article 66 of the constitution. The assumption of bad faith, ostensibly proven by his failure to obtain security approval prior to the research, holds out yet another entry point for security control over the free flow, exchange, and even analysis of information, which is already severely curtailed due to the lack of a democratic law regulating and guaranteeing freedom of information. Moreover, considering the consultation, training, and research performed by Mada and other institutions to be information gathering aimed at disturbing public security clearly jeopardizes research activities and researchers in various fields.
The case also poses a threat to civil society organizations’ freedom to operate. Mada organization has operated for many years. The attack and raid on its offices demonstrates that civil society groups are constantly under threat regardless of their legal status.
The undersigned demand the immediate release of Hisham Gaafar. Policies such as those that infringe freedom of expression, information, and academic research in the pursuit of countering terrorism and protecting public security and stability have failed to achieve their ostensible goals. They are simply a pretext for security interference in civic action and the unconstitutional confiscation of the right of freedom of association and freedom of expression that contravenes all international standards and conventions to which Egypt is bound.
1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
2. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
3. Alhaqanya Center for Law and Legal profession
4. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
5. Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development (ACT)
6. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
7. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
8. Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
9. Hesham Mobarak Law Center
10. Land Center for Human Rights
11. Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
12. Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture
13. Nazra for Feminist Studies
14. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
15. The Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies
16. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
1. Ibtihal Younes, professor of literature, Cairo
2. Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, writer and novelist
3. Ibrahim Mansour, journalist
4. Ahmed Gamal Ziyada, photographer and journalist
5. Ahmed Naji, journalist
6. Amani Saleh, university doctor
7. Amal Hamada, teacher of political science, Cairo University
8. Umayma Abu Bakr, professor of comparative English literature, Cairo University
9. Ehab Zelaky, journalist
10. Bassem Youssef, host of “al-Bernameg”
11. Basma al-Hussieni
12. Bilal Fadl, writer and screenwriter
13. Tamer Abu Arab, journalist
14. Gamal Sultan, editor-in-chief of al-Mesryoon
15. Gamila Ismail, media worker and politician
16. Hossam Sukkari, journalist
17. Hossam Bahgat, journalist
18. Khaled al-Balshi, chair of the Liberties Committee, Journalists Syndicate
19. Khaled Daoud, Destour Party, spokesman for the Democratic Current
20. Khaled Abd al-Hamid, Freedom for the Brave
21. Khaled Ali, cassation lawyer
22. Khaled Mansour, journalist
23. Doaa Sultan, journalist
24. Dina al-Khawaga, university professor
25. Dina Samak, journalist
26. Rasha Azab, journalist
27. Reem Saad, assistant professor, American University in Cairo
28. Sawsan al-Sherif, researcher
29. Sherif Azer, activist and PhD candidate
30. Tareq al-Awadi, cassation lawyer and director of the Center to Support the Rule of Law
31. Azza Soliman, rights lawyer
32. Alaa al-Aswani, doctor and author
33. Omar Hadheq, poet
34. Laila Soueif, science teacher, Cairo
35. Mohammed Atiya, artist
36. Yehya Hussein Abd al-Hadi, engineer
37. Monica Hanna, teacher of Egyptian archeology
38. Nahla Heta, doctor
39. Negad Borai, cassation lawyer
40. Nagla Rizq, economics professor, American University in Cairo
41. Nour Younes, journalist
42. Wael Gamal, journalist
43. Wael Ghoneim, engineer
44. Yasser Zayyat, journalist
45. Yasser al-Manawahli, artist and president of Asas Import and Export