The Egyptian government must immediately release all persons detained in relation to state security case 1339/2019 and similar cases of a political nature
The Egyptian Initiative said on Friday that the Egyptian government must respect the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration as fundamental rights enshrined in the Egyptian constitution and international agreements and treaties to which Egypt is a signatory, and not criminal offenses that should be prevented and punished. The government should also refrain from violating citizens' most basic rights to privacy, in its attempts to intimidate and scare them from participating in assemblies.
The number of people arrested against the backdrop of the demonstrations on Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st of September has soared to nearly 2,000 people according to some estimates. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has also issued an official statement on the evening of September 26, the first official recognition of the arrests by the investigative authorities five days after the start of the investigations and questioning of hundreds of the accused..
In his statement, the Public Prosecutor’s Office referred to the questioning of "a number not exceeding one thousand", in the context of investigating what the statement described as "incitement to demonstrations in the squares and public roads in a number of governorates".
But the estimates of lawyers and human rights organizations, who have been documenting and following-up on arrests and investigations since the 21st of September, indicates that the number of detainees exceeds one thousand. There are many difficulties in compiling a complete list or issuing one definitive number of those detained, since the number of arrests are growing each day and dozens of new detainees arrive daily to courts in Cairo.
A number of human rights organizations and legal aid centers have attempted to document the arrests that have taken place over the past week and to publish regularly updated information. In the latest update of the figures, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms stated, in their latest update of the figures, that the number of arrests exceeded 1400 people, while the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights estimated the number of detainees in at more than 1,900 people.
The figures include those arrested from gatherings on Friday and Saturday in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Gharbia, Damietta, Qalyubia, Marsa Matrouh and a number of Upper Egypt governorates, as well as people arrested from their homes, prominent political and academic figures who were individually targeted, and dozens of people who were taken to detention after arbitrary and extensive stop and search operations on the streets, where they would have their mobile phones inspected for any political content.
Since the 20th of September, security forces have also arrested people for filming the gatherings using mobile cameras even if they did not interact with it. This video shows ao message from an individual who famously filmed the protests in Suez from his balcony and published it on a social media, they quickly went viral after which a police force arrested him from his home. In another video dated in the 20th of September, another person was arrested in Tahrir Square while broadcasting a live video on one of the social media platforms in which he appears to be trying to prove the absence of demonstrations and regularity of traffic in the square, but before the end of the video security officials arrest arrest him for filming (The video was subsequently deleted and the account of the person has been deactivated.)
Mass questionings and numerous procedural violations
Since Sunday 22nd of September to the evening of Thursday 26th of September questionings are taking place daily in prosecution office.. The State Security Prosecution ordered continued detention for 15 days for virtually all the defendants who were preliminary questioned, in what has now become state security case No. 1338/2019. With the increasing numbers of suspects arriving in Cairo from different governorates every day, EIPR lawyers noted many cases were questioning took place without the presence of a lawyer despite the mobilization of a large number of lawyers from human rights organizations and the Bar Association. It is likely that in those cases where lawyers did not attend, the names have been included in the updated list of detainees. Official complaints are being filed every day from the families of the missing individuals to the Public Prosecutor’s Office (similar to a habeas corpus writ), which indicates that there are still many detainees who did not appear before prosecutors.
The State Security Prosecution enlisted the help of prosecutors seconded by ordinary prosecution offices, Some of the defendants were questioned by prosecutors assigned by Public Funds Prosecution, Finance and Trade Prosecution, and the divisions of West, Central and South Cairo Prosecution.
The Egyptian Initiative fears that the State Security Prosecution has resorted to use of Article 40 of the Terrorism Law, which grants the Public Prosecution the power to hold detainees 14 days prior to the start of the investigation, which thus far had not been extensively used by the prosecution except in cases related to terrorism crimes. Some of those arrested since 20th of September did not appear before the prosecution and were not questioned until the 23rd of September and 24th of September, while their date of arrest in their investigation files was recorded as 20th ofSeptember, colawyers from EIPR who were in attendance during questioning.
It is customary to record in the prosecution files an arrest date that does not exceed 24 hours prior to the date of summons or commencement of the investigation (even if this was not accurate). It is also noteworthy that this legal provision of the Terrorism law does not permit detention for 14 days unless the detainee is presented to the Public Prosecution, to decide that he should be detained for additional time before questioning. However, the Public Prosecution or the competent prosecution authority has not yet disclosed the total number of detainees.
The State Security Prosecution has faced most of the defendants with the same identical investigation reports and charges, which include complicity with a terrorist group in order for it to achieve its objectives,abuse of social media and the dissemination of news, rumors and false statements in order to harm security; a list of accusations that have been usually used in political cases, in addition to charges of organizing demonstrations without a permit.
Lawyers present from EIPR affirmed that many due process violations were committed depriving defendants of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Code of Criminal Procedure. Violations included denying defendants access to their families although the Terrorism Act itself establishes detainees’ right tocontact with his family Detainees were also being held in unofficial detention facilities that should not be used for detention, including central security forces camps - according to statements made by the defendants during questioning - where the defendant doesnot have access to a lawyer and is subsequently deprived of legal representation.
Violation of the right to privacy on a daily and regular basis by police forces
The Egyptian constitution explicitly criminalises any infringement on the privacy of citizens, and prohibits access to personal correspondence and telephone conversations of individuals except by written judicial order. Article 57 of the Constitution states:
“Private life has sanctity; it is protected and is inviolable. Postal, telegraphic and electronic correspondence, telephone conversations and other means of communication are inviolable and their confidentiality is to be guaranteed, they may not be confiscated, accessed, or monitored except by a causal judicial order, for a specified period, and in the cases prescribed by law."
Since Saturday the 21st of September, security forces have been randomly stopping pedestrians around and other main squares in the cities, searching for their phones and browsing through its contents any remotely political material, upon which they are promptly arrested. Thispractice has become an integral part of the police's attempts to intimidate citizens not only to dissuade them from demonstrating but even from being in the vicinity of places believed to be the target of gatherings and demonstrations. This new policing practice is a flagrant violation of the constitutional protection afforded to citizens’ privacy, which was also confirmed by the Supreme Constitutional Court when it repealed Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Emergency Law in 2013; the provision that had previously allowed state officials to search individuals without having to confine themselves to provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (during a declared emergency).
As for the course of the investigations, and from the statements of many of the defendants, they were forced to submit their personal phones and to hand over their own account details in order to inspect their content to extract evidence against them, which is also a violation of the law.
Security forces do not have the right, even in the event of having strong reasons to suspect an individual, to force access to a person’s correspondence without a judicial warrant - but the police have been doing so without even having any grounds for suspicion. Unless passing through Tahrir Square, its surroundings or other main squares counts for grounds for suspicion.
In a related context, news channels broadcasted a personal call recorded from the personal phone of the academic Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University, who was arrested from his home on Wednesday, September 25, in another flagrant violation of the right to privacy that has become a frequent and normalised practice in the Egyptian media aimed at justifying or lending legitimacy to the arrest of prominent figures. Regardless of the content of the phone call, there is no legal procedure that allows for the broadcasting of personal calls even if they are obtained legally and by Causal, written court order.
Arresting lawyers while providing criminal defence in addition to the increasing arrests of academics and public figures
Since the beginning of the campaign of mass arrests and detentions, the Egyptian authorities have arrested several lawyers while performing their duties in providing legal representation to defendants during questioning Some of those lawyers were arrested in the vicinity of the courts and immediately after the conclusion of the day;s work at the prosecution offices. Lawyer Mahinor al-Masri was arrested on Sunday (September 22nd) while attempting to leave the Supreme State Security Prosecution headquarters. Lawyer Mohamed Salah Agag, the undersecretary of the Suez Bar Association, was arrested on Wednesday (September 25th) as he was on his way to work. Some press sources also reported the arrest of other lawyers in other governorates.
Similarly, lawyer Mohamed Helmy Hamdoun and his wife Asmaa Dabis were arrested on Thursday (September 26th) from a café in Damanhour. Security forces also arrested his brother, Ahmed Helmy Hamdoun, a teacher at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.
Criminalizing demonstrations entirely and in violation of Egyptian law
The Egyptian authorities seems oblivious to the fact that even the current protest law No. 107 of 2013 - despite its legal flaws and its unconstitutional provisions that basically fail to adhere to the minimum protections of human rights and constitutional rights, including the right to peaceful assembly - still does not permit the dispersal of protest by force and the arrest of every single participant or passer-by simply because of expressing an opinion different from the government's policies or expressing anger towards the president of the republic.Article 11 of the 2013 Protes Law states that:
If, during a general meeting, procession or demonstration, any of the participants behaved in a manner constituting a punishable crime by law or if the participants depart from the peaceful nature of the expression of opinion; the security forces in uniform may and upon the order of the concerned field commander break up the public assembly or disperse the processions or demonstration, and arrest those accused of the crime. The officer in charge or the head of security in charge of the concerned area may, before breaking up an assembly, dispersing, or arresting anyone, request the interim judge in the competent court of first instance to assign to whomever he deems fit, to prove the non-peaceful state of the public assembly, procession or demonstration, and the judge is to issue his order promptly. ”
That is, even the dispersal of a protest must be justified by evident behaviour that is criminally sanctioned from participants, behaviour which has been summarised by legislators in the text of article 11 of the Protest Law,into the words “non-peaceful".
Peaceful demonstrators must not be arrested by the security forces simply for breach of administrative provisions of the protest law even if they had occurred this is in step with the spirit and tex of all international instruments relevant to the management of assemblies, the latest of which is the Joint report of the UN Special Rapporteurs on Peaceful Management of Assemblies issued in February 2016. It is evident from the recurrent videos of protests and assemblies that took place in the various governorates mentioned above, that the demonstrations were relatively small in size and peaceful in nature, and there is nothing, according to testimonies and video evidence, that require or justify the forced dispersaland the arrest of so many persons. In order to legitimize this measure, the Public Prosecution Office, added to he chargesheet of everyone in the investigation - notwithstanding the different places and circumstances of their arrest - the charge of“attempt to block the roads”, in an attempt to paint a non-peaceful image on all the assemblies that took place on 20 and 21 September. That is in addition to accusing them all of organizing a demonstration without a permit.
The Egyptian authorities are waging an extensive crackdown whose main objective appears to be to intimidate citizens and scare them from exercising their rights and repeating the demonstrations of the 20th (which we maintain were peaceful and relatively small, despite their geographic spread).
The EIPR emphasizes the absence of any legal basis for such measures taken by the authorities and calls for the release of all those arrested in relation to the unfoldingevents since Friday the 20th of September, and affirms the absolute need for the security forces and the Egyptian authorities to perform their actual duties of protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to assembly and peaceful demonstration, and to refrain from punishing, arresting and indicting citizens on the basis of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Law simply for exercising the right to express their dissent peacefully, rights which are enshrined in the Egyptian Constitution, in various Egyptian laws, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
It is worth noting that the State Security Prosecution has recently developed a habit of throwing a lot of people who are mainly targeted because of their political inclinations into large cauldron cases with a long list of accusations and a huge number of defendants; defendants who do not necessarily have any links or anything in common, and on charges of incidents that are not only unrelated but that do not even have any intersection time or area wise. State Security Prosecution then prolongs , the investigation in these cases until the investigation turns into merely a legal framework that allows the continued detention of so many people in for as long as possible.
Examples of this pattern are many in the past years, including case 930/2019 and case 441/2018, and the Egyptian Initiative fears and warns that case No. 1338 for the year 2019 is set to become another example of those cases and calls for the immediate release of all detainees on account of this case and those imprisoned on account of cases of a similar political nature.
This statement was originally published in Arabic on the 27th of September. Since the release of the statement, more people have been arrested - estimates now put the number around 2200 - more people appeared before the prosecution, and more prominent activists and lawyers were taken into custody. On September 28th, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is serving a five year probation term after completing his five year prison sentence, was arrested from the police station where he is forced, in violation of the law, to spend 12 hours everyday during his probation term. Lawyer Mohammed El Baqir, director of Adalah Center for RIghts and Freedoms, who was providing legal defence while Alaa was being questioned in State Security Prosecution on 29 Sunday, was issued an arrest warrant and taken into custody from the prosecution office. Both activists have been issued a 15 day pretrial detention.