Egypt: Rights groups condemn infringement of right to fair trial for Alaa Abd El Fattah, Mohammed al-Baqer, and Mohammed Oxygen
The undersigned organizations condemn the decision by the Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court on 8 November to adjourn proceedings in case no. 1228/2021/Emergency State Security Misdemeanor for judgment on 20 December; blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, rights lawyer Mohammed al-Baqer, and journalist Mohammed Ibrahim “Oxygen” are being tried on charges of spreading false news likely to pose a threat to national security. The court hearing the case has not complied with even minimum fair trial standards. It has not permitted the defense to mount a defense over the past three hearings or for the defendants to confer with their lawyers, and it has prevented defense counsel from obtaining photocopies of the case file. No evidence supporting the charges has been brought against the defendants, and the court did not permit international observers to attend the ostensibly public proceedings.
We demand an end to this sham trial, being prosecuted in an exceptional court whose judgments are not subject to appeal, and the immediate release of the three defendants. The court’s denial of the most basic defense requests suggests that it has already made its judgment and is simply waiting to announce it on 20 December. We hold the president and public prosecutor responsible for the lives and physical and psychological safety of the three defendants and reiterate our rejection of the practice of turning pretrial detention into an open-ended punishment in circumvention of the law.
Abd El Fattah, Baqer, and Oxygen have been held in pretrial custody on fabricated charges for more than two years in connection with case no. 1356/2019/Emergency State Security. Having served the maximum allowable time in pretrial detention, they were then “recycled” into a new case as a means of prolonging their imprisonment, in a flagrant and now common evasion of the law. In this new case, the prosecution has brought charges related to opinions and statements published on their social media accounts in 2019, prior to their arrest. Abd El Fattah is charged in connection with a Facebook post on the death of a detainee in the Tora Maximum Security Prison, while Baqer’s charges relate to his documentation and publication of cases of medical neglect in prison. Oxygen was charged for posting videos on his YouTube channel on economic and social conditions in Egypt.
During the trial sessions, the defendants’ lawyers made principal motions before the court, all of them denied: they requested a copy of the case files, asked to visit the defendants in prison to discuss a defense strategy, and sought permission for Abd El Fattah to file a power of attorney allowing his lawyers to take legal action against the State Security Public Solicitor and his deputies; Oxygen’s defense attorneys also moved to allow their client to file a grievance with the Cairo Appellate Court against the court for violating trial procedures.
In the last hearing, Abd El Fattah and Baqer explained to the court the harsh conditions of their confinement, noting they had been denied their right to reading material and exercise. Abd El Fattah also lodged an objection to his continued and unjustified solitary confinement, asking that it be ended. Immediately after these motions and statements were made, the judge adjourned the hearing without comment or response, ruling to reconvene on 20 December 2021 for a final judgment in the case.
The undersigned organizations demand the immediate and unconditional release of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohamed Ibrahim, as they are prisoners of conscience. Furthermore, they must to be released for having exceeded the maximum period of pretrial detention stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Code in view of the charges brought against them in Case 1356 of 2019 limiting the investigation of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (joining a terrorist group, and spreading false news that harms state security), a case that was copied to refer them to be tried in the above-mentioned case before an emergency court.
Yet the State Security Prosecution was not finished with the unjust prosecution of the three prisoners of conscience. In August 2021, it accused Muhammad El-Baqer in a new case with the same charges as the original case, but under another case number, Case 855 of 2020 in what has become known as the phenomenon of ‘recycling’ cases – an illegitimate means used by the authorities to prolong the maximum period of pretrial detention by bringing a new case against defendants that simply ‘recycle’ the charges of the previous case.
This farce of a trial is taking place just as the state has lifted the state of emergency and released its national human rights strategy, revealing both actions to be no more than formal gestures and an attempt to evade international pressure, rather than demonstrating any substantive change in the Egyptian government’s hostility to human rights.
EL Nadeem Center
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights