Human Rights Situation in Egypt

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Arab Organisation for Human Rights organised a meeting entitled Egypt: Five Years of Oppression and Persecution was held at Friends House, London, on Thursday, 12 July 2018.  Among the speakers were Dr. Suha Al-Sheikh, Human Rights Activists, Dr. Melek Saral, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the SOAS School of Law, Katherine Oval a good practitioner specialising in international law human rights public law and jurisdiction and Hannah Philipp. Hannah Phillips is working at the Arab Organisation for Human Rights as Researcher. This meeting was called up to draw attention and awareness to challenges to the country and so open debate how to remedy the challenges.


Robert Andrews, Researcher

Robert Andrews, researcher at the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in his introduction said, “Seven years after the Egyptian Revolution the country is going through one of the worst human rights crisis in its history. President Sisi government has consistently since the inception of power used torture, arbitrary detention and enforcement as tools of repression. The government has also targeted thousands of activists, detained journalists, prosecuted human rights lawyers and defenders.” All of these is indicative of the loss of the vary values that underpin the independent revolution seven years ago, he said.


Hannah Phillips Researcher

Hannah who is working at the Arab Organisation for Human rights as a researcher briefly gave an overall view of what happened in the last five years and present the texts on the Sisi’s usual torture, repression and human rights violations. She presents some of the statistics from the last five years increase of violence and repression which constitute vast human rights abuses. She said, “As we know back in January 2011 actually through the April 6 movement and others demonstrating for democracy and again state violence mobilised hundreds and thousands of civilians in demonstration across Cairo and other places. The country put down President Mubarak for the hopes that were raised by revolution slowly dissolved into chaos and actually aspirations were extinguished within a couple of years. With Sisi, the then Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces then seized power in July 2013 and began harsh crackdown on those started the revolution as well as those who sought any reform get from power.”


“Sisi’s crackdown had unfolded one of the most expulsive overhaul of the legal system in the legal history. After declaring state of emergency in 2013 he issued a series of Presidential degrees granting him unprecedented power to silence his critics; forged counter terrorism laws has expanded the definition of terrorism,” she said.


Hannah Phillips said, “Since the coup of the former president in 2013 Egyptian authority rounded up tens of thousands of individuals on political motivated charges. And this clampdown on political opposition and on freedom of political opinion is evident in attacks on freedom of information. Since Sisi came into power, the Egyptian regime has shut down more than 20 media outlets, satellite channels and newspapers in order to completely eliminate freedom of opinion and expression. Furthermore many journalists, left and rights, have been prohibited from writing and publishing their works, articles. Ten journalists have been killed and more than 200 journalist remained arrested and many remained detained. Therefore, since the revolution freedom of speech have been severely restricted.”


Hannah Phillips also mentioned, “In five years since Sisi came to power, over 3000 Egyptians have been killed and more than 2000 have been detained in peaceful demonstrations and all those 3000 or more deaths many of those have been killed at the hands of the security forces during peaceful gatherings. Meanwhile, 700 of them have been marginalised in detention centres and many have been killed as a result of torture by security forces as well as medical negligence in detention facilities and also as a result of overcrowding and poor conditions.”


Speaking about the situation in Sinai peninsula in the same period under review, she said, “In five years, we have seen 10,000 people have been arrested and according to the military operation in Sinai during the period of monitoring the number of civilian deaths amounts to over 4000 including 3000 people who, army said, were killed as a result of security clashes and the rest were killed randomly without any investigation being opened into any of these cases. There has also been vast destruction of civilian properties during this clashes with the security forces that have left to the forced displacement of many civilians. These are vast numbers which clearly demonstrate the lack of freedom to protest and constitute mass human rights abuses under international law of human rights and criminal process.”

Dr. Suha Ali Sheikh

Dr. Suha Ali Sheikh is a human rights activist and a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council. Dr Suha said, “Since Sisi seized power in a military coup on July 3, 2013, Egypt has been transformed from a stagnant middle-of-the-road autocracy into one of the most repressive states on earth. Needless to say, the street protests and youth activism that filled Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprisings are long gone. Tens of thousands of political opponents, dissidents and labour organizers are incarcerated en masse in an archipelago of prisons, army barracks, and black sites.”


Dr. Suha also mentioned, “Every year hundreds of Egyptians are simply disappeared by the security services — many of them to be extra-judicially executed. Egypt is one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world, censorship is at its highest level and there is barely any political opposition left.”


Egyptian courts are now passing more death sentences than those recorded in some other countries. Dr. Suha mentioned, “In 2014, more than 1000 individuals were sentenced to death in one case. In March 2017, the public prosecutor sought the death penalty for 739 people, including the Egyptian photographer Shawkan, in a single case, relating to the violent dispersal of the rabaa Square in August 2013. The final judgment of the case is still awaited.”


Dr. Suha also mentioned, “Activists and human rights defenders who draw attention to any of this become a target for the State. Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst assault in their history. They are personally surveilled, intimidated, imprisoned, and attacked at every opportunity.” She also gave a list which demonstrated how the activists and human rights defenders were detained, imprisoned and targeted. She also mentioned Mohamed Sadeq, a HR lawyer, was detained and forcibly disappeared for 90 days and is still in prison. She also mentioned another human rights activist Dr. Ahmed Abdul Sattar Amasha.


Dr. Suha mentioned, “Egypt’s main agency for the treatment of torture victims, the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture established as far back as 1993, was shut down by the police in February 2017.  Nadeem’s work was considered a threat by the state partly because the records the Center kept make clear the level of torture and abuse being meted by the state against its citizens and also highlight numerous cases killed in confrontations with the security services that have been in fact reported missing weeks or even months beforehand. Aida Seif Aldawla and other founders have been banned from travel.”

“In addition, Judicial authorities issued travel bans to at least 15 rights activists in connection with investigations related to what is known as “Case Number 173,” which targets civil society organisations on charges related to securing unauthorised funding from abroad. This 2011 NGO trial, or Case 173 was reopened in March 2016. Despite the Cassation Court’s decision for a retrial on April 5th this year, the travel bans and asset freezes remain in place,” Dr Suha mentioned.

Dr. Suha also said, “IN reality, the Sisi regime doesn’t make it easy for its international allies; bankrolling and propping up a government that has already killed more people than Pinochet ever did, and that storms the Journalists Syndicate on World Press Freedom Day, inevitably draws questions.”  


“Activists within Western societies may ensure that human rights get mentioned during foreign policy discussions,” she said.


Dr. Suha also pointed out, “It is true that criticism of the regime has become slightly more vocal as of late. For example, The European Union (EU) on May 30th) expressed concern about recent arrests of political and rights activists in Egypt and called it a worrying development," but the effect of these comments is limited by Western governments’ strategic support for the regime and its interests in counter-terrorism, investment, and migration.”


Dr. Suha said from this platform, “We call on the International community to raise its voice against the HR violations in Egypt. We believe that Western acquiescence appears to have emboldened the Egyptian government in its campaign to silence dissent and crush independent civil society in the harshest possible form”


“The Egyptian authorities must put an end to the attacks on journalists, human rights associations and other critics and stop all repressive measures on freedom of expression. We also demand a moratorium on the death sentences and the opening up of Egyptian prisons to inspection from international organisations such as the Red Cross,”she demanded.


Dr. Suha also called upon the “European Parliament Human rights subcommittee to visit Egypt in order to ensure that Egypt is committed to the implementation of their human rights commitments. This visit was welcomed by Ali Abdel Al, the head of Egypt current Parliament in June 2018 on his last visit Brussels.”


Dr. Melek Saral

Dr. Melek Saral, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the SOAS School of Law, gave a presentation on the human rights situation in Egypt after the July 2013 military Coup in Egypt. Dr. Melek said, “The mass demonstrations that began on 25 January 2011 raised hopes for a democratic transition and for the improvement of human rights situation in Egypt. However Egypt’s’ two-year attempt to a transition has been stopped after the July 2013 military coup. Since the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, severe human rights violations including arbitrary detention, extra judiciary killings, enforced disappearances and torture have become daily news in Egypt as the reports from international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state.”


Dr. Melek also mentioned, “We can speak from institutionalised human rights violations in Egypt, as these violations are embedded in the procedures, policies and objectives of the Sisi’s military rule. Sisi’s government is facilitating unprecedented human rights violations to create a state of fear and to ensure complete control over the Egyptians.  Several laws which have been issued by decree since the military ouster of President Morsi, such as Protest Law issued on November 24, 2013, the Military Courts Law issued on October 27, 2014 and Counterterrorism Law issued on August 15, 2015 have led to gross human rights violations in the country. There is no judicial redress, no accountability grounded in an independent judiciary and country’s’ independent media and civil society are silenced by the military government.”


“Thus, Egyptians have no mechanisms to bring an end to human rights violations and protect themselves from these violations. Perpetrators of these widespread, pervasive and consistent human rights violations enjoy impunity, as judicial redress is not possible. More worryingly institutions which should have provide protection for Egyptian citizens against human rights violations are facilitating severe human rights violations in Egypt. UN Report of the Committee against Torture 2017 concludes that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt and states “Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, National Security officers and prison guards. However, prosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints,” she mentioned.


Dr. Melek called upon the international community to put pressure on Sisi’s military government. She said, “International community should put pressure on Sisi military government to bring an end to the widespread, pervasive and consistent human rights violations in Egypt. However, as the Human Rights Watch Country Reports 2018 points out “Egypt’s international allies continue to support Egypt’s government and rarely offer public criticism.”