Geneva (February 5, 2018) -- The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has adopted an Opinion qualifying the detention of 18 individuals* currently detained by the Egyptian authorities as arbitrary. The Opinion was adopted on November 22, 2017 at the 80th session of the WGAD, and made public on February 2, 2018.
Among the 18 individuals are journalists, students, filmmakers, human rights defenders and doctors, as well as one individual who was a minor at the time of his arrest. They were all arbitrarily arrested between August 2013 and March 2017, and their cases submitted to the WGAD by the Alkarama Foundation on July 25, 2017.
All 18 arbitrary detentions followed arbitrary arrests and unfair trials, and were accompanied by other severe human rights violations, including secret and/or incommunicado detentions, torture and the denial of medical care. All 18 people were charged with, among other charges, “belonging to a banned group” after being severely tortured in order to sign self-incriminating statements.
Alkarama submitted that the detentions of these 18 individuals were arbitrary as they fell into one or more of the following categories: there was an absence of a legal basis to justify the deprivation of liberty, the deprivation of liberty resulted from the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the Egyptian authorities did not observe the right to a fair trial, or the individual was detained for reasons of discrimination.
On September 6, 2017, the WGAD communicated these 18 cases to the Government of Egypt, and requested that it provide detailed information on their cases by November 6. However, the government refused to respond to the WGAD’s request. The Egyptian Government is also yet to set a date for a country visit from the WGAD, after the UN group requested such a visit on November 15, 2016 due to the alarming increase of arbitrary detentions in the country. In its Opinion, the WGAD reiterated that “it would welcome the opportunity to visit Egypt in order to engage with the Government in a constructive manner.”
In its Opinion, the WGAD urged the Government of Egypt to remedy the situation of the 18 individuals, stating that, “the appropriate remedy would be to release the 18 individuals immediately and accord each one of them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”
The WGAD also stated that it had referred the cases to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers for further action. Torture and unfair trials are both systematic practices in Egypt. In fact, on June 23, 2017, following a four-year-long confidential inquiry triggered by Alkarama, members of the UN Committee against Torture issued their conclusions, stating that torture in Egypt is “habitual, widespread, and deliberate.”
The WGAD also referred the cases to the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights “to lead UN efforts to put an end to intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights.” Individuals and their families are regularly subjected to reprisals by the Egyptian authorities, often as a result of communicating with international bodies, including the United Nations. Among the 18 victims are Hanane Othman and Ahmed Amasha, both of whom have been arrested as a result of their work as human rights defenders working with the families of the disappeared in Egypt. Additionally, Ahmed Mabrouk was arrested after Alkarama communicated the case of his brother, who was himself arbitrarily detained by the authorities, to the United Nations.
In response to the WGAD’s issuance of its Opinion, Khadidja Nemar, Regional Legal Officer for the Maghreb and Nile regions at the Alkarama Foundation, stated: “We strongly welcome the WGAD’s Opinion, and emphasise the importance of these cases being documented – and their arbitrary nature recognised – at the highest level of international law.”
“However, it must be noted that this Opinion is one step in a long process of legal and public advocacy, and Alkarama will continue to work with the United Nations Special Procedures to ensure that the Egyptian authorities abide by the requests made by the UN experts to release the 18 individuals immediately and accord each one of them the right to compensation and other reparations.”
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*The 18 individuals mentioned in the case are: a minor (whose name is known by the Working Group), Assem Adawy, Ameen Mashaly, Omar Al Sagheer, Ahmed Al Khateeb, Sherine Bekhit, Ahmed Sayed Ahmed, Mahmoud Al Barbery, Ahmed Mabrouk, Ahmed Shawky Amasha, Abdelrehim Mohamed, Bassma Rabi’, Adel Al Haddad, Reem Gobara, Omar Mohamed Ali, Mahmoud Abou Leil, Hanane Othman, and Mohamed Dessouky. More information on these 18 individuals, including details of their detentions, is available here.