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Arbitrary Detention

International human rights instruments, in particular article 9 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to personal liberty, meaning that no one shall be arbitrarily detained.

Detention, which, in itself, is not a violation of human rights and can be legitimate, becomes arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty is carried out in violation of fundamental rights and guarantees set forth in relevant international human rights instruments. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has defined several categories under which detention is arbitrary:

  • When it is impossible to invoke any  legal  basis for the deprivation of liberty (as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his sentence or despite an amnesty law applicable to him/her);
  • When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by the UDHR and the ICCPR, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association;
  • When international norms relating to the right to a fair trial have been totally or partially violated, for example if the person has been imprisoned without charge or denied access to a lawyer;
  • When the deprivation of liberty is based on discriminatory grounds such as, amongst others, on ethnic origin, religion, political or other opinion or gender.

In the Arab world, thousands of individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention. Victims are usually denied their fundamental rights from the onset of the detention: arrest without a warrant; incommunicado detention with the denial of access to family and lawyer; prolonged periods of custody, during which the person is tortured in order to extract confessions; and speedy trials before tribunals that lack independence or exceptional courts.

Arab governments often arrest and prosecute all dissenting voices, such as those of human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and peaceful demonstrators in retaliation for peacefully making use of their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Simultaneously, thousands of ordinary citizens are also victims of arbitrary detention when they are denied their fair trial rights. 

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Jordanian Police arrested Mahdi Suleiman, 57-year-old, on 18 February 2016, in front of the Israeli Embassy in Amman, while he was peacefully protesting against the arbitrary detention of Palestinians by the Israeli authorities, including his son, Mohammed Mahdi Saleh Suleiman, who was arrested in 2013 at the age of 16, tortured and later sentenced by a military court to 15 years in prison for “attempting to kill Israeli settlers by means of throwin

On 14 December 2015, 24-year-old circus performer Mohammad Faisal Nafez Abu Sakha was arrested by Israel Forces and later placed in administrative detention for six months for allegedly “being a member of an illegal organisation,” an accusation he denies.

Asser Abdelwarth before his arrest by the policeOn 12 January 2016, Asser Mohammed Zahr Aldeen Abdelwarth, a 15-year-old boy, disappeared after the police arrested him at his home in Giza, leading Alkarama to send an urgent appeal to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (

On 15 February 2016, 55-year-old writer and caricaturist Saeed bin Abdullah Ali Al Daroudi was sentenced by the Omani Court of Appeal to three months in prison for statements he published on his Facebook account on 7 October 2014.

Despite documenting an increasing number of cases of enforced disappearances in the hands of all kinds of government forces in the country, the international community has continuously failed to address this issue with the Egyptian government.

A 48-year-old lawyer and member of liberal political party Al Dostour, Raafat Faisal Ali Shehata − also known as Ahsraf Shehata − disappeared in the hands of the Egyptian Homeland Security more than two years ago, on 13 January 2014. While the authorities continue to deny his detention claiming that Ashraf left Egypt, his wife was told by several former detainees or families of detainees that he was effectively detained.

In early February 2016, the Homeland Security arrested another two young men for no apparent reason. 25-year-old real-estate agent, Abo Obida Sayed Mahmoud Abdelhameed and 28-year-old imam, Islam Ibrahim Eltohamy Ibrahim have both been missing since, and despite having solicited various official bodies, their respective families remain unaware of their fates and whereabouts.

On 7 February 2016, teachers Medhat Mohamed Bahi Aldin Ahmed Abdelhameed and Magdy Hassan Amer Hassan disappeared following their arrest by the Egyptian police from Medhat's apartment in Giza. Despite having solicited various official bodies to establish their fates and whereabouts, their respective families, blissfully unaware of the reasons for their arrests, were met with a wall of silence.

On 12 and 31 January 2016, the police respectively arrested 15-year-old Asser Mohammed Zahr Aldeen Abdelwarth and 18-year-old Abdelrahman Mohammed Saleh Mohammed at their home, in Giza and Cairo. In spite of their numerous efforts to locate them, their respective families have not heard from them since and fear that they could be tortured during their secret detention.

On 29 January 2016, Alkarama seized the experts of the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) with the case of Lakhdar Guellil. Arrested by police forces on 31 July 1996, the taxi driver from Djelfa City, located 300 km south of Algiers, was accused of not having denounced passengers he had brought to the nearby city of Aïn Oussera a few weeks beforehand, who were apparently sought for terrorism.