Egypt: charges, travel bans and asset freezes of EIPR members (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Egypt on 21 March 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government did not respond within this period. Replies, if received, will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

Topics:

  • pending charges against Mr. Patrick Zaki;
  • travel ban against, and the continued freeze of assets as well as pending charges against Mr. Gasser Abdel Razek, Mr. Karim Ennarah, and Mr. Mohamed Bashir;
  • travel ban against and a freeze of assets of Mr. Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Mr. Patrick Zaki is a human rights defender and a researcher on human rights and gender for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and has been involved in several national campaigns against violations of civil and political rights. He has also advocated for women’s rights, the rights of detainees, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups in the country, including sexual and Christian minorities. Mr. Zaki is an Egyptian national, but until the time of his arrest and detention on 7 February 2020, he had been resident in Italy, where he is a postgraduate student at Bologna University studying Gender and Women’s Studies.

Mr. Gasser Abdel Razek is a human rights defender, a co-owner and the former Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Mr. Karim Ennarah, is a human rights defender and research advisor in the EIPR.

Mr. Mohamed Bashir is a human rights defender and the administrative manager of EIPR.

Mr. Hossam Bahgat is a human rights defender and the founder of EIPR and its executive director. He has been awarded the Allison des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism (2010) and the George Alexander Law Prize for his human rights work (2014).

Mr. Zaki has been the subject of four previous communications, EGY 19/2020, EGY 6/2020, EGY 10/2020 and EGY 15/2020, sent on 24 December 2020, and 31 March, 29 July and 25 November 2020, respectively. We regret that responses to these communications have not been received, apart from a letter in response to EGY 6/2020 requesting an extension due to Covid.

Messrs. Abdel Razek, Ennarah and Bashir were the subject of a previous communication, EGY 15/2020 on 25 November 2020 and for which no response has been received.

Mr. Bahgat was the subject of three previous communications, EGY 15/2020 on the ongoing criminalization, travel ban and freeze of assets; EGY 6/2016 in connection to a criminal case against him (and other human rights organisations) regarding foreign funding received by Egyptian human rights organizations; and EGY 16/2015 concerning his arrest and detention for exercising his right to freedom of expression and opinion as a result of his work as a journalist and human rights defender. We regret that responses to these communications were not received.

ALLEGATIONS

The case of Mr. Patrick Zaki

At a hearing on 7 December 2021, the Emergency State Security Misdemeanors Court (ESSC) decided to release Mr. Zaki and postponed his case related to the “spreading of false news inside Egypt and abroad” and the “misuse of social media” to 2 February 2022. These charges were conveyed to him in late August 2021; they form part of initial charges against him and are punishable by up to five years in prison. Mr. Zaki was released on 8 December 2021 and remains free pending trial. The charges are connected to an article he published in July 2019 on Daraj, a news website, about the Coptic Christian community of Egypt entitled “Displacement, Killing and Restriction: A Week’s Diary of Egypt’s Copts”.

The State of Emergency in Egypt was ended on 26 October 2021 however the ESSC remains in place for cases referred beforehand. Emergency Court verdicts are not subject to appeal and can only be commuted or overturned by the president of the republic.

Mr. Zaki was asked to attend the 2 February 2022 hearing, in violation of the Egyptian Code of Criminal Procedures that allows defendants in misdemeanor cases to be represented by a lawyer instead of attending themselves. In addition, representatives from the Italian, German and US embassies were not allowed to attend the hearing. The case was further postponed to 6 April 2022.

During the 2 February 2022 court hearing, his lawyers presented requests to be considered ahead of a hearing. These requests had been made at the start of Mr. Zaki’s trial but had so far not been considered. They include the presentation of video proof of Mr. Zaki’s arrest at Cairo airport and not at a checkpoint in Mansoura, as stated in a police report; obtaining the testimonies of two investigating officers; hearing the testimony of an individual named in Mr. Zaki’s article and a copy of a court case on family inheritance law for the Christian community that would prove the veracity of the article for which he was charged.

Mr. Zaki had been arrested on 7 February 2020 by the National Security Investigations (NSI) of Egypt whilst travelling through immigration security in Cairo airport, after arriving from Bologna. He was formally accused of incitement to commit violence and terrorism- related crimes and of publishing rumors and false news that aim to disturb social peace and sow chaos under Egyptian Counter terrorism law; of managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety under Egyptian Anti Cybercrime Law; of calling for the overthrow of the state under the Egyptian Penal Code, and for incitement to protest without permission from the relevant authorities with the aim of undermining state authority under the Egyptian Protest Law. No credible
evidence was presented.

During his 22 months in pre-trial detention, Mr. Zaki was held in Tora prison, where he had limited access to his lawyers and family members. His interactions with his lawyers were limited to a few minutes’ contact when leaving his remand renewal hearings and one member of his family was permitted a monthly 20-minute visit.

The case of Mr. Mohamed Bashir

Mr. Mohamed Bashir was arrested on 15 November 2020 shortly after midnight from his home by Egyptian security forces and taken to the State Security sector, where he was held for twelve hours without being afforded legal assistance, and was questioned about a meeting held on 3 November 2020 at EIPR. The meeting focused on the situation of human rights worldwide and in Egypt and was attended by 13 foreign ambassadors and diplomats.

He was later questioned at the Supreme State Security Prosecution about the work of EIPR, its recent publications and its work in legal aid. On the same day, he was ordered into pre-trial detention and transferred to Tora investigation prison under Case 855/2020.

Mr. Bashir was formally accused under Egyptian Counterterrorism law of joining a terrorist organization with knowledge of its purpose, and committing a crime involving funding of terrorism. He was also charged under Egyptian Anti-Cybercrime Law for using a personal account on the Internet to spread false information that undermines public security, and under the Penal Code for broadcasting false news and statements that undermine public security and harm the national interest. No credible evidence was presented

The case of Messrs. Karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel Razek

Mr. Abdel-Razek and Mr. Ennarah were arrested and detained separately between 17 and 19 November 2020. They were questioned by the Supreme State Security Prosecution and were charged in Case number 855/2020 under Egyptian Counterterrorism law for “joining a terrorist organisation with knowledge of its purpose”. They were also charged under Egyptian Anti-Cybercrime Law for using a personal account on the Internet to spread false information that undermines public security, and under the Penal Code for broadcasting false news and statements that undermine public security and harm the national interest. It is reported that no credible evidence was presented.

Similar to the case of Mr. Bashir, the arrests of Messrs Ennarah and Abdel Razek came after the visit of 13 foreign ambassadors and diplomats to the EIPR headquarters and for which they were interrogated, in addition to questions about their work at EIPR.

Messrs. Bashir, Ennarah and Abdel Razek were released on 3 December 2020 following calls by a number of Egyptian members of Parliament as well as United Nations independent experts, celebrities and NGOs. The charges against them have not been dropped. No date has been set so far for a resumption of the case.

Although released, Messrs. Bashir, Ennarah and Abdel Razek continue to face restrictions and precautionary measures. They are banned from travel and their assets are frozen, which limits their right to freedom of movement and other rights related to accessing funds and holding a bank account. They have presented an appeal to have their asset freeze and travel ban lifted, which they are entitled to by law, but the Supreme State Security Prosecution has so far not responded and a date has not been set for a hearing into the matter. They are therefore deprived of the opportunity to seek legal remedy despite having the right to challenge precautionary measures every three months.

The case of Mr. Hossam Bahgat and the EIPR

The EIPR was one of scores of civil society organisations (CSOs) that were placed under investigation in Case no. 173/2011 regarding foreign funding received by Egyptian human rights organizations, and its assets were frozen. As its founder and director, Mr. Bahgat was placed on a list of persons banned from travel and subject to an assets freeze.

In a separate case, Mr. Bahgat was accused on 2 November 2021 of insulting a public institution, spreading false news with malicious intent and misusing social media. The charges were connected to a tweet he posted in December 2020 criticizing the former head of the National Election Authority for alleged corruption. On 29 November 2021, Mr. Bahgat was sentenced to a fine of LE 10,000 (€ 561) for insulting the elections authority.

On 17 September 2016, the Cairo Criminal Court confirmed the order to freeze the personal funds and family assets of Mr. Bahgat, accused of illegally receiving foreign funds in Case number 173/2011. On 18 July 2020 the criminal court rejected the request to cancel the travel ban
imposed on him.

On 30 August 2021, Case 173/2011 was dropped against most of the CSOs by the Cairo Court of Appeal investigative judge, and the names of human rights defenders were removed from the list of travel bans and assets freeze. The case against the EIPR was not dropped.

CONCERNS

Without wishing to prejudge the accuracy of the information received, we express serious concern as to the criminalisation of legitimate human rights activities undertaken by Mr. Zaki and by Messrs, Abdel Razek, Ennarah and Bashir, which have been equated to involvement in terrorism, publishing rumours and false news, and incitement with no credible evidence provided. We reiterate our concern about the vagueness of the counterterrorism and national security legislation in Egypt. We note with concern that this legislation is being misused to target, inter alia, human rights defenders critical to the Government. We respectfully remind your Excellency’s Government that the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism has highlighted the dangers of overly broad definitions of terrorism in domestic law that do not comply with international treaty obligations (EGY 4/2020).

We also express our concern at the continued restrictive measures imposed on Messrs. Abdel Razek, Ennarah, and Bashir without allowing them the opportunity to exercise their right in challenging the precautionary measures as well as the continued asset freeze and travel ban imposed on Mr. Bahgat in relation to his position with the EIPR. We are concerned that the EIPR remains under investigation in Case no 173/2011 while the case has been dismissed for most other organisations implicated in it. We remind your Excellency’s Government that in EGY 4/2020, the Experts noted that the current targeted sanctions regime raised several serious challenges, mainly related to the lack of transparency and due process in listing and de-listing procedures. Targeted sanctions resulting in the freezing of assets, the imposition of travel bans, and other restrictions may also have severe consequences for the affected individuals and their families to enjoy economic and social rights. We recall that any restriction that may limit freedom of movement on the basis of public order should be strictly necessary and proportionate, factually motivated, and when cumulatively sustained, subject to stringent and ongoing review.

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