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 4 August 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within the initial 60-day period. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.
In November 2022, the father of the human rights defender was released from prison after being cleared of “joining a terrorist group”.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: alleged intimidation and retaliation against Mr. Abdelrahman Mahmoud, also known as Abdelrahman Ayyash in relation to his work on the human rights situation in Egypt.
Mr. Abdelrahman Ayyash is a human rights researcher with The Freedom Initiative, a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation where he has been covering human rights violations in Egypt. He is also a fellow at Century International, a branch of the Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank, where he focuses on political Islam. Prior to his current position, he was Assistant Human Rights Researcher in the Middle East North Africa division at Human Rights Watch from 2018-2021. He also wrote on migrant issues for the Huffington Post, and later on political detainees in Egyptian prisons for the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative.
Mr. Ayyash’s family members have been questioned and threatened and his father, Mr. Mahmoud Mohamed Ali Shalata, was summoned to police headquarters at least three times in relation to his son’s human rights activism in 2009 and 2011, and again after Mr. Ayyash left Egypt in 2013.
On 2 July 2022, Mr. Ayyash posted a thread of tweets analysing the structure of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was retweeted several times. On 4 July 2022, at around 3 am, four police officers with the National Security Agency raided Mr. Ayyash’s family home in the city of Mansoura, asked about Mr. Ayyash and his whereabouts, confiscated his father’s mobile telephone and arrested him. They allowed him to bring his medication, and led him in a police car to the national security premises where he was kept for 20 hours before being transferred to the Mansoura First Police Station. He was held for another 12 hours, and his family had no information about his whereabouts for the duration of the 32 hours.
On 5 July 2022, Mr. Shalata was brought before the general prosecution, in presence of his lawyer. He was asked if he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and showed pages of a book by the MB founder, Hassan al-Banna, which they said was in his possession. He denied being a member of the MB and denied ownership of the al-Banna pages. He was charged with joining a terrorist group, under Case No. 6778/2022, and was ordered detained for 15 days pending investigation. He was then transferred to Aga Police Station in Mansoura.
On 6 July 2022, Mr. Shalata’s family visited him at the prison for a few minutes and delivered his medication and clothing. He was reportedly held in a crowded, poorly ventilated cell. He suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and herniated discs and his family are afraid that the detention conditions might worsen his health.
On 18 July 2022, Mr. Shalata’s pre-trial detention was renewed for another 15 days. Mr. Shalata has previously been the subject of security agency harassment and threats in relation to his son’s overseas work.
In the early hours of January 26-27, 2021, police raided his house and confiscated his mobile phone and identity documents. The police officer asked him what Mr. Ayyash was doing in the U.S., and why he hadn’t returned to Egypt in a long time. They searched Mr. Shalata’s mobile phone and read messages between him and Mr. Ayyash on the Messenger app. The raid occurred two days after Mr. Ayyash participated as part of a panel of experts in an event in Washington D.C. organised by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), a non-profit organisation, marking the tenth anniversary of the Egyptian uprising “Ten years since Tahrir Square, Egypt then and now.”
Mr. Ayyash’s father travelled to Saudi Arabia with his family one week after the raid, and remained there for five months during which time armed police agents allegedly attempted to raid his house, and found it empty. In 2009 and 2011, Mr. Shalata was questioned by security agents about his son’s activism in ongoing protest demonstrations at the time.
In the communication we expressed our deep concern at the intimidation and harassment that may constitute acts of retaliation against human rights defender Mr. Ayyash, including the intimidation, interrogation and arrest of members of his family, which appear to be directly linked to his legitimate work as a human rights defender and to his activities with international non-governmental organisations.
Furthermore, we express our concerns regarding the targeting of Mr. Ayyash and his family for the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as of association, provided by articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), acceded to by Egypt on 14 January 1982. We would also like to draw the attention of your Excellency’s Government to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Article 5 (c), which provides for the right to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations, among other rights.