MIL-OSI NGOs: Egypt: Release protesters and activists detained over Palestine solidarity   

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Source: Amnesty International –

The Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily detained solely for independent activism in solidarity with Palestine or criticism of the Egyptian government’s closure of the Rafah crossing, and investigate complaints of sexual assault and other abuses in police custody against some detainees, Amnesty International said today.

Over the past seven months, Amnesty International and Egyptian human rights groups have documented the arrests of over 123 people who had expressed solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza by peacefully protesting, posting comments online, hanging signs or writing slogans on walls. At least 95 remain in pre-trial detention facing investigation over bogus charges of involvement in terrorism, spreading false news or illegal assembly.

In April, a group of released women protesters lodged a complaint of sexual violence against the police, however prosecutors have yet to investigate these complaints.  

“The Egyptian authorities have continued with their zero-tolerance for peaceful protest or independent activism that is not officially authorized, even when it’s to show solidarity with Palestinians, which state officials have themselves expressed. They have particularly clamped down on any criticism of the government’s policies in the armed conflict in Gaza, making it very clear that not all expressions of solidarity with Palestinians are accepted unequivocally,” said Sara Hashash, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The authorities must immediately release all those arbitrarily detained in the crackdown on pro-Palestine solidarity. These are people who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must also open independent and impartial investigations into reports of sexual violence by women detainees and hold those responsible accountable.”      

Amnesty International spoke to three women protesters, including two who were briefly detained, human rights defenders, researchers, and lawyers who attended the interrogations by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP).

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Freedoms (EIPR) and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), two local rights groups based in Cairo, between October 2023 and May 2024, authorities arbitrarily arrested at least 123 people for expressing solidarity with Palestine since the armed conflict in Gaza erupted. Both ECRF and EIPR legally represented some of those detainees.

Amnesty International previously documented the arbitrary arrest of dozens of people, including children, in October 2023 during Palestine solidarity protests in the governorates of Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Dakahlia, where protesters gathered outside officially designated areas or chanted anti-government slogans. Those arrested in Cairo were beaten by men in plainclothes with batons and sticks. Many were subjected to enforced disappearance and were held at Central Security Forces’ camps or at the NSA headquarters for up to seven days. At the time of writing, at least 53 of that group, including two children, remain in pretrial detention pending investigations into terrorism-related charges, participation in unauthorized gatherings harming national security and public order, and vandalism , according to the ECRF and the EIPR

Arbitrary detention over social media content

On 8 and 9 May, security forces detained students Mazen Daraz and Ziad Basiouny  accusing them of “joining a terrorist group” and “publishing false news” in connection with their participation in a student group supporting Palestine (Students for Palestine), according to the Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR).

The student group had published statements on Instagram and Facebook calling on the Egyptian Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education to boycott products supporting the Israeli occupation, urging the government to provide facilitations to Palestine students in Egypt, and denouncing the Rafah ground offensive. They were held incommunicado for four to five days before being brought before the SSSP on 13 May. They both remain in pretrial detention at the time of writing. 

During his interrogation Basiouny told SSSP prosecutors that upon his arrest security forces escorted him to an unknown NSA facility where NSA agents detained him blindfolded and handcuffed for four days, violating the absolute prohibition of ill-treatment, and questioned him six times, according to EFHR . SSSP prosecutors have not opened investigations into Basiouny’s complaints.

Arbitrary detention for hanging signs or writing on walls

Some arrests occurred after criticism of Egypt’s role in keeping the Rafah crossing closed. On 28 April, security forces arbitrarily arrested six people from their homes in Alexandria a few days after they hung a banner in the street that read “Break Palestine siege, release detainees and open the Rafah crossing” and published a photograph of it on Facebook, according to EFHR. The authorities held the six incommunicado in unknown places before bringing them in front of SSSP on 30 April where they were interrogated in connection with charges of joining a terrorist group, illegal assembly and spreading false news. The SSSP prosecutors ordered their detention for 15 days pending investigations and all remain detained at the time of writing.

On 8 March, security forces arbitrarily arrested six people, including one child, from their homes in Dar El-Salam, Cairo, after they wrote slogans on a bridge in solidarity with Palestine along with a slogan that read “Sisi go away”, according to EFHR. Four of the six were only brought in front of the SSSP on 18 March, spending about nine days in incommunicado detention, according to EFHR. At least two of the six told SSSP prosecutors that NSA agents in Dar El-Salam police station slapped them on the face and beat them by hand and kicked them. The SSSP opened investigations against the six into charges of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news and misusing social media and ordered their detention for 15 days pending investigations.

Arbitrary arrest of peaceful protesters and sexual violence complaints

On 23 April, a group of women’s rights defenders took the risk of organizing a peaceful protest in solidarity with women in Palestine and Sudan and chose to hold it in front of the office of UN Women in Cairo. Around 20 women, including human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers, had gathered when minutes later, policemen in plainclothes forcibly dispersed the protest, including by violently pushing several women, beating at least two on several parts of their bodies and dragging at least one on the ground. They detained around 19 women protesters in addition to at least two men who were passing by.

Human rights lawyer Mahinour El-Masry and activist May El-Mahdy, who were both arrested, told Amnesty International that the police took protesters in non-marked vans and taxis to several nearby police stations, including Maadi police station. The protesters were not allowed to communicate with their families or request a lawyer and when a human rights lawyer inquired at Maadi police station about the women’s whereabouts, the police denied any women were being held there. On the same day, the police transferred the women to various police stations in Cairo and to Tora Central Security Forces Camp, an unofficial detention facility, where they held them incommunicado for a few hours.

The next day, the authorities brought all the detainees in front of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) prosecutors who opened investigations against them and interrogated them in relation to charges of joining an unlawful group and participating in an illegal assembly. They were all released on the same day on bail.

During detention, National Security Agency (NSA) interrogated several of the detainees in the absence of a lawyer. El-Mahdy told Amnesty International that NSA agents interrogated her for about two hours asking which communications platform was used to organize the protest, the reasons for her interest in women’s issues, and why they chose to protest in front of UN Women’s office.

On 23 May, a group of the women who were released announced in a statement that they had filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor claiming that some of the women who were arrested were subjected to “sexual assault” during body searches and “harassment” during detention. One of the women who filed the complaint told Amnesty International that released protesters had filed sexual violence complaints against police officers in Helwan police station where some of the women protesters had been held. The Public Prosecutor referred the complaint to the SSSP which had not opened investigations into these reports at the time of writing, according to El-Masry. Amnesty International found in 2019 that the SSSP were complicit in police abuse by systematically ignoring complaints of abuse made by defendants and failing to investigate them.