Egypt: the chilling effect of pre-trial detention as a tool to silence human rights defenders

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Ahead of the adoption of Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 12 March, EuroMed Rights has launched a report on the use of pre-trial detention to silence human rights defenders in Egypt at an event in London.

The report, which was commissioned by EuroMed Rights and written by leading Egyptian human rights defender, Mina Thabet, highlights the targeting of human rights defenders through state security cases and the use of pre-trial detention as punishment.

Entitled “the Chilling Effect of Pre-Trial Detention on Human Rights Defenders in Egypt”, the report highlights the unfairness of detention, the use of terrorism charges to punish human rights defenders, conditions of detention as well as the impact that pre-trial detention has on the detainees’ lives. The report considers the cases of the detention of prominent human rights defenders in Egypt including Ibrahim Metwally, human rights lawyer and co-founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, who has been imprisoned since September 2017 when he was arrested on his way to attend a session of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance. The report also considers the cases of other prominent human rights defenders Amal Fathy, Mohamed el-Baqer, Mahienour al-Massry and Haitham Mohamedeen.

Mr Thabet, the author of the report, declared that: “Pre-trial detention is increasingly used in Egypt to silence human rights lawyers, journalists, activists, critics and political figures. This worrying trend should be viewed in the context of an increasingly politicised judiciary and a dramatic deterioration of the human rights situation since 2013, amidst the silence of many of Egypt’s international allies.”

EuroMed Rights expressed concern over Egypt’s zero-tolerance policy towards the work of human rights defenders, increasingly resorting to pre-trial detention as a tool to punish and hinder their legitimate work, and called on the United Kingdom, the European Union and its Member States to denounce Egypt’s appalling human rights record, publicly and privately. The report also lists several recommendations, which it hopes Egypt will take on board.

Dr Theodora Christou, Member of the Executive Committee of EuroMed Rights and the Executive Committee of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales stated:
“The UK has recommended that Egypt grant access to medical assistance and family visits in prisons and to release those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Similarly, the EU and the UN have criticised the use of prolonged pre-trial detention and the high number of arrests. As Egypt’s commitment to engage with human rights mechanisms in a meaningful manner continues to be tested, these recommendations should be integrated in the bilateral dialogue with Egypt and the UK. The EU’s ongoing relationship with Egypt should be conditional on Egypt making progress on human rights.”

The event in London was held in association with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales.