The undersigned call on the Public Prosecution to stop censoring personal online accounts and detaining users on the basis of the basis of highly subjective accusations that have no legal legitimacy, such as assaulting family values or societal traditions, with no evidence of involvement in crimes of incitement to violence or hatred. Unless incitement has been proven, Egypt’s constitution protects the right of individuals to exercise freedom of expression and creativity.
In the case of Menna Abdel Aziz, also known as Aya, the Public Prosecution prioritized protecting its interpretation of morality at the expense of its legal duty to protect a victim of a crime. Aya posted a video in which she alleged she was raped while being filmed, and was then blackmailed with the footage. Despite the evidence, the Public Prosecution detained Aya, a crime victim, accusing her of “incitement to immorality and debauchery.” She was imprisoned for four days and then fifteen days.
On May 30th the Public Prosecution issued a statement blaming the victim for posting videos it deemed as an incitement to immorality. On June 9th the Prosecution decided to replace the victim’s pre-trial detention with placement in a care home. However, the charges were not dropped, and Aya remains under investigation. According to the Prosecution’s statement, Aya was placed in the care home not because she was a victim of rape but rather because her behavior “needed to be corrected.”
Aya’s case is one of many examples of citizens victimized by a Public Prosecution obligated to protect them. In April, the Public Prosecution ordered the arrest and imprisonment of student Haneen Hossam, for four days pending investigation, due to her “assault on family principles and values in Egyptian society.” Another student Mawada Eladhm, and three others, were prosecuted under the same charges in March pending investigation in misdemeanour Case no. 1047 of 2020, known in the media as the “Tiktok Girls” case. The Prosecution also recently pressed the same charges against Sharifa Rifaat and her daughter Nora Hisham on June 10.
The current security campaign is based upon the flawed Law 175 of 2018. For the alleged purpose of combating information technology crimes (cybercrime), the law’s articles restrict the right to freedom of expression. Broad terms and nebulous violations are utilized, such as harming the national economy, national security, or harming the independence and stability of the country. Article 25 of the law penalizes anyone who attacks what the law calls “family principles or values in Egyptian society” with six months imprisonment and/or a fine of no less than 50,000 EGP.
Many rights groups had warned about and protested against the Cybercrimes Law. And indeed, the Public Prosecution abused the legislattion’s vague terms to establish authoritarian control over citizens, with the assistance of the Monitoring Unit at the General Attorney Office operating under a fascist slogan: “The Purge of Social Media” in cooperation with the General Department for Morality Police at the Ministry of Interior. Reflecting its patriarchal and authoritarian view of morality, the Public Prosecution’s recent statement grants itself – in a clear violation of the constitution and the law – the authority of moral guardianship over society and the education of youth.
The Public Prosecution’s current security campaign has no legitimate legal basis, reliant as it is upon nebulous or ill-defined violations of values, principles, and morality – the definitions of which change over time and place and are highly subjective in Egypt’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-confessional and multi-cultural society. In practice, Public Prosecution imposes its own perception of “family values,” and generalizes it upon diverse rural, urban, Bedouin, and Nubian communities, all of whom are influenced by the values of different religions, beliefs and cultures. The Public Prosecution must immediately halt this practice, and stop violating the law and Egypt’s constitution.