A number of experts affiliated with the United Nations have issued a letter addressed to the Egyptian government on July 12, 2023. The letter signed by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while counter-terrorism, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killing an arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
In the letter, all the rapporteurs and working groups expressed their condemnation of the violations committed against the defendants in the Helwan Brigades and Joker cases and other violations committed against ten other citizens in various cases. These individuals faced severe violations, including enforced disappearance, torture, and a lack of fair trial guarantees.
The experts expressed concern that these violations indicate “a systematic pattern of misuse of anti-terrorism and national security legislation, undermining the basic rights of individuals and the rule of law.” This assessment was based on a letter sent to the Egyptian government, relying on information provided by the Egyptian Front for Human Rights. However, the Egyptian authorities have not yet responded to the allegations and recommendations contained in the letter.
Regarding the Helwan Brigades case, United Nations experts expressed concern about the lack of fair trial guarantees. Additionally, they highlighted the refusal of the Public Prosecutor to conduct a forensic examination to determine the veracity of the torture allegations. The defendants were subjected to enforced disappearance and torture during their detention pending investigations. Furthermore, some accused were sentenced to the death penalty based on confessions that may have been obtained under torture. The experts also expressed concerns about the Egyptian authorities’ failure to investigate allegations of torture against the defendants.
In the Joker case, the experts also expressed concern about the enforced disappearance of 5 individuals and their prolonged detention. The report mentioned that six other individuals were subjected to arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance after being detained arbitrarily for expressing their opinions about the current economic conditions.
The experts called on the Egyptian government to provide information on the reported violations. They requested clarification regarding the legal basis for the arrest of the mentioned defendants and detailed information about the terrorism-related accusations. They also urged Egypt to explain how it respects the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality in its actions. Additionally, they requested information indicating the extent to which Egyptian terrorism laws comply with international law.
Furthermore, the experts called for details on the consistency of pretrial detention laws, measures to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly with Egypt’s international obligations. They requested clarification on Egypt’s safeguards to ensure legal procedures and a fair trial. This includes the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer, the right not to be coerced into pleading guilty or testifying against oneself, the right to communicate with the outside world, and the appearance before the judge following the arrest of the accused. The experts also asked about the compatibility of these procedures with international human rights law and the investigation into allegations of forced disappearance and torture of the accused.
First: Case No. 451 of 2014, Supreme State Security (Helwan Brigades)
The letter mentioned that 5 defendants experienced enforced disappearance at the hands of Ministry of Interior officers for two days to two months. During these periods, they were subjected to severe torture, including beatings, hanging from walls, and electric shocks. Prohibition of visits: After the defendants were placed in various prisons, they were prevented from receiving visits from their families and lawyers, with one exception, where one defendant received a single visit in May 2023, marking the first visit since August 2017.
Second: Case No. 653 of 2021 (The Joker Case)
The letter noted that 5 defendants experienced enforced disappearance after being arrested by National Security members. Their disappearances ranged from one to two months; two disappeared inside the National Security headquarters, and three others were transferred to a security forces camp in Jabal al-Ahmar. Exceeding the maximum period of pretrial detention: Human rights experts stated in the letter that the five defendants are under pretrial detention for periods that exceed the maximum duration stipulated in Egyptian law.
Third: Accusation of 6 citizens with terrorism due to expressing their opinions on social media platforms about the economic situations (Case No. 184 of 2023):
The experts mentioned that in light of the economic challenges Egypt is currently facing, including record-high inflation rates, soaring prices, and low wages, 6 individuals who expressed their opinions about these conditions were arrested. These individuals are Muhammad Bakri Helmy Ahmed, Wael Muhammad Ahmed Radwan, Nader Ibrahim Muhammad Ali, Essam Fawzi Othman Hassan, Akram Azmi Abdel Aziz, and Sayed Ramadan Hassan. They were accused of joining and financing a terrorist group, misusing social media, and spreading false news. Enforced disappearance: These six individuals were subjected to enforced disappearance for varying periods, ranging from 3 days to up to 40 days following their arrest by the National Security Agency. Three of them disappeared within premises belonging to National Security. One was inside the Ismailia Security Directorate, while two were in undisclosed locations.
Summary of the Cases:
- Helwan Brigades Case: The case dates back to 2014 when a video was published on the internet showing a group of masked individuals, one of whom discussed the necessity of carrying weapons in response to the violations committed by the army and police. This was in response to security forces’ excessive use during the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins. Two weeks later, the Ministry of Interior announced that the National Security had arrested eight of them, followed by the arrest of dozens more. The investigations lasted about 6 months before referring them to trial on February 19, 2015. They were charged with several accusations, including establishing an unlawful group to disturb public peace, joining and leading that group, and attempting murder and possessing firearms.
- The Joker Case: The case, also known as Case No. 1357 of 2019 in the Supreme State Security. This case dates to September 2019, when protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took place in the 40th Square in Suez City. The contractor and artist Mohamed Ali called for these protests. At that time, security forces arrested many protesters and referred them to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, accusing them of assembling terrorism and spreading false news.