Egypt: Public prosecution must fulfil its role in conducting independent investigations, not state security investigations
The undersigned human rights organizations denounce and call for an immediate end to the Egyptian government’s relentless retaliatory campaign targeting opposition, political activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, manifested in the illegitimate practice of “recycling cases.” Recycling cases occurs when a new case is brought by the prosecution against someone who has already been released for another case or is still serving a previous sentence, oftentimes in pre-trial detention. The new cases are in effect simply revived or renewed versions of the old cases against the defendants, with the aim of keeping them behind bars perpetually.
Case no 855 of 2020 State Security is a prime example of a ‘recycled case.’ A number of prisoners of conscience currently being held in pre-trial detention – including human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists – are now being facing charges in this new case, no. 855 of 2020. This case relies entirely on the investigations of the National Security Agency. The charges against the defendants are for crimes that could not have plausibly been committed from isolated prisons, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past six months.
On August 31, 2020, rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, who has been in pretrial detention since September 2019, appeared before the prosecution to be investigated in Case no 855. Esraa Abdelfattah, another journalist and activist detained and tortured in October 2019, was also brought for investigation in the same case. The State Security Prosecution charged them both with participating in a criminal agreement to commit a terrorist crime from inside the prison, even though they were detained in different prisons.
In the same case, no. 855 of 2020, and also in August 31, 2020, lawyer Mahienour El-Masry, who has been in pre-trial detention since September 2019, was investigated on charges of joining a terrorist group, which is the same charge for which Mahienour is currently serving a sentence. Journalist Solafa Magdy has been in pre-trial detention since November 2019, and is also being investigated again in the new case on charges of joining a terrorist group, publishing and broadcasting false news and misusing social media.
On August 26, 2020, lawyer Amr Imam, journalist Mohamed Salah, and blogger Radwa Mohamed, who are currently held in pre-trial detention pending Case no. 488 of 2019, were also targeted in the new case no. 855. The new accusations they are facing are similar to those they faced in the first case, with additional charges against them for allegedly communicating with leftist forces and groups from inside prisons during visits and detention renewal sessions.
A cursory examination of the charges and accusations in Case no.855 logically raises the underlying question: How is it possible for such crimes to have been committed from prison? The fabricated investigation report in the new case No. 855 of 2020, which brought together all of these detainees from different prisons, claimed that there are others from outside the prison who have reported communicating with these defendants during the renewal sessions in front of the prosecution and during exercise time inside the prison, and were asked to carry out crimes.
However, the defendants’ lawyers argued that these investigations were null and void, as the defendants were prohibited from visits by a Ministry of Interior decision, as a precautionary measure against the Covid-19 outbreak last March. Over that six month period, the pretrial detention of most of the detainees was renewed on paper. They did not appear before the investigative authorities, which indicates that they have not communicated with the outside world for nearly six months. The defense lawyers also demanded that if there is any veracity to these crimes, then prison officials, the head of investigations, and deportation officials must also be investigated and charged alongside the defendants, as such crimes would not have been possible for the defendants to commit without their aid.
Meanwhile in early August, coinciding with the Senate elections, politician Mohamed al-Qassas, deputy head of the Strong Egypt Party, was also brought before the State Security Prosecution in connection with a new third case, no. 786 of 2020, after the Cairo Criminal Court issued a verdict to release him on August 5, 2020.The new case included the same charges he first faced in case no. 977 of 2017 and in the second case no. 1781 of 2019, which sentenced him to 2.5 years of solitary confinement, before he was ordered released only to find himself in custody yet again in a new case
The state security authorities in Egypt routinely and relentlessly apply this practice of “recycling cases” or “renewed arbitrary arrest” in various ways against most political and human rights activists, as soon as a decision to release them is issued, or before the legal period for their pre-trial detention has expired. Others who have also became ensnared in this illegitimate practice are Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf, activist and lawyer Haitham Muhamadeen, and blogger Mohamed Radwan (Oxygen).
The undersigned organizations renew their demand for the unconditional release of all activists and journalists held in pre-trial detention for non-violent crimes, and for all charges and cases against them be dropped while guaranteeing that they will not be charged again in new fabricated cases, before or after their release.
Furthermore, the Public Prosecution and the State Security Prosecution must carry out their roles in investigation and collecting evidence, instead of relying on state security investigations and extending the detention period of the defendants on outlandish charges.
The undersigned organizations continue to demand for the judicial authorities to carry out their duties in ensuring the application of the law and putting an end to the repressive practices of the security authorities, including the complicity of the Public Prosecution and the State Security Prosecution during the investigation stages in abusing political opponents.
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.