The Egyptian Front addresses a letter to the President of the National Council for Human Rights refuting his recent remarks on the human rights situation in Egypt
Mr. Mohamed Fayek
President of the National Council for Human Rights
The Egyptian Front for Human Rights has took note of a number of fallacies and misconceptions that may reflect the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)’s assessment of the human rights situation and its role in improving it, rather than merely adopting the official version and creating justifications for state violations; in reference to your statements published in Al Shorouk newspapers dated July 25, 2019, which touched upon several issues related to the status of human rights in Egypt such as the death penalty, police probation, the Associations Law and prisons.
At the beginning of our letter, we would like to introduce you to our organisation, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, which is an independent organization founded in 2017 in the Czech Republic by a number of independent human rights activists and defenders, who are not affiliated with any party, movement or political organization. We seek the improvement of the human rights situation in Egypt through research, monitoring, documentation and advocacy. Given your indicated statement about newly established organizations, we expect that we are not among the organizations that you count as affaliatted with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In consideration of the human rights issues discussed in your statements, the first of which being the death penalty, you mentioned that “the crimes in which the death penalty is imposed are limited.” This contradicts with the fact that in the past few years a number of crimes have been added to the death penalty, making it a punishment for 104 crimes stipulated in 78 different laws and legislations, rather than issuing legislative amendments that reduce the number of crimes punishable by that penalty. The latest of these legislations are the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Law 94/2015, which in Article 12 stipulates execution as a penalty for of a number of crimes, such as the establishment, administration or financing of a terrorist group, or being involved in intelligence with a foreign state. Article 102 (a) of the Penal Code 58/1937 was amended to make execution the penalty for the possession of explosives if the crime was committed for the purpose of a terrorist act.
In contrast with your account on “not issuing any death sentences from exceptional courts”, we have documented a number of death sentences issued by the military courts, especially in cases of political violence, on the basis of the presidential decision 136/2014 to secure public installations, which is heightened by its quick enforcement following its ratification by the Military Court of Appeals (30 persons had been executed in these kind of cases since July 2013). The military judiciary counts as an exceptional judiciary for it falls under the jurisdiction of the executive branch. The military judges are appointed through a decision by the Minister of Defense, not to mention the fact that the defendants in these cases have been exposed to grave violations since the moment they were arrested, breaching their most simple rights to a fair trial, which are the same circumstances shared with those sentenced to death by civil courts.
Another point mentioned in your statement that we would like to refute is that the “penalty of police probation is better than prison,” while the police probation is a punishment where individuals must spend the assigned probation hours from 6 pm until 6 am until the following day at the police station which deprives the probationer of 12 hours a day, and that is also accompanied by several violations. According to Law 99/1945, which regulates police probation, we find that in Article 5 that the probation officer is allowed to choose the probation entity and the place of residence, as the probationer has to reside in a designated probation place. Articles 6 and 7 only make an exception if the probationer has no known place of residence, which practically doesn’t happen, as officers commit the probationers to sleep at the police station despite knowing their place of residence. In addition to that the person under probation is subjected to violations that prevent them from reintegrating into society, which is the philosophy behind the punishment, as they receive degrading treatment in the police station, are forced to carry out matters outside the penalty line, threatened to return to prison, and are refused the attainment of their leaves, as well as restricting their right to work, study, movement within the country as well as being forbidden from communication with the outside world during the probation period.
Another point mentioned in your statements that we would like to comment on, which is “the progress in the infrastructure of democracy”, which was exemplified by the presence of elections and referendums without the interference of the state. Apart from this statement being a form of whitewashing of the authority’s appearance, but it also contained huge fallacies, as both elections and referendums in themselves are not proof of democracy, if they were not accompanied by the freedom of nomination or had been impacted by the executive authority whether directly or indirectly during the election process and affected civil and political rights, otherwise they are considered as a cover for dictatorship and oppression.
That was manifested in the March 2018 presidential elections where candidates had been persecuted, as both Former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Annan and Colonel Ahmad Qanswa had been arrested after announcing that they will run for elections, and Ahmed Shafik was deported from the UAE following his candidacy for the elections. Not to mention the arrest of dozens of opponents, activists, journalists and human rights defenders in parallel with these elections, accusing them of joining terrorist groups and spreading false news, which led to the siege of many rights, on top of which is the right to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.
And in reference to the draft law of civil association currently presented before the parliament as an alternative to Law 70/2017 which you view as a “leap forward in civil society”, an opinion that we oppose, as we see that it is not very different from the law before the amendment, replacing the penalties in this law from prison to financial fines amounting to one million Egyptian pounds, and giving the security services the authority to supervise the activities of civil society through the central unit of the associations which falls under the competent minister, who will determine the executive regulations in relation to other state agencies. In addition to a number of other disapprovals detailed in a joint statement by 10 human rights organizations reject this law, that considers it a remarketing of repression.
Another point that was mentioned in the same statement which is worth contemplation, is the allegation of “closing the prisons to the NCHR visit” on the pretext of different security reasons, which raises serious questions about the nature of the NCHR’s role and the extent of its capabilities, if its activity is subject to the approval of the security services which is entitled for example: to determine the prisons allowed for visitation, the timing of the visit and even the names of the approved delegation sent by the council in such visits, and the difference between it and between independent rights organizations that are initially forbidden from this activity, which makes them more aware of what is happening inside prisons. And whether this statement is proof of the Council’s conviction and the extent to which the country allows of human rights monitoring and its unwillingness to strengthen this role.
The statements made by the head of the NCHR and other previous statements by leaders of the Council raise concerns about the Council’s awareness of the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt and its commitment to the Paris Convention on national human rights institutions, which stipulate the protection of human rights and their role in drawing the government’s attention to human rights violations, rather than seeking excuses and embellishing their behavior in committing these systematic violations, not to mention the existence of an an organized campaign of opposition political entities that aim at perpetuating the country’s massive violationd of human rights, such as torture, enforced disappearances and the absence of guarantees to fair trial, documented by local and international organizations.