A continuing onslaught against young activists by the Egyptian authorities is a blatant attempt to crush the spirit of the country’s bravest and brightest young minds, and nip in the bud any future threat to their rule, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.
Generation Jail: Egypt’s Youth Go From Protest to Prison focuses on the cases of 14 young people who are among thousands who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and jailed in Egypt over the past two years in connection with protests. The briefing shows that the country has reverted fully to being a police state.
“Two years after the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, mass protests have been replaced by mass arrests. By relentlessly targeting Egypt’s youth activists, the authorities are crushing an entire generation’s hopes for a brighter future,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“After the 2011 uprising, Egypt’s youth were lauded as a beacon of hope by the country’s military leaders and its international partners alike. It was their idealism and commitment to calls for ‘bread, freedom and social justice’ that proved a crucial driving force for change. Yet, today, many of these young activists are languishing behind bars, providing every indication that Egypt has regressed into a state of all-out repression.”
Amnesty International again strongly denounced yesterday’s killing of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat in a bombing in Cairo, which it called "a despicable, cowardly and cold-blooded act of murder.” If the rule of law is to prevail in Egypt, judges and prosecutors must be free to do their job without the threat of violence.
The organization has urged the authorities not to respond to the killing with further repression targeting peaceful protesters and activists, expressing concern over the numbers now held as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent.
More than a year after he came to power, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has shown no sign of easing its repressive rule. The crackdown has seen more than 41,000 people arrested, charged or indicted with a criminal offense, or sentenced after unfair trials, according to the last available estimates by Egyptian human rights activists.
“The scale of the crackdown is overwhelming. The Egyptian authorities’ have shown that they will stop at nothing in their attempts to crush all challenges to their authority,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Those behind bars range from internationally lauded youth movement leaders, to human rights defenders, to students arrested for wearing T-shirts with anti-torture slogans.”
The Protest Law, passed in November 2013, enables the authorities to arrest and prosecute peaceful demonstrators on a whim, and criminalizes the very act of 10 or more people taking to the streets without prior authorization. It also grants the security forces free rein to use excessive and lethal force against peaceful protesters.
“The Protest Law has become a fast-track to prison for peaceful demonstrators, who are being treated like criminals. It must be scrapped immediately,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
A crackdown that began with the arrests of Mohamed Morsi and his supporters, including senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, in July 2013 has rapidly expanded to encompass the whole of Egypt’s political spectrum.
Among the youths who have found themselves arbitrarily imprisoned are prominent activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel from the “6 April Youth Movement,” Ahmed Douma a well-known blogger and protester, as well as Alaa Abd El Fattah, a blogger and a vocal critic of the authorities who spent time in prison under Hosni Mubarak as well as the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
They also include prominent human rights defenders Yara Sallam and Mahienour El-Massry.
They join those detained for protesting against the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, such as Irish national Ibrahim Halawa, or university students Abrar Al-Anany, Menatalla Moustafa and teacher Yousra Elkhateeb.
All have been imprisoned for defying Egypt’s draconian Protest Law, or other legislation that arbitrarily restricts the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
A new wave of arrests in mid-2015 saw at least 160 people detained in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance according to the Egyptian activist group Freedom For the Brave. The Muslim Brotherhood movement separately reported new arrests of its members.
The Egyptian authorities have often sought to justify their heavy handed tactics by saying they are maintaining stability and security. While some demonstrators have used violence during protests, the response of the security forces has routinely been disproportionate.
Many of those detained have found themselves hauled before courts on trumped-up or politically motivated charges, or sentenced during mass trials in which hundreds have been convicted based on little or no evidence, or solely on the basis of testimonies from the security forces or investigations by National Security.
Others have been detained for prolonged periods without charge or trial. They include student Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, who was just 18 years old while he was arrested on his way home from a protest because of the slogan on his T-shirt.
According to his family and lawyers he was tortured to “confess” to terrorism related activities. He spent his 19th birthday in prison and has now spent more than 500 days without charge or trial.
The thousands of protesters convicted on spurious charges or because of laws that arbitrarily restrict freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, stand in stark contrast to the paltry number of security forces prosecuted for human rights violations since January 2011. Not a single member of the security forces has faced criminal charges over the deaths of hundreds of Morsi supporters at Rabaa Adawiya and al-Nadha Squares on 14 August 2013.
Amnesty International is warning Egypt’s international partners not to sacrifice human rights in their talks with the authorities.
The leaders of influential EU countries, including France, Italy and Germany, have all sat down with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi while his administration has been putting thousands of its political opponents behind bars. And there is no indication that stopping gross human rights violations in Egypt was on the agenda during these meetings.
The UK has also invited President al-Sisi for talks, with a spokesperson confirming the news just a day after a court sentenced ousted President Mohamed Morsi to death following an unfair trial. The U.S. government announced in March that it was lifting a freeze on arms transfers to Egypt and would also offer continued military and security assistance to the country’s army and security forces.
“The gross hypocrisy of Egypt’s partners has been laid bare in a race for lucrative business deals, political influence and intelligence, as well as new sales and transfers of policing equipment that could facilitate human rights violations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“World leaders are breaking the pledges they made to stand by Egypt’s young people when Mubarak fell in February 2011. Egypt is jailing peaceful activists while the international community looks the other away. There’s silence from states, silence from world leaders and silence in the UN Human Rights Council.”
The authorities have justified the crackdown by pointing to a rise in political violence. Egypt is facing attacks from armed groups, which the authorities have said have led to the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces, particularly in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, as well as a number of civilians. Amnesty International unreservedly condemns attacks on civilians, including the killing yesterday of the Public Prosecutor. However, the organization urges the Egyptian authorities not to use such threats as a pretext for trampling upon human rights.