A teenage boy has had his period of pre-trial detention extended for 45 days by a North Cairo court Monday, in a case that centres around a political t-shirt worn by the student. The renewal will bring his total time in detention to over 550 days.
Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, 19, was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘nation without torture’ on the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. He was arrested on his way home from a protest against military rule and the Muslim Brotherhood, and has yet to be charged or tried for any offences.
“We arrived at the court and Hussein and his lawyers were present, but without appearing before a judge they were informed the detention was to be renewed,” Mahmoud Hussein’s brother Tarek told Daily News Egypt after leaving court.
Tarek also said that his brother’s trial has been delayed more than 24 times, with each delay averaging about five to seven days, “which indicates that more than half the time of the detention is due to a direct instruction from the interior ministry”.
“This is unconstitutional,” he added.
Mahmoud Hussein’s defence lawyer Mokhtar Mounir, who works with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, told Daily News Egypt: “Mahmoud was not present in the room when the judge made the decision. We are going to file a complaint to the Prosecutor General within a week because having a decision made on your case without the defendant present violates law number 142.”
“After the latest legislative amendments passed by the cabinet, now the number of days in which a person can be held in detention before a trial is unlimited, which is unconstitutional. The changes are being abused and used as a tool to harass opposition in society,” Mounir said. Hussein’s case has been picked up by activists and rights groups internationally, with prominent NGO Amnesty International also having campaigned on his case.
Amnesty has called on President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Egyptian authorities to “release prisoner of conscience Mahmoud Hussein immediately and unconditionally and for all charges against him to be dropped, as he is detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly”.
“Mahmoud Hussein is one of many in Egypt’s prisons that are being held for months without charge or trial under renewable detention orders. But, Egypt is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and assembly,” the NGO said in a petition to the Egyptian government.
Pre-trial detention is a controversial process in the Egyptian legal system, and has been frequently criticised by rights group as a tool to pressure anti-government activists to confess to alleged crimes.
Previously, the Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI) called on President Al-Sisi to make a legislative amendment on pre-trial detention, determining its period and giving justified reasons.
Public demonstration has also effectively been banned in Egypt by the controversial Protest Law introduced in 2013 after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, under which thousands of demonstrators have been arrested.
A similar case is that of photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, who has been detained for over a year without trial. Shawkan was arrested while covering the security forces’ dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda Squares sit-ins in August 2013.