The status of human rights in Egypt has greatly deteriorated during the first two years of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s presidential term as several violations were committed against opponents of the regime.
“I do not think that Egypt has ever seen such a decline or attack on human rights as the human rights movement has witnessed during the first two years of Al-Sisi’s rule,” human rights lawyer Gamal Eid told Daily News Egypt.
Human rights violations include maltreatment inside prisons, police brutality on the streets, torture cases inside detention facilities, and the disappearance of individuals, as well as restriction on the work of civil society members and advocacy organisations and the arrest of journalists and scholars for writing critical content.
Even lawyers were subjected to violations. Many were assaulted, jailed, and tortured to death. In addition to that, lawyers are no longer allowed to attend National Security prosecution investigation sessions with detainees.
Activists consider these practices a deliberate attack against all youth, not only opposition groups, as youth have remained the regime’s foremost enemies since they first planned the revolution of 2011 and boycotted the presidential elections of 2014.
Reports documenting violations throughout the past two years highlight the worsening situation, with entries including sentences relating to oppression, suppression, and subjugation.
The most recent attacks on youth were seen during the period between 15 and 25 April when hundreds gathered to protest against the decision to transfer the sovereignty of Tiran and Sanfir islands to Saudi Arabia. During this period around 382 people were arrested from demonstrations, homes, cafes, and streets, according to the Freedom for Brave Facebook page. Others were stopped on the streets by security forces to review national ID cards and inspect mobiles to check whether the individuals are supporters of Al-Sisi or not. The majority of protesters were released pending trial but having paid costly fines.
Journalists and NGO members referred to the arrests of people without charges and pre-trial detention as ”unprecedented” in Egypt’s history.
Prisons and enforced disappearance
According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) the number of political detainees exceeded 60,000, including about 10,000 in pre-trial detention. This number led to overcrowding in the current prisons and the construction of 10 new prisons, said Eid.
Prisoners’ poor conditions are the most notorious of these violations, due to circulation on social media platforms. Inside prisons, detainees are suffering in unhygienic cells and are prevented from receiving proper medical treatment, clean food and drink, and warm clothes and blankets in winter.
Eid explained that the presence of a huge number of detainees is due to unfair trials, the use of pre-trial detention as punishment, and a lack of punishment for police brutality.
Enforced disappearances and the condition of detainees have triggered international and local criticism over the past two years. Families of detainees published their tragedies on social media and filed complaints to the National Council of Human Rights (NCHR), the Ministry of Interior, the prosecutor general, and NGOs, but all were ignored.
According to a statement released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Al-Aqrab prison, where alleged Muslim brotherhood members are imprisoned, is the worst prison in Egypt. An Al-Aqrab prisoner went on several hunger strikes to pressure the prison administration to improve conditions there.
Torture and police brutality
In the past two years, the number of citizens who have been assaulted and beaten on the streets and at police stations by police officers has increased.
Police brutality has highly escalated as have the number citizens tortured to death in police custody, due to the lack of accountability of accused police officers. The issue has become a major source of public outrage in Egypt.
Enforced disappearance and harsh court sentences
Hundreds of people, mainly youth, have been subjected to an enforced disappearance. According to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) there were 1,840 cases of enforced disappearances recorded in Egypt in 2015.
‘’There is obviously great deterioration in the human rights field in the country. The enforced disappearance started with random arrests of people due to political events that occurred in opposition to 30 June revolution in 2013,” lawyer Helim told Daily News Egypt.
People have reappeared in court or in prisons following court rulings after long periods of absence. There are around 800 cases of enforced disappearance and 600 have reappeared from them, Helim continued.
Police officers use solitary confinement to punish certain detainees who are to be prevented from contact with any individual.
Detainees facing this practice include revolutionary activist Ahmed Douma, who has been detained in solitary confinement for three months, lawyer Malek Adly,for one month, and journalist Youssef Shaaban for eight months.
Detainees in solitary confinement are not allowed to receive food from their families and are prevented from receiving medical care. This treatment can cause severe psychological and physical problems, and in some cases it can lead to death or suicide.
Press freedom and NGOs
The most recent attack on the press was the storming of the Press Syndicate on 1 May. The event led to the 24-hour detention of the Press Syndicate leader Yehia Qalash, secretary general Gamal Abdel Reheem, and undersecretary Khaled El-Balshy in late May.
The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) reported in their second biannual report released in February that the number of violations doubled in the second half of 2015. The media freedom programme at AFTE recorded an increase in violations of approximately 112% compared to the first half of 2015, where only 172 cases were recorded.
The violations recorded against the press included prevention of media coverage, illegal detention, confiscation and damage of equipment, deletion of material, arbitrary dismissal, arrest, and censorship of articles.
Many journalist and scholars are jailed because of their work about certain political issue in the country. Most of them are facing pre-trial detention without being referred to courts.
Regarding civil society, Eid said there are escalating attacks on civil society members and NGOs, especially those working in advocacy movements. They are targeted and their reports restricted for having documented state violations.
Mohamed Farouk, head of the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies, told Daily News Egypt in March: ”NGOs are currently suffering the worst conditions they have faced since the1980s, which hinders development work in Egypt. No criticism or attempts at improvement are welcomed by the state from NGOs.” Farouk is referring to the era of former president Mohamed Anwar Sadat when he effectively ended civil work and made all organisations government affiliated.
Farouk further noted: “since 2011, numerous NGOs have been closed, including 60 local and a number of international ones. A small percentage is present currently, and these suffer from ongoing violations and restrictions.”
Several right groups and NGOs, including ANHRI considered the reopening of the “foreign funding case” of 2011 as part of the escalating attacks on civil society.
In one of the most recent cases, the El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture received a closure order, purportedly for being licensed as a clinic while operating as a rehabilitation centre.
Twenty local human rights NGOs condemned in February the recent string of travel bans issued against a number of political activists and human rights defenders, saying: “it seems the travel bans issued against many human rights defenders recently constitute an attempt to turn Egypt’s borders into a mass prison cell.”
The statement came following cases of travel ban orders against public figures including Eid in February and poet and activist Omar Hazek in mid-January. Several others have also been barred from travel, including the director of the ECRF Mohamed Lotfy barred in June 2015, and activist Esraa Abdel Fattah barred in January 2015. In December 2014, both directors of the Egyptian Democratic Institute, Hossam Al-Din Ali and Ahmed Ghoneim, were barred from travelling.
Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and high-ranking state officials have denied any reports or incidents of violations, and furthermore, justified the actions in several press conferences and statements. They urged that Egypt has the best human rights atmosphere and its prisoners are “enjoying stable conditions”. Other cases of torture or police brutality were referred to as isolated cases that do not represent the ministry’s actions as a whole.
In January 2011, people gathered in Tahrir Square to expel the dictatorship that had ruled for 30 years, chanting for freedom and social justice. The current situation was not anticipated during the 18 days of the revolution. People sacrificed their lives for a vision of freedom that has still not been reached.
Throughout the past five years, social media has been the revolutionists’ voice to the world to speak up about their dreams and aspirations for their countries as well as to express their pains and depression about their current conditions.
Police brutality and human rights violations were among the main reasons for the eruption of the 25 January Revolution and, despite two revolutions and two elected presidents, these continue to this day.