Thursday, 29 September, 2022 marks three years since Egyptian human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and British-Egyptian writer and pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah were arrested by the Egyptian authorities. As a global coalition of civil society organisations and individuals, we come together on the anniversary of their arrest to call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately drop all charges, close all cases involving them, and promptly release el-Baqer and Abdel Fattah. In addition, the coalition urges the British authorities to demand consular access and to intervene to secure the release and deportation to the UK of their citizen Alaa Abdel Fattah, as his health has deteriorated and he is in a critical and life-threatening condition following more than 180 days on hunger strike.
Alaa Abdel Fattah is a software developer, prominent writer, and pro-democracy activist. He was one of the leading voices and campaigners during the 25 January, 2011 revolution. His writing has been published by numerous outlets; he is well-known for founding a prominent Arabic blog aggregator; and he has been involved in a number of citizen journalism initiatives. Abdel Fattah has been arrested under every Egyptian head of State who has led the country during his lifetime. His book, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, an anthology of some of his deeply influential writings, has received widespread recognition.
Mohamed el-Baqer is a human rights lawyer and the founder and director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms. He has a long history of defending individuals whose rights have been violated, including religious and ethnic minorities, and of providing pro bono legal assistance to those prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Both Abdel Fattah and el-Baqer have been globally acknowledged for their contributions to human rights and the rule of law. Most recently, it was announced that Abdel Fattah would be awarded the 2022 Electronic Frontier Foundation Award and that el-Baqer would receive the UIA/LexisNexis Rule of Law Award.
Appalling prison conditions and branded terrorists
On 29 September, 2019, Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested while fulfilling his probation requirements at the El-Dokki Police Station. He was questioned before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) on charges of joining an illegal organisation, receiving foreign funding, spreading false news, and misusing social media; he was then ordered into pretrial detention pending Case No. 1356 of 2019. On the same day, and while attending Abdel Fattah’s interrogation in his capacity as his lawyer, Mohamed el-Baqer was similarly arrested, questioned before the SSSP, and ordered into pretrial detention pending the same case and the same arbitrary charges. They were both transferred to Tora Maximum Security Prison 2 and upon their arrival there, were subjected to ill-treatment. Once at the prison, they were placed in inhumane detention conditions; denied outdoor recreation time or any sunlight at all; and denied access to books, newspapers, a radio, a clock, and a mirror. In May 2022, after two and a half years of detention under these conditions, Abdel Fattah was transferred to the Wadi al-Natroun Prison Complex; El-Baqer remains in Tora Maximum Security Prison 2. Both have suffered severe deterioration in their physical and mental health as a result of the conditions of their incarceration.
Since their arrest, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer have been placed on the country’s terrorist list in relation to a separate case for which they have never been questioned or been given the right to defend themselves (Case No. 1781 of 2019). As a result of this designation, they face a travel ban, asset freeze, and for el-Baqer, potential disbarment as a lawyer. On 31 August, 2020, el-Baqer was questioned before the SSSP and his name was added to a third case: Case No. 855 of 2020. Then, in October 2021, lawyers learned that Abdel Fattah, el-Baqer, and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (popularly known as Mohamed Oxygen) would be referred to the Emergency State Security Court (ESSC) in yet another case. The misdemeanor charge from Case No. 1356 of 2019 was simply copied into this new case, docketed as Case No. 1228 of 2021/Emergency State Security. Notwithstanding President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s lifting of the state of emergency in October 2021, on 20 December, 2021, and following an unfair trial lacking proper due process in which defense lawyers were denied the right to present a defense on behalf of their clients and denied permission to copy the case files, Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison and el-Baqer and Oxygen to four years in prison on charges of publishing false news. The time they spent in pre-trial detention pending the original case (Case No. 1356 of 2019) will not count as time served toward prison sentences, and the verdict, which cannot be judicially appealed, has since been ratified, as required for cases brought before the ESSC.
In April 2022, Alaa Abdel Fattah’s family announced that he had gained British citizenship, but had been – and continues to be – denied the right to consular visits. In the same month, Abdel Fattah launched a hunger strike to protest the refusal of Egyptian authorities to investigate the complaints that he and his family had previously submitted involving violations faced in detention since his September 2019 arrest, and to demand that Egyptian officials allow consular visits and access to his family’s lawyers in the United Kingdom ‘so that they can take all possible legal measures regarding not only the violations he has been subjected to, but all the crimes against humanity he has witnessed during his imprisonment’. Abdel Fattah remains on hunger strike; his family has raised serious and time-sensitive concerns about his health, particularly as the Egyptian authorities refuse to acknowledge his hunger strike.
As Egypt gears up to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Sharm el-Sheikh this November, it is of paramount importance that the Egyptian authorities release Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer. The country cannot purport to lead on the international stage through fora like COP 27 without also opening up civic space, a demand that has been made by Egyptian civil society organisations and hundreds of allies around the world. Continuing to arbitrarily detain so many, Abdel Fattah and el-Baqer included, indicates that Egypt is not serious about making meaningful progress on human rights and sends an alarming message that flies in the face of the polished image it seeks to convey.
We, the undersigned, reiterate our call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer, as well as their co-defendant Mohamed Oxygen, who similarly marked three years in detention earlier this month. We urge the British authorities to intervene immediately to save Abdel Fattah’s life as his health deteriorates at an alarming speed. And we call on the international community to add their voices in support of calls to release Abdel Fattah, el-Baqer, and all of those unjustly and arbitrarily detained in Egypt.
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Bridge That Gap Initiative
COP26 Coalition Cambridge
Climate Sense Africa
Committee for Justice (CFJ)
The Committee to Protect Journalists
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
EgyptWide for Human Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
El Nadeem Center
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
The Freedom Initiative
Friends of the Earth Scotland
HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
MENA Rights Group
NEW HOPE FOR THE POOR
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Rain Drops Community Foundation
Refugees Platform in Egypt (RFE)
Reporters Without Borders
Robert F Kennedy Human Rights
Sierra Leone School Green Clubs (SLSGC)
Sinai Foundation for Human Rights
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
UIA-IROL (The Institute for the Rule of Law of the International Association of Lawyers)
Women Human Rights Defenders Hub
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Maggie Chapman MSP
Ramy Shaath, Egyptian-Palestinian human rights defender
Solafa Magdy, Egyptian journalist and human rights defender
Egypt is ranked 142 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report, ARTICLE 19’s annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.