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Egypt: Detained journalist accused of terrorism

    Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 11:54

    DOWNLOAD PDF OF UA 145/20 HERE

    On 30 August 2020, unlawfully detained journalist and human rights defender Esraa Abdelfattah was brought in front of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) for questioning on accusations of "joining a terrorist organization" as part of the recently opened case No. 855/2020.

    Esraa was abducted from the street by security forces in plain clothes on 12 October 2019 and held for eight hours at an undisclosed location managed by the National Security Agency. The NSA is a specialized police force. While held there, she said she was tortured. The next day she was transferred to the SSSP, a special branch of the prosecution responsible for investigating security threats. The SSSP ordered her detention in relation to case No. 488/2019 over investigations into unfounded charges of “joining a terrorist group in achieving its goals”, “disseminating false news” and “misusing social media”. The SSSP prosecutor questioned Esraa about her previous political activism. Since then, her pre-trial detention has been renewed, most recently on 24 August by the Cairo Criminal Court for another 45 days.

    On 30 August 2020, Esraa was brought in front of the SSSP to face questioning over investigations into a new case, No. 855/2020. The case includes activists like Mahienour el-Masry, journalist Solafa Magdy and human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer. Esraa was accused of “joining a terrorist organization” and “participating in a criminal agreement intended to commit a terrorist crime from inside prison”. Esraa’s lawyer told Amnesty International that the SSSP prosecutor accused Esraa of communicating with individuals outside prison to spread rumours and false news. He claimed that she was able to engage in such acts while in the prison courtyard exercising and during court sessions and appearances at the prosecution’s office. Esraa argued that the accusations were baseless as she had been cut off from the outside world from 10 March to 22 August 2020, when all prison visits were suspended by the authorities citing COVID-19 concerns. 

    After questioning her, the SSSP ordered her detention for 15 days, pending investigations.

    Please send a letter, fax or tweet to the Public Prosecutor.

    • Start with Dear Counsellor and a sentence about yourself to make your message unique.
    • Raise concerns about the ongoing arbitrary detention of journalist and human rights defender Esraa Abdelfattah who Amnesty International considers to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for her peaceful practice of her rights to freedom of expression, association and participation in public affairs.
    • Ask him to immediately and unconditionally release Esraa Abdelfattah and drop all charges against her. 
    • Until her release, seek guarantees that she is provided with means to regularly communicate with her family and lawyers. 
    • Urge him to independently and thoroughly investigate Esraa Abdelfattah’s allegations that she was tortured and ill-treated in other ways. Those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty. 
    • Call on the authorities to immediately release all those detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and take measures to protect the health of all prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Write to

    Public Prosecutor Hamada al-Sawi
    Office of the Public Prosecutor
    Madinat al-Rehab
    Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
    Fax:         011 202 2577 4716
    Twitter:     @EgyptJustice 

    Please copy

    His Excellency Ahmed Mahmoud A. Abu Zeid 
    Ambassador for the Arab Republic of Egypt 
    150 Metcalfe Street, Suite 1100 
    Ottawa, Ontario  K2P 1P1 
    Phone:        613 368 4911 
    Email:         egyptembottawa@gmail.com

    Deputy Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights
    Ahmed Ihab Gamal-Eldin
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    Corniche el-Nile
    Cairo, Egypt
    Fax:         011 202 2574 9713
    Email:         contact.us@mfa.gov.eg 
    Twitter:     @MfaEgypt

    Additional information

    On the night of 12 October 2019, Esraa Abdelfattah was abducted from her car before being taken to an undisclosed place of detention, managed by the National Security Agency, and was barred from contacting her family or lawyers. According to Esraa’s account, an NSA officer threatened to torture her after she refused to grant him access to her mobile phone. Several men then entered the room where she was held and began beating her on her face and body. The same NSA officer returned and ordered her again to unlock her phone. When Esraa refused again, the officer took off her sweatshirt, tied it around her neck and threatened to strangle her saying: “your life in exchange for the phone”, until she gave him her password. The officer then cuffed her hands and legs to prevent her from sitting or kneeling and kept her in a standing position for almost eight hours. Another officer warned that she would face further torture if she reported what had happened to the prosecutor. The following day, she described her ordeal to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, but prosecutors dismissed her complaint and failed to order investigations. Shortly after her arrest, Esraa went on hunger strike in protest of her detention and treatment. On 22 November 2019, she suspended it because of her deteriorating health condition.

    The initial case opened against Esraa, No. 488/2019, includes human rights defender and lawyer Mahienour el-Massry, politician Khalid Dawoud and political science professor Hassan Nefea. To date, the SSSP prosecutor did not produce any evidence against Esraa, other than an NSA investigation case file that neither she nor her lawyers were able to examine.

    On 10 March 2020, the Egyptian authorities suspended all prison visits citing COVID-19 fears. The Ministry of Interior announced on 15 August 2020 the resumption of prison visits on 22 August, with some restrictions in place. 
     
    On 24 August, Esraa’s sister was allowed to visit her. She learned that Esraa was taken to al-Qanater Prison hospital on 23 August as she was suffering a haemorrhage. Esraa told her sister that she also suffers from an irregular blood pressure and breathing difficulties that require oxygen therapy at the prison hospital.

    Esraa Abdelfattah was among the first human rights defenders in Egypt to face a travel ban in relation to the NGO foreign funding case known as “Case 173".  She was prevented from boarding a plane from Cairo International Airport on 13 January 2015. Since then, at least 30 other human rights defenders and civil society staff members have been banned from travel in relation to “Case 173”.

    Esraa is among the several prominent human rights defenders who have been rounded up in the aftermath of rare anti-government protests that broke out on 20 September 2019.

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    If you want Updates on this case, send your request to urgentaction@amnesty.ca with “Keep me updated on Esraa Abdelfattah” in the subject line.
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