This statement was originally published on cihrs.org on 14 March 2020.
A tweet commenting on the conduct of Egypt’s public prosecution resulted in a three-year sentence for Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
The sentence, issued in absentia on September 19, 2019 and only known by Hassan recently, came with a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds. It stemmed from commentary posted by Hassan on Twitter, which criticized the Public Prosecution’s abandonment of its role in defending the citizenry or the public, instead siding with the state and its security apparatus against the citizenry:
“The job of the public prosecutor in Egypt is no longer to stop violations by the Interior Ministry; his role is now to provide legal and judicial cover for such crimes. He has abandoned his role as a public prosecutor to protect society to become a defender of the systematic, daily assault on it.”
The tweet referenced the prosecution’s illegal conduct toward writer Alaa al-Aswany whose fundamental rights were violated as he was detained and subjected to an illegal search and confiscation at Cairo’s international airport in March 2018.
The charges against Hassan including “publishing statements likely to undermine the judicial authority” and “falsely claiming the public prosecutor had abandoned his role”, in addition to the charges of disturbing or harming “public security” or the “public interest” ; these are routinely levied against anyone who peacefully exercises their right to free speech to criticize or comment on governance and public affairs in Egypt.
The judiciary’s sentencing of Hassan to prison for exercising his right to free speech stands in stark contrast to its October 2018 dismissal of a lawsuit the writer filed against a media personality who incited listeners to murder Hassan on his television program. The same month, the public prosecution initiated a lawsuit against Hassan based on an anonymous complaint. The judiciary’s conduct towards Hassan demonstrates that it views free speech as a crime deserving of imprisonment, while viewing death threats or incitement to murder as speech that is sanctioned or approved.
The case resulting in Hassan’s three-year prison sentence (no. 5530 of 2019) is yet another manifestation of the Egyptian government’s deep-seated vindictiveness against rights defenders, while at the same time demonstrating the extent to which the role of judiciary has been degraded under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The adoption of so-called legislative and constitutional reforms has tightened his stranglehold on the entire justice system – rendering it a tool to be manipulated for narrow political ends. This has not escaped the notice of the international community, with UN experts describing sentences issued by Egyptian courts a “travesty of justice.”
The ruling against Bahey eldin Hassan is only the latest in a series of reprisals against him – and many other Egyptian rights defenders – including death threats and seizures of personal and institutional assets. Hassan has additionally been placed on entry watch lists, and subjected to relentless media smear campaigns – aired several times on television – that go beyond slander to incitement to violence and murder.
In its over 13-month investigation of the tweet, the Public Prosecution failed to comply with the most fundamental legal rules and tenets, contravening Egypt’s constitution and law in its reckless drive to convict Hassan as harshly as possible and at all costs, even if these costs included the integrity and legality of the trial and investigation procedures. This intentional negligence by the judiciary renders it evident that it acted not in the interests of justice or in the interests of the public, but in the interests of the Sisi administration – interests that center on retaliating against human rights defenders and the political opposition.
Hassan hopes that the new public prosecutor, appointed in September 2019, will change course from functioning as an instrument of vengeance against political opponents and human rights defenders, to instead fulfilling its rightful role as a defender and protector of the public:
“I hope the new public prosecutor demonstrates that my criticism of the former prosecutor does not apply to him, by actually serving as a defender of society and the public rather than as counsel for the security establishment by legitimizing violations of the constitution, law, and human rights.”
CIHRS issued a legal commentary detailing the flawed and irregular trial procedures as well as the legally invalid ruling against Hassan. The ruling, among other illegalities, is based upon a clear violation of Article 71 of Egypt’s constitution, which prohibits custodial penalties for publication crimes.
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Source: MEDIA FEED