Under Attack: How Egypt’s security campaigns target rights defenders

This statement was originally published on afteegypt.org on 14 September 2021.

Under Attack. A report on the security and judicial campaigns targeting human rights defenders and independent human rights organizations in Egypt

Report methodology

The Monitoring and Documentation Unit of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) relied on monitoring and documenting the most prominent serious violations against human rights defenders, as well as the most prominent situations in which defenders and independent human rights organizations were subjected to security attacks aimed at restricting their right to work freely in an environment free of surveillance and targeting.

The report relied on the databases of victims of violations, to which AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit provides legal support.

The report also relied on documenting eight testimonies of victims’ families and lawyers, in addition to legal news published on the platforms and websites of independent Egyptian human rights organizations.

The report does not express all the violations against human rights defenders, nor the number of defenders targeted as a result of the security campaigns, as much as it expresses the most prominent violations they are exposed to.


Security and judicial prosecutions against independent human rights organizations in Egypt, their employees, as well as individual activists and human rights defenders, have not stopped since the outbreak of the January 2011 revolution until today. The forms of persecution varied and the means of liquidating the human rights movement ranged in a manner that resulted in a significant weakening of the human rights movement in Egypt, in light of the complete stifling of the public sphere and the closure of all peaceful expression accesses within it.

The process of liquidating the human rights movement escalated through a series of attacks, each of which included a package of security, legislative and judicial procedures against human rights defenders. The most prominent of which was: moving lawsuit 173 of 2011 known in the media as the “Foreign Funding Lawsuit”, and the procedures and prosecution that it entailed for a whole decade, including: arresting and detaining defenders, closing orders against human rights organizations, listing on terrorist lists, including travel bans and freezing funds. In addition, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi amended Article 78 of the Panel Code in 2014, allowing for tougher penalties against recipients of funds and donations from any entity and under any form, up to life imprisonment, and in some cases to execution. Finally, in 2019, the Egyptian parliament passed a new law regulating civil work. Two years later, the Council of Ministers issued the executive regulation for the law.

Neither the law nor the executive regulations have included any serious societal discussion with the concerned organizations and their employees and the human rights community in general. This made them deviate from the aspirations of those concerned with human rights.

While the human rights movement is divided over the mechanisms of interaction with the issue of reconciling the situation, do they accept working under the umbrella of a law that they did not participate in, and they have many reservations about? Or that reconciling the situation has become the only access for survival and work?

In light of the confusion of human rights organizations about their position on the issue of reconciling the situation, with the continuation of attacks and security and judicial prosecutions, and the escalation of international pressures critical of the human rights situation in Egypt, it seems that there are serious steps to interact with the two files of imprisoned defenders and the lawsuit of foreign funding No. 173 of 2011.

During the past two months, the Supreme State Security Prosecution has released five human rights defenders: activist Esraa Abdel-Fattah, researcher Shaimaa Samy, and lawyers Mahienour El-Masry, Sayed El-Banna, and Mohamed Helmy Hamdoun. All of them were in pretrial detention for varying periods of time pending different lawsuits, and all faced the same list of repeated accusations, most notably: joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, publishing false news and statements, and misusing one of the social media to carry out its crime.

A number of other defenders were also referred to trial, at the time of writing this report, some of whom were in arbitrary detention after serving two years of pretrial detention, which is the maximum period for pretrial detention according to the Criminal Procedures Code.

Meanwhile, Counselor Ali Mokhtar, the delegated investigation judge in the foreign funding lawsuit, decided that there is no reason to file a criminal lawsuit against a number of civil society organizations, entities, and associations, due to “insufficient evidence”. Almost a decade later, the investigations into the lawsuit began. The decision included removing the names of persons associated with the accusation from the lists of persons banned from traveling, anticipating arrival, and lists of banned from disposing of their money, whether liquid or movable.

As the unbanning the two human rights defenders: Esraa Abdel-Fattah, Nejad El-Borai, Azza Soliman, Hossam El-Din Ali, Magdy Abdel-Hamid, who are representatives of the associations: “United Group Lawyers Legal and Economic Consultants, Lawyers for Justice and Peace, and the Egyptian Association for the Advancement of Participation and the Egyptian Democratic Institute”. While the delegated investigative judge stated in a statement on the lawsuit that: “The number of organizations, associations, and entities for which an order was issued that there is no reason to file a criminal lawsuit is more than 180”.

Without going into the motives of these steps, AFTE believes that the test of the seriousness of the Egyptian authorities’ handling of the human rights file can be measured by monitoring the development that has occurred specifically in the thorny issues represented in: the issue of imprisoned defenders and the crisis of reconciling the situations of existing institutions in accordance with the last law and regulations, in addition to complete procedures for closing the foreign funding lawsuit No. 1173 of 2011 and all procedures that resulted from it, such as freezing funds and banning travel.

Hence, this report attempts, firstly, to monitor the number of human rights defenders who are held in pretrial detention pending investigations in several lawsuits, and secondly, to expose the most prominent patterns of violations, whether committed against detained defenders during arrest and detention or to which defenders are exposed in general (organizations and individuals). We hope that this call will contribute to highlighting the issues of human rights defenders in order to complete what has been started.

First Section: Serious violations against imprisoned defenders

Among at least 19 imprisoned defenders monitored by AFTE, two are in arbitrary detention in violation of the law, after they exceeded the maximum two-years pretrial detention period in accordance with Article 143 of the Criminal Procedures Code. While authorities are detention 17 other defenders in pretrial detention in multiple lawsuits, the majority of them have not been referred to trial until writing this report, including one woman and eighteen men.

The most vulnerable to abuse among defenders were human rights lawyers, as the list of detained defenders included 11 lawyers. The targeting of lawyers working in human rights organizations did not stop, but it extended to include anyone who provides legal support services to defendants on the background of political lawsuits or freedom of expression issues, as the list indicates that 6 owners or employees of private law firms have been targeted, in addition to targeting a freelance lawyer.

Read the full AFTE report

The post Under Attack: How Egypt’s security campaigns target rights defenders appeared first on IFEX.



Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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