The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC) condemns the arrest of seven women human rights defenders in Cairo on 21st June 2014.
Yara Sallam, Sanaa Seif, Hanan Mustafa Mohamed, Salwa Mihriz, Samar Ibrahim, Nahid Sherif (known as Nahid Bebo), Fikreya Mohamed, and 15 other activists were arrested by the Egyptian authorities while participating in a peaceful demonstration calling for the repeal of Egypt’s army-backed Protest and Public Assembly Law. Law 107 of 2013 essentially grants security officials and authority figures the discretion to ban any protest without justifying the grounds for banning them. It also allows police officers to forcibly disperse any protest, and sets heavy prison sentences for peaceful protest and expression.
The 23 HRDs are charged with: organizing a demonstration without prior authorization and participating in said unauthorized demonstration; the possession of tools that could cause death if used as weapons or tools used to assault persons without a legal justification; the possession of incendiary materials and fireworks without a license and during participation in the demonstration; the use of force and violence to terrorize and intimidate citizens; deliberate destruction of public and private property; the possession of tools used to assault persons without a legal justification(see Nazra statement attached for further details). These charges do not satisfy reasonable grounds for arrest as the protestors were not in possession of said tools and/or weapons.
The conditions of their arrests violate Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law. Detainees report being beaten by plain-clothed police collaborators, questioned without the presence of their lawyers, and forced to give false confessions under threat that they will be charged with affiliation to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. These acts breach Articles 1, 5a, 6a, and 12.2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as basic fundamental rights guaranteed by the UDHR, ICCPR, the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, and other international and regional human rights standards.
Indeed, in the past few months, Egyptian human rights defenders have experienced an increase in attacks perpetrated against them, including acts of intimidation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, disproportionate and harsher sentencing, and imprisonment of individuals engaging in the defense of human rights or attempting to peacefully engage in democratic processes or exercising the right to freedom of assembly and expression.
On 24 June 2014, the women human rights defenders were suddenly moved from the Second Tagamo Police Station, where they have been held since June 22, to Kanater prison, located in the outskirts of Cairo. Their male counterparts, on the other hand, were transferred to Tora prison, located in the south of Cairo. The reason behind this transfer is still not clear.
While a court session has been scheduled for the WHRDs to take place on Sunday 29 June, 2014 at the Heliopolis Misdemeanor Court, the lack of clarity on the rationale behind the transfer of the arrested WHRDs to prison has been an characteristic of the behaviour of Egyptian authorities, especially in cases pertaining to political prisoners. In this case, after the Masr al-Gedeida’s prosecution’s decision to detain the WHRDs for several days pending investigations, they were moved from their initial detention location in Masr al- Gedeida police station, and their whereabouts were unknown for several hours. Due to the diligent search conducted by families, lawyers, and human rights activists, the location of the WHRDs was revealed to be in the Second Tagamo Police Station. The same cryptic behaviour was repeated today, with the sudden transfer of the WHRDs to Kanater prison.
Human rights defenders, media outlets, and international institutions around the world have joined efforts to demand that the Egyptian authorities immediately and unconditionally release the HRDs under arrest since 21st June, as well as all political prisoners.
In addition to joining in solidarity with the Egyptian and international civil society in demanding the release of the 22 activists, the WHRD IC also remind the Government of Egypt of its duty to protect WHRDs from violence, retaliation, and intimidation, and remind Egypt of its obligation to ensure their full enjoyment of their rights, and call upon the Egyptian government to:
We call on the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at the UN to send out communications to government entities, and ask them to conduct a thorough investigation of this case.
en Español: IC_SP_Statement_-_Egypt_VVprJune27
en Français: final WHRDIC Egypt Statement June 26_FR_AB