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Press briefing note on Egypt, United States and Ethiopia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 5 June 2018
Subject: (1) Egypt, (2) United States and (3) Ethiopia

(1) Egypt

A spate of arrests, interrogations and detentions of activists, bloggers and journalists in Egypt over the last few weeks appears to indicate a significant escalation in the crackdown against the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country.

Among those detained just in the month of May are prominent blogger Wael Abbas; lawyer and civil society activist Haytham Mohamadein on charges including calling for illegal protests; Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, following tweets he had posted criticising the President’s plan to cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia – he has reportedly been charged with spreading false news and joining an illegal group; blogger Mohammed Oxygen; activist Sherif al-Rouby; activist Amal Fathy, who has been charged with using the internet and social media with the intention of promoting ideas and beliefs calling for the commitment of terrorist acts through spreading false news, among other charges; and comedian Shady Abu Zaid. These are just some of the emblematic cases, from just last month.

In many of these cases, the individuals were not presented with a warrant. Charges they face carry long prison terms. For example, journalist Ismail Alexandrani, who has been held in custody since November 2015, was on 22 May this year sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a military court in Cairo on charges of belonging to an illegal group and disseminating false information.

The recent wave of arrests comes after a statement in February by the General Prosecutor ordering prosecutors to monitor social media sites that “spread lies and fake news”.

Also last month, on 3 May, the Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to renew the detention of Gamal Abdel Fattah, Hassan Hussein and Ahmed Manna for yet another 15 days. The three men have been in detention for more than three months after they called for a boycott of the presidential elections that were held in Egypt in March.

We are extremely concerned that arrests like this, often followed by harsh sentences, and often for simply exercising the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and assembly, have become commonplace. Arbitrary detention has become a chronic problem in Egypt. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regards the deprivation of liberty as arbitrary when it results from the exercise of certain rights and freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It is important that civil society, including human rights defenders, journalists and others, is able to highlight issues of concern and serve as watchdogs. But instead they are being jailed, including for mere tweets critical of the authorities, as well as being subjected to other reprisals, such as travel bans, freezing of assets, intimidation and harassment, and an extremely restrictive legal environment in which to operate.

We call on the authorities to fully ensure the rights of all detainees to their physical and psychological integrity, and to due process.

We call unequivocally for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently being held by the Egyptian authorities for the legitimate exercise of their human rights.

(2) United States

We are deeply concerned that the zero tolerance policy recently put in place along the US southern border has led to people caught entering the country irregularly being subjected to criminal prosecution and having their children – including extremely young children -taken away from them as a result.

The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child. While the rights of children are generally held in high regard in the US, it is the only country in the world not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We encourage it to accede to the Convention and to fully respect the rights of all children.

The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns. It is therefore of great concern that in the US migration control appears to have been prioritised over the effective care and protection of migrant children.

Children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents’ migration status. Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.

Information from various sources suggests that several hundred children have been separated from their families since last October. The practice of separating children from their parents is being applied to both asylum-seekers and other migrants in vulnerable situations, and we note that the American Civil Liberties Union has brought a class action case on behalf of hundreds of parents who have been forcibly separated from their children.

The majority of people arriving at the U.S.’s southern border have fled Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – in many cases either because of rampant insecurity and violence, or because of violations of a range of other rights, such as health, education, and housing.

The US should immediately halt this practice of separating families and stop criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offence – that of irregular entry or stay in the US.

We call on the US authorities to adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life.

(3) Ethiopia

We are very encouraged by the lifting of the State of Emergency Decree in Ethiopia Saturday, three months ahead of its planned expiration date. We also welcome the release on 26 May of a number of political detainees, bloggers and other individuals who had been detained following their participation in protests in recent years. The Attorney-General, in announcing these releases, said they were made with the intention to widen the political space, as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s agenda.

During his visit to Ethiopia in April this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had witnessed the tremendous hope among civil society activists, traditional leaders and others in Ethiopian society that the new Government would act swiftly to secure human rights protections for everyone in the country. These latest developments are positive indications, and our Regional UN Human Rights Office for East Africa remains ready to help continue to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in Ethiopia.


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 97 67 / rcolville@ohchr.org), or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 94 66 / ethrossell@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ).

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.

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