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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press briefing note on Egypt

18 October 2019

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Ravina Shamdasani

Location: Geneva 

Date: 18 October 2019

Subject:  Egypt


As you may recall, in September, the High Commissioner expressed serious concerns about the widespread arrests that had been taking place in Egypt during and after a series of protests in the country highlighting a range of socio-economic issues. Unfortunately such arrests are continuing, and have included a number of well-known and respected civil society figures. The following are some such cases:

  • On 12 October, plainclothes security officers arrested Esraa Abdelfattah, a journalist and prominent human rights defender, in Cairo. Ms. Abdelfattah was taken to an undisclosed place, where she was reportedly beaten because she refused to unlock her mobile phone. She was then allegedly forced to stand facing a wall for seven hours, after her phone was unlocked through enforced use of her fingers or thumb, enabling the contents of her phone to be searched. The following day, 13 October, she appeared before the prosecutor, who ordered her detention for 15 days pending investigation on charges of "collaborating with a terrorist organization to achieve its goals"; "defamation and the spread of false news"; and "misuse of social media". On the same day, she began a hunger strike. She currently remains detained at Al-Qanateer women's prison.
  • Two weeks earlier, on 29 September, security forces arrested Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent blogger and human rights defender, as he fulfilled his probation conditions by reporting to the Dokki police station in Cairo. Allegedly, prison officers blindfolded Mr. Abdel Fattah, forced him to strip down to his underwear and walk down a prison corridor while being struck on his back and neck. Prior to his arrest, Mr. Abdel Fattah had served a five-year prison sentence for organizing a protest without permission. He has been serving probation by having to spend each night in a police cell since his conditional release in March 2019. 
  • Later the same day, on 29 September, Mr. Abdel Fattah's lawyer Mohammed El-Baqer – a well-known human rights lawyer and director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms – was also arrested while attending the interrogation of his client Mr. Abdel Fattah at the State Security Prosecution. Since his arrest, he has allegedly been on occasion subjected to physical and verbal abuse, denied access to drinking water and sanitation, as well as medical assistance. 

Mr. Abdel Fattah and Mr. El-Baqer have both been accused of the following: "belonging to a terrorist group"; "funding a terrorist group"; "spreading false news undermining national security"; and "using social media to commit publishing offenses". On 9 October 2019, the detention of both men, who are being held at Tora Maximum Security Prison, was renewed for an additional 15 days. 

These are by no means the only such cases – simply three of the most prominent ones.

Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights. The actions of the authorities at all levels – police, intelligence services, prosecutors and judiciary – should be in line with international norms and standards regarding the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as due process and fair trial, including the right to legal assistance and not to be compelled to incriminate oneself.

All those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights, or lending legal assistance to others who have been arrested, should be released immediately.

We also remind Egypt of its obligations under international law to respect and protect the right of a person not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This is a non-derogable right. We call on the Egyptian authorities to promptly and effectively investigate any allegations of torture or ill-treatment in detention and to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent such acts.


For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / [email protected] or Ravina Shamdasani - 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

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