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Egypt: UN human rights experts urge release of poet/songwriter

Egypt: El Behairy

26 July 2018


GENEVA (26 July 2018) - UN human rights experts* have urged Egyptian authorities to release poet Galal El Behairy, who has been detained since February for writing a song critical of government policies.

Mr. El Bahairy wrote the lyrics to the song ‘Balaha’, performed by Ramy Essam, and released on 26 February 2018. The music video was posted on social media, drawing over 3.7 million views. 

On 3 March, Mr. El Behairy was arrested by National Security Police and disappeared for a week before appearing to face charges of terrorist affiliation, disseminating false news, abusing social-media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military. At the time of his appearance, he showed signs of having been subjected to torture and beating.

On 6 May, he attended his first trial in the Military Court. The Court’s sentence has been delayed three times since 16 May, and is now expected on 28 July. He remains held in Tora Prison in Cairo.

“We are alarmed at the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of Mr. El Behairy which appears to be related solely to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity,” said the experts. 

Mr. El Behairy’s detention takes place against a backdrop of restrictions to freedom of artistic and other forms of expression and to the right to take part in cultural life in the country. “We have received allegations that it is increasingly common for artists, activists and journalists to be arrested and detained on charges such as ‘publishing false news’,” said the experts.

“We are very worried at the reported criminalisation of the legitimate exercise of artistic expression through the imposition of a range of dubious charges.”

Mr. El Behairy faces similar charges in a separate case brought by the High State-Security, which is still in the investigation phase. He can be detained for up to two years without trial.

“We urge the relevant authorities to investigate the alleged ill-treatment of Mr. El Behairy, and to acquit him of all charges related to the creative expression of his political views,” the experts said. “We recall that all individuals have the right to participate in varied information exchanges, to contribute to artistic expression, and to take part in cultural life and in the development of their society, including through political debate and expression of opinion and dissent, without fear of sanction or reprisals.”


*The UN experts: Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Seong Phil Hong, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Egypt

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This year 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 70th anniversary 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: