The international community must not be fooled by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s veneer of reform and empty promises, said Amnesty International ahead of a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York later today.
The widely publicized prisoner pardons have yet to be implemented fully. While two Al Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, and several prominent activists were among those released on 23 September, seven activists remain in detention despite supposedly being pardoned last week.
“Most of those pardoned by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should never have been locked up in the first place because they were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. But given the authorities’ intolerance of peaceful dissent, the space vacated in prison cells by those freed in the pardon will be filled up again all too soon,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The Egyptian authorities are effectively holding political prisoners like bargaining chips, releasing them only when politically expedient, or when they need to deflect international criticism of their appalling human rights record. The international community must not let al-Sisi and the Egyptian government off the hook because of the recent pardons.”
The prison authorities have been reluctant to release seven activists allegedly because they are facing pending charges in other cases. However, the pardon decree clearly states that all those pardoned should be released immediately unless they have been sentenced in other cases. The prison authorities also claim that some of them have appeals pending and should remain in detention until their appeal hearing- even though they have already been pardoned for these charges.
Two of the seven activists still behind bars includeMenat Alla Mostafa and Abrar Alaa Elenani, Mansoura University students who were sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2014 for taking part in a protest inside their university. Amnesty International considers both women to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.
With some very noticeable omissions the list of those pardoned also spoke volumes about Egyptian government’s real commitment to the rule of law. Absent from the pardon were the well-known bloggers Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Douma, the 6th April youth activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, as well as human rights defender Mahienoor Elmasry. Also missing from the list were two other prisoners of conscience - photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, and detained student Mahmoud Hussein.
Amnesty International is aware of thousands more people across the country who have been languishing in Egyptian prisons under President al-Sisi’s rule including other journalists and activists.
“If the President wants to convince the UN General Assembly in his speech today that Egypt’s appalling human rights record is a thing of the past he will have to implement meaningful reforms including releasing the hundreds detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Said Boumedouha.
“States, including the USA and France, must halt the transfer to Egypt of small arms and ammunition and other policing equipment used to commit mass violations against protesters.”
Amnesty International has highlighted Egypt’s security forces’ frequent use of excessive lethal force against protesters and the judiciary’s sentencing of hundreds to death after blatantly unfair trials. Consequently it calls on all states to halt the transfer to Egypt of small arms and ammunition and other policing equipment used to commit mass violations against protesters.
Seven people who were imprisoned under a repressive protest law have been pardoned but remain in detention. They include:
- Menat Alla Mostafa and Abrar Alaa Elenani, who were imprisoned after protesting outside Mansoura University in 2014.
- Nahed Sherif Abdel Hamid, and Momen Mohamed Ramadan Abdeltawab, who were imprisoned after protesting outside the president’s palace in Cairo in June 2014.
- Asmaa Abdelaziz Shehata, a former teacher from Giza who suffers from schizophrenia, who was imprisoned after protesting in Cairo.
- Mamdouh Gamal El Din and Mohamed Hossam El Din, who were imprisoned after protesting outside the Shura, one of the houses of parliament in Cairo. They remain in detention for committing a “misdemeanour” in prison.