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Egypt
29.06.21
Statements

Egypt: Mohamed El-Baqer must be immediately released

Paris-Geneva, June 29, 2021 – Arbitrarily arrested on September 29, 2019, while he was representing his client Alaa Abdel Fattah, human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer has been held in pre-trial detention for 639 days on fabricated charges. On the 21-month anniversary of Mr. El-Baqer’s detention, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH), keeps calling for his immediate and unconditional release and urges the authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Egypt.

Deeply committed to achieve justice and human dignity in his country, human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer volunteered to defend civilians before military courts, joined the ‘No Military Trials for Civilians’ group, and volunteered with the Front for the Defence of Egyptian Demonstrators following the January 25, 2011 revolution. In 2014, he founded the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, to fight against torture, defend the rights of detainees as well as the rights of students, migrants and refugees.

However, as many human rights defenders in Egypt, his commitment to human rights was met with repression and prosecution by the authorities. On September 29, 2019, Mr. El-Baqer was performing his duties as a human rights lawyer at the State Security Prosecution premises in Cairo representing blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah -who had been arbitrarily arrested earlier that day- when he was himself arrested. Mr. El-Baqer and his client were accused under Criminal Case 1356/2019 and ordered 15 days of preventive detention under vague and unfounded charges that have been broadly used to criminalise all dissenting voices in Egypt: “belonging to a terrorist group”, “funding a terrorist group”, “spreading false news undermining national security” and “using social media to commit publishing offenses”. Since then, Mohamed El-Baqer and Alaa Abdel Fattah have been detained in Tora High Security prison 2, which is known for its very poor conditions of detention.

On August 31, 2020, Mr. El-Baqer was informed of new charges brought against him under Criminal Case 855/2020, which include fabricated accusations of “joining an illegal organisation” and “being part of a criminal agreement with the purpose of committing a terrorist act from inside the prison”. Three months later, in November 2020, Mohamed El-Baqer along with 27 other activists, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, was added to Egypt’s “terrorist list” for a period of five years in connection with State Security Case 1781/2019. This ruling includes restrictions such as a travel ban and a freeze on assets for a period of three years.

While in detention, Mr. El-Baqer has been denied access to adequate food, clean water, physical exercise, and adequate ventilation. Moreover, since the suspension of prison visits in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he has been denied access to his lawyer. In August 2020, the Ministry of Interior announced that prison visits were allowed again. Yet, Mr. El-Baqer’s family can only visit him for 20 minutes once a month under strict security supervision.

The systematic and arbitrary renewal of Mohamed El-Baqer’s pre-trial detention is part of a clear human rights crackdown which Egypt has been suffering from in recent years. Authorities have increasingly employed repressive tactics such as prolonged pre-trial detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and judicial harassment to silence all critical voices, including through unfounded investigations for national security and counter-terrorism related charges.

In a public statement released in January 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders urged the immediate release of all human rights defenders and called for an end to the misuse of anti-terrorism and national security laws and prolonged pre-trial detention to criminalise the work of civil society actors in Egypt. The European Parliament also issued two urgency resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Egypt, including Mohamed El-Baqer, in October 2019 and December 2020.

Given the poor detention conditions in the country’s detention facilities, the high risk of contracting Covid-19, and the totally unacceptable deprivation of his liberty, the Observatory reiterates its call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mohamed El-Baqer as well as all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Egypt, including Alaa Abdel Fattah. The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately put an end to the abusive use of anti-terrorism charges to criminalise human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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