Egypt: On WHRDs Day, NGOs call for release of detained female rights defenders

On the occasion of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, many courageous women activists detained in Egypt for undertaking the vital work of fighting for human rights in Egypt must be released.

Those women and others should be empowered, not targeted and repressed.

In early October, several rights group called for the release of 145 women, as well as 89 children in Egyptian prisons.

After reactivation of the Presidential Pardon Committee in April, Egyptian rights group Belady called for releasing 145 women and 89 children imprisoned on political grounds, according to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The rights group also urged the authorities to release female political prisoners and minors, considering the ongoing dialogue aiming to reach a solution to the country’s deadlock.

According to Belady, 138 women, including the famous human rights defender Huda Abdel Moneim, and 41 children (boys and girls) are in remand detention, and seven women and 48 children are being sentenced on political grounds.

Huda Abdel Moneim

Huda Abdel Moneim is a 63-year-old human rights lawyer who formerly served on Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights. She was a member of the Egyptian Parliament from 2012-2013. Egyptian authorities arrested her in November 2018 and accused her of funding and belonging to a terrorist organization, as well as incitement to harm the national economy. She remains in detention at Qanater prison.

Abdel Moneim worked as a consultant with the Egyptian Committee for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF). She also worked on documenting human rights abuses, including incidents of enforced disappearance, in Egypt. Abdel Moneim is a lawyer for the Egyptian Cassation and Supreme Constitutional Courts, as well as a former member of the Egyptian Bar Association, Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, and the 2012-2013 Egyptian Parliament.

Abdel Moneim also worked as a spokesperson for the Women’s Revolutionary Coalition of Egypt; an Islamist group opposed to the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi.

Abdel Moneim was a legal adviser to the International Islamic Council for Call and Relief, headed by Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayib. She represented Egypt in conferences related to international conventions and declarations on women and children’s rights.

According to her daughter, Fadwa Khaled, and public reports, unidentified state security forces burst into Abdel Moneim’s house in Nasr City in Cairo at 1:30am on November 1, 2018, blindfolded her, and put her in a police vehicle. Afterwards, the officers self-identified as members of the State Security apparatus. However, they never presented her with an arrest warrant, gave a reason for the arrest, or informed Abdel Moneim or her family of her destination.

The security forces ransacked the house after arresting her, destroying several family possessions. Abdel Moneim’s family published photos showing the havoc wreaked by the search. After searching the house for almost two hours, the security forces left with several suitcases. These suitcases contained books and DVDs belonging to the family.

State Security officers forcibly took Abdel Moneim to an unknown location. Abdel Moneim’s lawyers inquired about her whereabouts at different police stations but were unable to locate her. The authorities denied arresting her and claimed to know nothing of her whereabouts. After three weeks, Abdel Moneim appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) in New Cairo without notifying her family or her lawyer. Judge Khaled Diaa el-Din, Head Of the SSSP, whose name appears on all pretrial detention orders, ordered her detained  for 15 days pending investigation, extended regularly every 45 days.

Amal Fathy

Also, the Egyptian Court of Cassation in early January 2022 confirmed a prison term for women’s rights defender Amal Fathy, who used to who criticize the Egyptian authorities’ failure to protect women from sexual harassment .

Amal Fathy is one of countless victims of the Egyptian authorities’ chilling and relentless assault on human rights defenders who have criticized the country’s human rights record.

She was arrested in May 2018 after posting a video on her Facebook page in which she spoke about sexual harassment and criticized the Egyptian government for their inaction on the issue and for their wider crackdown on human rights. She was later sentenced to two years in prison, upheld on appeal. She was released on probation in December 2018.

Commenting on the court’s confirmation of Amal Fathy’s prison term, Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said:

“The court’s decision to confirm Amal Fathy’s conviction and sentence her to a one-year prison term yet again shows that the Egyptian authorities are keen on whitewashing rather than improving their appalling human rights record. Once again, hopes for justice for an Egyptian human rights defender have been crushed by the country’s shamelessly flawed and patriarchal judiciary.

UN statement

On the anniversary of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on, 29 November 2022, the UN confirmed in a statement the urgent need to defend the rights and lives of women human rights defenders.

“International Women Human Rights Defenders Day is an occasion to celebrate and thank those women and girls who tirelessly advocate for human rights, and people of all genders who defend women’s rights and rights related to gender equality. Around the world, women human rights defenders give of themselves to bring about a future in which all persons enjoy the dividends of equality and the fullest range of rights.”

US Department of State

Also, the US Department of State issued a statement, commemorating the work of women human rights defenders:

“… women and girls, in all their diversity, who champion human rights for all.” The statement cited US President Biden as saying, “The world is more peaceful, safe, and prosperous when the human rights of women are respected, and they can fully participate in economic, social, and political life.”

“Women, in all their diversity, offer unique contributions, including to making and keeping peace in countries around the world. Those contributions lead to better outcomes not just for women, but for society as a whole,” read the statement.