Egypt: Key rights watchdog calls for overturning the “harsh sentences against rights activists”

“The Egyptian authorities should overturn the harsh prison sentences imposed on March 5, 2023, following an unfair mass trial of 29 men and women solely because of their peaceful activism,” Human Rights Watch said today.

The activists, who belong to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent human rights organization, received sentences of between five years and life in prison.

The National Security Agency arrested many of them in late 2018.

“The cruel prison sentences against Ezzat Ghoneim and his colleagues at the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms present yet one more piece of evidence that Sisi’s government is not serious about reforms,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“For the authorities, peaceful activism is to be suppressed and punished.”

The activists convicted include a lawyer who is the group’s executive director; Houda Abdel Moneim, a former member of the National Council for Human Rights; Aisha al-Shater, and Mohamed Abu Huraira, also a lawyer.

The rulings came from a Cairo Emergency State Security Court, whose decisions are not subject to court appeal.

The defendants in Case 1552 of 2018 faced charges under the penal code and the counterterrorism law of leading or joining a “terrorist” organization, namely, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, which the authorities claimed is part of the Muslim Brotherhood.

All the charges set out in the prosecution referral order stem solely from the group’s work in documenting and publishing human rights violations on their website and social media, as well as providing legal and other assistance to detainees.

The case involved 30 defendants, about 14 of whom have been in prolonged, unlawful pretrial detention since late 2018. The court acquitted one defendant and convicted all those in detention as well as others in absentia.

Seventeen were sentenced to life in prison, and seven received 15 years, including Ghoneim and Abu Huraira.

The court also sentenced four activists, including al-Shater, to 10 years in prison. Abdel Moneim received a five-year sentence.

The court also ordered a police-supervised parole of five years after prison for all 29 convicted and placed them on Egypt’s terrorists’ list, a designation that automatically leads to asset seizure and travel bans.

Among those in custody and sentenced to life in prison is an Egyptian-British dual national Mohamed Mahmoud Nasrallah, a nephrology doctor born in the United Kingdom.

The only way to appeal the decisions of this court is through a plea submitted to President al-Sisi, who has the authority to overturn or modify the court decisions.

Human Rights Watch and Egyptian organizations have documented that the defendants faced a number of serious due process violations, including months-long enforced disappearance, deprivation of visits by family members, and lack of meaningful access to legal counsel.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders said in July 2021 that the detention of several activists in this case constituted a “misuse of anti-terrorism and national security laws to criminalize the work of human rights defenders in the country.”