Egyptian Human Rights Activists Imprisoned For Two Years While Awaiting Trial

Egyptian activists Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed Ibrahim, Yahia Hussein Abdel-Had, and Egyptian lawyer Mohammed el-Baker have had their future trial hearings pushed back after being in detention since September 2019. According to ABC News, the court maintains that the proceedings were postponed for defense lawyers to review trial documents. All four men were charged with crimes such as disseminating false news, misuse of social media, and joining a terrorist group due to their part in human rights activism. ABC News also reports that Abdel-Fattah’s family has accused Egyptian prison authorities of torture and denying him basic legal rights. 

In October 2020, UN experts weighed in on Egypt’s legal system and said “Terrorism charges and exceptional courts are being used to target legitimate human rights activities.” Reuters reports that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the current president of Egypt, said security and stability were of the utmost importance and denied that there were any political prisoners in Egypt. In July of this year, UN officials also explained that “While initially placed in pre-trial detention for periods of 15 days, human rights defenders routinely see their detention renewed thereafter, with these periods of detention without trial commonly stretching to two years.” Last month, President al-Sisi said that “2022 is the year of civil society” after being pressured to expand human rights in Egypt. However, Egyptian activists believe that the fixes have been cosmetic. Azza Soliman, an Egyptian women’s rights activist, said in regards to the government’s response that “We want proof. Proof would be to respect the Constitution, release prisoners, and allow civil society groups to work freely.”

The Egyptian government’s actions are human rights abuses, as it is imprisoning people for committing the “crime” of free speech. Many of the activists being charged as terrorists have no ties to the different groups they are being accused of joining. So far, most of the change implemented in the Egyptian government has been entirely superficial, and there have been no differences in how the policies are carried out. It is necessary for the issues in the legal system to be addressed. 

The Egyptian government has increased political dissenter imprisonment in recent years, including both Islamists and secular activists involved in the Arab Spring. ABC News reports that Egyptian public figures have urged authorities to release detained activists for years, but there has not been much movement. Abdel-Fattah, one of the activists who has been detained for two years and is still awaiting trial, was one of the leading figures in the Arab Spring in Egypt and has been described as the “icon of the revolution” according to the BBC. The U.S. State Department withheld $130 million from the Egyptian military in September of this year due to human rights abuses. The New York Times reports that there has been some progress after that decision was made, but the issue is nowhere near solved. 

Egypt has a history of political corruption and censorship, and so far the government’s promises have been empty. While the government maintains that there are no political prisoners and that they are working on implementing increased human rights in their country, tens of thousands of political dissenters have been imprisoned recently. In 2011, it took 18 days of protesting for the government to listen to the Egyptian people and oust corrupt political figures, but there are still many issues to address. The imprisoned activists must be released and there needs to be a monumental change in the Egyptian legal system.