New Laws Threaten Freedom of Expression and Assembly
Amid making progress on governance and in the fight against terrorism, Egypt has become an area of concern when it comes to human rights.
In his testimony today in Washington DC, US Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski for Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Testimony said the United States of America is concerned with rampant cases of human rights violations in Egypt.
Mr. Malinowski highlighted that Egypt under the leadership of President al-Sisi has made commitments on reform particularly in areas of rule of law and governance. However, the human rights of Egyptian people must also be respected.
The US is concerned by recent reports of irregular, arbitrary arrests, the use of prolonged preventative detention, disappearances and deaths of activists, as well as new allegations of lethal use of force during police raids, which could amount to extrajudicial killings.
“It is imperative that authorities investigate these incidents in a timely and transparent manner.” – Mr. Malinowski
Suppression of Freedom of Expression on the Rise
According to Mr. Malinowski, Egypt’s new laws, and judicial actions have severely restricted freedom of expression and the press, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process, and they compromise the few steps taken towards political reform.
To cite an example, the country’s new counterterrorism legislation does not adequately distinguish between peaceful dissent and violent extremism. In return, the new law could have a significant detrimental impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of association, and freedom of expression.
In addition, there is a pervasive lack of respect for international fair trial safeguards and guarantees. These are evident in the judiciary’s use of mass trials, the use of military courts to try civilians, and the over-reliance on prolonged pre-trial detention.
Mass Arrests, Detentions, Trials, Death Sentences
According to Mr. Malinowski, hundreds of supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood received death sentences in mass trials without any ability to present individual defenses or the benefit of minimum fair trial guarantees and appeals in these cases are ongoing.
Also, the Egyptian government issued a decree in 2014 that expanded the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilians.
According to human rights organizations, it is estimated that up to 3,000 civilians may have been tried in military courts since the decree was issued.
In addition, human rights organizations estimate that many thousands of Egyptians remain in detention which includes democracy activists who assembled in Tahrir Square in 2011.
“They continued to advocate for their beliefs and were arrested for violating a law that effectively bans peaceful assembly.” – Mr. Malinowski
It was also reported that prisoners are being held in pre-trial detention, some for two years or more without a trial. Journalists are some of the victims of long pre-trial detention.
In May 2014, nearly 700 Egyptians were sentenced to death in a single mass trial in Egypt, causing a stir and condemnation from the West and human rights groups.
The defendants allegedly participated in 2013 post coup violence. The mass trials were linked to deadly riots in which supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi allegedly attacked police stations and churches, resulting in the deaths of three policemen and a civilian.
Media reports say Judge Said Youssef announced the sentences of 683 men at a court session.
Harsh Conditions in Prisons and Detention Centers
According to Mr. Malinowski, due to massive arrests and detentions, the prison cells are now crowded. Thus, the conditions behind bars are harsh due to physical abuse, inadequate medical care, and poor ventilation.
Mr. Malinowksi underlined that continuing large numbers of arrests are only exacerbating these harsh conditions, especially in police stations, where authorities hold large numbers of persons arrested en masse, sometimes for extended periods.
In May 2012, with the hope of regaining the country’s stability after the revolution, Egyptians headed to the polls to cast their ballots in the country’s first free vote for a leader in 5,000 years of history.
Around 50 million eligible Egyptian voters were called upon to choose 13 candidates.
Earlier in 2012, President Obama proposed a $1 billion cancellation of Egyptian debt to support Egypt’s economic recovery.
Egypt has made progress on human rights since the revolution that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Long-standing regimes were toppled by a wave of pro-democracy protests that have engulfed much of North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, particularly in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.