(New York) – Egypt’s new leaders have systematically reversed the fragile gains of the country’s 2011 uprising, jailing tens of thousands and squeezing the last remaining spaces for freedom of expression and assembly, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. Since he came to power in June 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has presided over a state of impunity that has allowed security forces to get away with mass killings while imprisoning hundreds of peaceful protesters.
Egyptian authorities have jailed more than 41,000 people, according to credible independent researchers, since al-Sisi – then defense minister – led the overthrow of Mohamed Morsy,
Egypt’s first freely elected president, in July 2013. About 29,000 of those jailed are members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, while others include government critics from a wide swath of political factions. The mass detention campaign has strained the country’s prisons, leading to increased deaths in detention, according to the Justice Ministry’s Forensic Medical Authority.
“Egypt is at a post-revolution nadir, and right now there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “The situation for thousands of Egyptians is getting worse by the day.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
Some of Egypt’s judges and prosecutors have proved willing accessories in the clampdown. In April and June 2014, a judge in the governorate of Minya sentenced 220 defendants to death and 495 to life in prison after two trials marred by due process violations. Another judge in the governorate of Giza handed down preliminary death sentences to 188 people in December for one attack on a police station. Other prosecutors and judges have routinely authorized pretrial detention on little or no evidence. In July, the Interior Ministry said that 7,389 people arrested in connection with the unrest surrounding Morsy’s overthrow remained in pretrial detention a year later. In October, al-Sisi issued a decree that vastly expanded the power of military courts over civilians, and authorities have since sent at least 820 civilians to military prosecution.
Authorities have also zealously enforced a 2013 anti-protest law, leading to hundreds of convictions, including of high-profile activists and human rights defenders such as Yara Sallam, Ahmed Maher, and Alaa Abdel Fattah. The law allows the Interior Ministry near-total power to ban any gathering of more than 10 people that it has not authorized. Security forces have used the law to repeatedly and violently disperse unauthorized demonstrations, resulting in a number of deaths.
Authorities have also clamped down on independent groups, requiring them to apply for official registration under an onerous 2002 law that allows the government to curtail their activities and funding. Al-Sisi also decreed amendments to the Penal Code that could result in a life sentence for anyone who receives foreign funding without official permission.
Authorities have also targeted other remaining sources of criticism. Interim President Adly Mansour placed all mosques and preachers under state control. Six journalists were killed following the July 2013 coup and 11 remain in custody, including three Al Jazeera English journalists sentenced to between 7 and 10 years in prison. Repeated security force raids have resulted in the arrest of many hundreds of students, and five have been sent to military court. A decree by al-Sisi gave him authority to hire and fire university heads.
Authorities have held no one to account for the deaths of more than 1,000 pro-Morsy demonstrators in mid-2013 – one of the worst mass killings of modern times and a likely crime against humanity.