(Beirut) – The prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Gamal Eid has been the target of threats, physical assaults, and vandalism since September 30, 2019 that indicate government involvement, Human Rights Watch said today. Egyptian authorities should bring an immediate end to these attacks on Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
On October 10, two armed men in civilian clothes physically assaulted Eid, leaving him with several cracked ribs and injuries to his arm and leg. Most recently, on October 30, Eid received calls and a text warning him to “behave,” and the next morning found a car he had borrowed had been vandalized. His own car had been stolen on September 30, but the police would not investigate.
“The nature of the threats and attacks on Gamal Eid indicate involvement by state security personnel, which Egyptian authorities need to bring to a halt,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “They appear to be part and parcel of the Egyptian government’s campaign of intimidation, harassment, and violence against human rights activists.”
Eid told Human Rights Watch that on October 10, a middle-aged man assaulted him on a street in Cairo’s al-Maadi neighborhood and tried to grab his cellphone and bag. The assailant yelled, “Leave this bag, Gamal!” indicating that he knew who Eid was.
When Eid resisted, the assailant repeatedly hit him with the butt of a gun on his chest and arm. After bystanders and workers in nearby shops gathered to protect Eid, the assailant fired a shot in the air, then fled on a waiting motorcycle with a driver.
The bystanders chased the two assailants, who then left the motorcycle and dropped a cellphone. Minutes later, three men in civilian clothes approached Eid, including one carrying a walkie-talkie who said he was a Police Investigation officer but presented no identification. They took the dropped cellphone and the motorcycle and told Eid to accompany them in an unmarked minivan to the nearby al-Basateen police station.
Once the van was away from the crowd, they dropped Eid on the street and told him to go to the police station, saying that they would follow. At the police station, officers told Eid that the men were not members of al-Basateen police force. Eid said he believed the three were part of the group responsible for the attack.
Police officers at al-Basateen station made Eid wait for a couple of hours and then were unwilling to file a police report until the next morning. Eid said that a worker who witnessed the incident later told him that three uniformed police officers came searching for the bullet shell and collected it.
Eid said prosecutors have not called him or any of the witnesses to obtain their accounts and apparently no investigation was opened. Workers in a nearby shop told him that “unknown” people came to the shop and forced them to delete all recordings from the shop’s CCTV cameras that captured the incident.
Eid also said that unidentified people stole his own car on September 30. Police officers told him they managed to identify the car in three different CCTV cameras in Cairo, including while it was being towed. Eid said that the police abruptly closed the investigation into the case and that police sources told him the case was ordered closed by a “higher sovereign entity,” a term usually referring to a security or intelligence agency.
Eid said he had recently received several threatening phone calls from different numbers. On October 30, he received a call from an Egyptian phone number from a man who said, “Behave yourself, Mr. Gamal.” The man kept calling but Eid did not pick up. The next day, Eid said, he found the car he had borrowed from a colleague vandalized.
Eid said that neighbors told him they earlier saw a group of men, some carrying weapons, around the car. One neighbor said that he overheard one of the men on his cellphone saying, “Yes, pasha, a Nissan Sunny car.” A building concierge on his street told Eid that when he approached the group, one told him that they were police looking for someone.
On October 16, less than a week after Eid was assaulted, security forces arrested a lawyer from Eid’s organization, Amr Imam, at his home and held him incommunicado for two days, after Imam posted on Facebook that he planned to carry out a hunger strike in protest against the recent arbitrary arrests of prominent activists.
Eid founded ANHRI in 2003 to promote freedom of expression and provide legal assistance to activists and journalists. ANHRI and Eid have received numerous international awards for their work on freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt. In 2016, Egyptian authorities imposed a travel ban on Eid and a court ordered a freeze on his personal assets and the funds of his organization, along with other human rights defenders and organizations, in the 2011 “foreign funding” case.
“The thuggish attacks on Gamal Eid sadly reflect the deplorable state of human rights under the government of President al-Sisi,” Stork said.