(Beirut) – Three Egyptian activists began hunger strikes on February 10 and 11, 2022, to protest their indefinite pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said today. Egyptian authorities should immediately release the activists or present evidence of wrongdoing in a trial meeting fair trial standards.
The three activists – Ahmed Maher, Walid Shawky, and Abdel Rahman Tarek – have been held between 20 months and nearly three-and-a-half years. When judges issued release orders, prosecutors “recycled” them to different cases to circumvent the two-year limit on pretrial detention in Egyptian law. The three face abusive charges of “joining a terrorist organization,” “spreading false news,” and “misusing social media.”
“Years in jail without trial on spurious charges is outrageous,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Egyptian authorities should free Shawky, Maher, and Tarek now and end the wanton use of endless pretrial detention as a tool of repression.”
Egyptian authorities have increasingly relied on “recycling” to indefinitely jail activists without trial, particularly following a mass arrest campaign in September 2019. The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a human rights group, documented at least 97 cases of “recycled” detention from July 2015 to May 2020.
Shawky and Tarek are former members of the April 6 Movement, which emerged on that date in 2008 to support an industrial strike in the town of Mahalla al-Kubra. The organization played a vital role in organizing the January 25, 2011 mass protests that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. An Egyptian Court of Urgent Matters banned the activities of the group in April 2014. Maher is a former member of the Strong Egypt Party headed by Abd al-Moniem Abu al-Fotouh, a 2012 presidential candidate who has been jailed since February 2018 and is facing trial in an Emergency State Security Court.
Shawky began his hunger strike on February 11. On February 22, a family member who visited him reported that his health and mental state had greatly deteriorated. His relative told Human Rights Watch that his decision to go on hunger strike “is the only way he can express himself.”
Security forces arrested Shawky on October 14, 2018, and forcibly disappeared him. He appeared six days later at the State Security Prosecution, which charged him with “joining a terrorist organization,” “spreading false news,” and “misusing social media.” After a Cairo Criminal Court ordered Shawky’s release on August 23, 2020, he was forcibly disappeared again for more than a month and reappeared before the State Security Prosecution in connection with a different case that carried the same charges, his lawyer told Human Rights Watch.
Maher began his hunger strike on February 10, a family member told Human Rights Watch. During a prison visit on February 13, Maher told a relative that he decided to go on hunger strike due to the prolonged period of detention without trial, and because he was “recycled” into a new case.
Maher told the family member that he is “sick and suffering and does not have any hope.” He said that he had expected that the government would release political prisoners on January 25, the anniversary of the 2011 popular uprising.
Security forces arrested Maher on May 4, 2020, and charged him with “joining a terrorist organization,” “spreading false news,” and “misusing social media.” On October 4, 2020, a Cairo Criminal Court ordered Maher’s release but he subsequently appeared at the State Security Prosecution on October 18, 2020 in relation to another case with the same charges.
During his interrogation in the second case, according to his lawyer, interrogators questioned Maher about his political activities and his opinion of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the January 25 uprising, as well as his relationship with a detained activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, and a detained lawyer, Mohamed al-Baqer.
Maher’s family and lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have presented no evidence against him in either case.
On February 14, Maher’s family sent a notice to the attorney general and the directors of the Ministry of Interior’s Reform and Rehabilitation Sector and Human Rights Sector, stating that the family members hold the officials “fully responsible for [their] son’s life.”
Maher’s family expressed concern about the lack of any official acknowledgement of the hunger strikes by the authorities, fearing that the strikers may not receive adequate medical attention.
Tarek began his hunger strike on February 11, his lawyer and family told Human Rights Watch. During a visit on February 20, Tarek told a relative that he will continue his hunger strike until he is released or conditions in prison improve. The relative said that Tarek’s health had greatly deteriorated “physically and psychologically.”
Security forces arrested Tarek in September 2019. He was ordered released twice, in March and September 2020, but both times was added to new cases.
In December 2020, Tarek went on a hunger strike that lasted over 50 days, according to a relative. He ended the hunger strike on February 4, 2021, due to his deteriorating health and pressure from prison authorities.
“The Egyptian government’s reliance on the legal subterfuge of ‘recycling’ flaunts the Egyptian Criminal Procedure Code’s limits on pretrial detentions and exposes the absurdity of Egypt’s justice system,” Stork said.