Police probation in Egypt used to persecute opponents

Mohammad Al Batawy

June 15, 2019

“It is not probation, it is half a day imprisonment,” is how a new security measure hundreds of Egyptian activists and politicians are being subjected to has been described. Authorities are putting people on probation and using it as a security measure to supplement sentences or as a precaution against them whilst they undergo long and endless investigations.

Human rights organisations have criticised Egypt’s application of the probation law, saying it is being used to punish and silence dissidents.

Under police watch, dissidents are being detained  in police stations 12 hours a day from 6pm to 6am.

“There is no moment throughout the day when probation does not consume me,” Egypt’s leading dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah said.

Abdel Fattah is one of hundreds of Egyptians being forced to spend the night in jail, as is the award-winning photojournalist Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, known as Shawkan.

Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, a symbol of the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has been released after three years in prison and is now under police probation.

Police officers in the station he was spending the night in tried to force him to clean the stairs, but he refused and punished by the police as a result.

Abdel Fattah, after serving his five-year term for demonstrating against a restrictive 2013 protest law, has to now turn himself in to a police station near his home at 6pm every evening and stay overnight in a cell there until 6am.

His split reality – a free man by day and a prisoner in solitary confinement by night – has already taken its toll.

“I try to have little tasks for myself every day so I can have a sense of achievement,” Abdel Fattah said.

“Even basic biological functions, I have to think of because there isn’t a clean toilet when I’m there overnight.”

“[It’s deeply insulting] that I’m cooperating with the state in the destruction of my life everyday… which puts such immense psychological pressure on someone.”

Abdel Fattah’s disjointed life has also affected his family, who worry for his safety when he’s inside the police station. They cannot communicate with him once he’s inside as he’s not allowed a mobile phone or a laptop.

According to the probation law the convicted person will be supervised by the police and he should comply with all the provisions stipulated in the relevant laws. Violation of the provisions of these laws requires that the perpetrator be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.

Although the law should not be used against political opponents, Egyptian judges, who are accused by international human rights organisations of issuing politicised verdicts, have used them against the opposition.

Police departments deal with defendants differently, with some being “friendly” and others being “tough.”

In the past, when someone was being observed it meant they should not leave their home from sunset to sunrise.  A policeman would pass by their home with a checkbook to record the defendant’s presence, but now the opposite is the case. The convicted person usually goes to the police station and stays until the next morning.

The Criminal Investigation Department is responsible for determining the place where the sentenced person spends the period of surveillance, whether it’s at home or in one of the police stations. In case the monitoring rule is violated or a person is convicted in another case, they will be transferred to prison.

In other words, if a person commits a new crime punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment and has a five-year sentence, he or she will serve 15 years in prison.

One disadvantage is that these observations are made without judicial follow-up, by police officers. Some turn their defendants into informers by threatening them with violating their probation.

They have also forced some convicts to clean the police stations.

The Egyptian regime used to deny the existence of political prisoners in jail, But human rights organisations estimate the number of those detained has reached tens of thousands. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said in a report published in September 2016 that there are more than 60,000 political detainees in Egypt.