Arresting lawyers: Al-Sisi raises the level of repression

Human rights activists have said that the Egyptian regime has raised the level of repression to a new level by arresting three lawyers as they attended investigations by the prosecution into political detainees.

This came in the wake of the announcement by the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms that the Egyptian Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) decided in its session held on Sunday evening to imprison lawyer Mohammed al-Baqer, director of the Centre for Rights and Freedoms, Adalah, for 15 days.

The prosecution charged Al-Baqer with spreading false news and joining a terrorist group after he was arrested from the headquarters of the SSSP while attending the investigation into political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.

Al-Baqer is the third lawyer to be arrested in the same way within a week. Security forces have already arrested Sahar Ali and Mahienor el-Massry. The Egyptian Bar Syndicate has expressed concern about the arrests. 

Sameh Ashour, the secretary of the Bar Syndicate, said in a statement that the Syndicate followed with great concern the arrest of some lawyers.

He added that this “action inevitably leads to the abolition of the right to defend the accused and also threatens the constitutional and legal lawyer’s role… to perform their historical role in defence, and intimidate the arrested and others.” 

The statement also denounced “the expansion of arrests to include those who work as lawyers… regardless of the crimes attributed to [defendants].”

The syndicate’s statement did not mention the number of lawyers arrested in the past few days or cite examples of specific cases in which lawyers were arrested while acting in defence of defendants before the prosecution.

The statement came after criticism by lawyers to their union for not taking any position against the arrests of some of their colleagues, including Mahienor el-Massry and Sahar Ali, who were arrested during the interrogation of defendants in connection with the demonstrations of September 20. The latest lawyer is Mohamed al-Baqer. 

The SSSP issued an order to detain human rights lawyer el-Massry for 15 days pending investigations. The prosecution charged her with participating in a terrorist group and broadcasting false news.

This came in the wake of el-Massry’s arrest in front of the headquarters of the State Security Prosecution, in a way described by a number of lawyers as “kidnapping.”

Lawyers recounted that after they left the headquarters a van stopped and el-Massry was abducted by unidentified people. She was not told that she was required in investigations at the SSSP where she was just minutes before.

The lawyer Sahar Ali’s situation is not much different. She was surprised after returning from an investigation into a number of political detainees that the security forces stormed her house at dawn and arrested her.

Security forces also arrested lawyer Hamdi Younis after he announced that he had submitted a report to the Attorney General to investigate the corruption allegations made by the contractor and actor Mohamed Ali against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in his videos.

Ahmed Sarhan, a lawyer who demanded in a videotape that the authorities disclose the whereabouts of lawyer Mohamed Hamdi, was arrested while he was going to the Public Prosecutor’s Office to file a report to reveal the whereabouts of his colleague.

Observers say that the Egyptian authorities have pushed the security crackdown to a new level by targeting lawyers defending political detainees.

The Egyptian security authorities launched a campaign of mass arrests in the wake of rare demonstrations demanding the departure of al-Sisi amid accusations of his involvement in the incidents of corruption and waste of public money.

The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms said it counted 2,200 people who have been arrested by security forces since September 20.

Among those arrested were journalists who were doing their job covering the demonstrations.

Human rights organisations estimate the number of political detainees in Egypt is 60,000 since al-Sisi came to power.

Although the Egyptian constitution provides for the defendant’s right to a lawyer and prohibits interrogation without a lawyer present, opponents confirm that the Egyptian regime is seeking to deprive political detainees of their constitutional and legal rights, including a lawyer.