Ukraine frees Egyptian dissident threatened with extradition

On Monday, the Ukrainian authorities released Moataz Mohamed Abdel Mawla, who was arrested on May 7, based on a notification from Interpol. The young man was threatened with deportation to Egypt, as the authorities there accuse him of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the regime classifies as a terrorist group. In his first comment after his release, Abdel Mawla said on Facebook, “Thank God, I am free.” The Egyptian human rights activist, Ahmed Al-Attar, said that he received a phone call from Moataz, adding that Abdel Mawla “is now free, and he is now at home and with his wife and companions.” Al-Attar continued, on his Facebook page: “Praise be to God. The release of Moataz was logical and expected, even though it was delayed, but thank God for everything, and awaiting a session on June 5.” “We thank everyone who helped with his case or called for his release,” he added.

Moataz is studying dentistry in the city of Poltava (northeastern Ukraine) and is married to a Ukrainian woman. Moataz sent a distress message, via his Facebook account, on May 7, saying, “I have been arrested and they are trying to deport me from Ukraine. Help me.” He later added: “I am in danger.” At this time, the Egyptian media, loyal to the regime of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, celebrated the news of the arrest of the 27-year-old Egyptian student and said that he was a “dangerous terrorist leader” and a member of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Egyptian media has promoted the arrest of Moataz as a major achievement of the regime that is pursuing opponents abroad and seeking to arrest them everywhere. The timing of Moataz’s arrest came as a surprise and raised many questions and contradictions, which reinforced the possibility that he was a “scapegoat” as Egypt wants to save its dignity in front of Ukraine. A few hours before Moataz was arrested, the Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister met with the Ambassador of Egypt, and discussed the issue of the return of the Ukrainian prisoner, Edward Chikosh, who was sentenced to life (25 years) in Egypt in March 2012.

Opponents say the matter appears to be a deal, whereby Ukraine saves one of its citizens from the notorious Egyptian prisons, but in return hands over a human being to a brutal regime. An Egyptian court has accused Chikosh of charges related to arms smuggling and the organisation of mass riots. 

On its Arabic news website, Ukraine quotes the Egyptian State Security Agency, which says that Moataz is on the INTERPOL wanted list, and that he belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. This information is inconsistent with the fact that on September 11, 2019, Moataz obtained permanent residence in Ukraine. In addition, Ukraine does not classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, like almost all European countries.

Moataz was arrested after the mid-2013 military coup in January 2014. The judiciary proved his innocence on charges of possession of weapons and killing a child in September of the same year. During this period, Moataz was subjected to “severe torture” and his rights were grossly violated, so, after his release, Moataz travelled legally to Ukraine, obtained permanent residence there, and settled there. Later, his case was referred again to the military court, and he was sentenced in absentia in 2016 to life imprisonment. Observers had expressed their fears that Moataz’s arrest and deportation to Egypt (if it would have happened) would send a message that Ukraine, and possibly other countries in the future, are complicit in the Egyptian regime’s violations.

The Egyptian regime considers Moataz’s deportation an implicit recognition of its legitimacy, including its trials for opponents in Egypt, which human rights organisations say lack minimum standards of justice. Egyptian opponents are calling on the international community to protect Egyptian dissidents abroad and not to hand them over to the Egyptian regime, and to consider the judicial rulings issued by its courts as if they do not exist. Handing over opponents to the Egyptian regime means participating in torturing them and possibly killing them.