Muhammad Al-Baqer: The justice knight approaching two years in detention

“He left his father in intensive care to attend the interrogation of activist Alaa Abdelfattah, only to be arrested and then included in the same case.” Neama Hisham, wife of the detained Egyptian lawyer, Mohamed Al-Baqer, said these words while trying to hold back her tears.

Neama spoke about what the Egyptian authorities did to her husband, who has been held in pretrial detention in Al-Aqrab 2 Prison for 20 months, pending a case in which he was defending a client: “I don’t know why revenge is being taken on my husband in this way. Is it because he loves all people and wants to be by their side? Is this a crime for which he deserves to be imprisoned for 20 months without allowing him the most basic rights such as exercise and reading?” She adds, “I visit him once a month from behind bars and at a distance of three metres for only 20 minutes.”

About three weeks after Al-Baqer’s arrest, his father died, and he was unable to say goodbye to him, according to his wife. Then he was transferred to another case a year later and was placed on the “terror list.” She added: “My husband has dreams that he wants to achieve. We want to have children, complete his studies, and take care of his mother after his father’s death, as he is her only son.” She continued, “The last thing I expected was that my husband would spend 600 days in prison without a real charge.”

Al-Baqer is a prominent human rights lawyer, jurist, and founder of the Adalah (Justice) Centre for Rights and Freedoms. Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms was established in 2014 as a non-governmental human rights centre and focused on three main programmes: the education and students’ programme, the criminal justice programme regarding conditions in places of detention, fair trial guarantees and the illegal treatment of children. The third programme concerns refugees and immigrants.

Al-Baqer was arrested on September 29, 2019, from inside the Supreme State Security Prosecution headquarters in the Fifth Settlement area (east of Cairo) while attending the interrogation of activist Alaa Abdelfattah. Al-Baqer and his client were included in the same case (Case No. 1356 of 2019). They were accused of belonging to a “terrorist group,” financing that group, spreading false news, and using social media to spread that news.

During his detention, Al-Baqer was subjected to several violations, which began with moral intimidation and physical assault from the moment of his arrival at the detention facility in Tora 2 High-Security Prison, in addition to the deteriorating conditions of his detention. According to his lawyer, the prison administration insists on depriving him of exercise and reading, clearly violating the Prisons Organisation Law, which endangers his health. In August 2020, Al-Baqer was rotated to be included in a new case, and on November 19, 2020, he was included on the lists of terrorist entities and persons.

Over the course of 20 months of detention, Al-Baqer’s defence committee submitted memoranda to request his release and to prove the invalidity of his continued detention, in addition to submitting an appeal against his inclusion on the list of terrorist entities, as well as some requests and complaints from his family. The authority also filed a lawsuit to enable him to receive the coronavirus vaccine inside prison, which has not been done so far.

A month after his arrest, the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his deep concern about the massive campaign of arrests that has targeted many civil society actors, including Al-Baqer. In the same month, the European Union condemned Egypt’s use of arbitrary pretrial detention against Al-Baqer and other human rights defenders. These demands were repeated in July 2020, when 12 United Nations Special Rapporteurs called on the Egyptian authorities to release Al-Baqer and other human rights defenders.

A year after his detention, in October 2020, Al-Baqer won a human rights award from the Federation of Trade Unions and Legal Associations in Europe, and international organisations and personalities called on the Egyptian authorities to release him. Twenty months after his arrest, 11 Egyptian human rights organisations called for his release.

The organisations called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately stop violations against him and the rest of the human rights defenders in their custody and to provide them with the most basic human rights in their custody. The organisations stressed that there is no way to redress Al-Baqer and other human rights defenders except by releasing them immediately, dropping the charges against them, and providing them with a suitable environment to perform their peaceful human rights work safely and effectively.