Abdel Fattah, Oxygen and Baqer: Activists referred to emergency court over social media blogs

The Supreme State Security Prosecution referred political activists Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Ibrahim (Oxygen), and human rights lawyer Mohamed Al-Baqer, to the Emergency State Security Court (exceptional court), pending a new case that was reproduced from Case No. 1356. The decision to refer them to trial coincided with the referral of the former spokesperson for the Civil Democratic Movement (a political grouping of opposition parties and movements), Engineer Yahya Hussein Abdel Hadi, who is imprisoned in the same case that brings together the three activists, to the Misdemeanor Court of Nasr City, a second emergency state security pending a new case also.

This is a continuation of the policy of recycling detainees onto new cases. Whenever a detainee reaches the maximum limit of two years in pretrial detention, a case is fabricated with the same old accusations to keep him behind bars indefinitely, but what is new this time is the quick referral to trial before lawyers even attend the prosecution’s investigations. This leads to the belief that there are prison sentences designed to imprison these activists by an official court ruling, to preserve the public appearance of the regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

Exceptional courts

The regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi imposed a state of emergency throughout Egypt in April 2017, following two terrorist bombings that targeted two Coptic churches, which resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries. Since then, the state of emergency has been constantly renewed for the purposes of suppressing peaceful opposition, in flagrant violation of the Egyptian constitution. Under the state of emergency imposed in the country, political detainees are referred to emergency state security courts, which are courts that include the same regular judges, but their rulings are not appealed, but are considered final if ratified by the President of the Republic or his authorised representative.

Thus, the detainees enter the furnace of waiting at the mercy of Sisi, who, if he wishes, tortures them by keeping them in prison and, if he wishes, releases them, or puts them on trial again. In June, the Emergency Supreme State Security Court sentenced Ahmed Samir Santawi, a master’s student at Central European University, to four years in prison and fined him EGP 500, after convicting him of “spreading false news from outside the country about the internal situation.”

Psychological epidemic

Some of the detainees referred to the exceptional trial as a severe psychological crisis due to the length of their detention, and the violations they are subjected to during their imprisonment, which include solitary confinement, psychological torture, and denial of reading, group prayer, or any legitimate activities inside prisons, in clear violation of the provisions of the constitution and prison law and regulations.

Prominent political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah is being held in pretrial detention in connection with Case 1356 of 2019. He was arrested by the Dokki Police Department on September 29, 2019, after completing the period of daily police surveillance, which he was serving as part of the precautionary measures he was sentenced to for five years as well as the other five years he spent in prison in the case of the “Shura Council demonstration” in 2014.

Lawyer Khaled Ali revealed on September 13 that his client, Alaa Abdel Fattah, announced during a hearing to renew his detention, that he was considering committing suicide because of his desperation to improve the conditions of his solitary confinement in the high-security prison 2 in the Tora prison complex, for two years, as well as the ill-treatment he is subjected to. Alaa told the judge: “I am in a horrible situation, and I will not be able to complete this process. I will commit suicide and tell Laila Soueif to receive my condolences.” After the session ended, he told his lawyer: “I know the new case will be referred to trial, and since 2011 I haven’t been released from prison for a whole year. If what they want my death, it would be suicide and salvation.”

A day later, on September 14, Abdel Fattah’s family received a letter from him promising them endurance and cohesion, but he did not hide the deterioration of his psychological condition and his feeling that he would spend the rest of his life in prison without need. Two days ago, Alaa’s sister, Mona, said that she was shocked by his condition during her visit to him and his state of anger, as he believed that he would spend the rest of his life in prison, and would not be able to be next to his son and raise him. While Alaa threatens to commit suicide, activist, and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, better known as “Oxygen,” tried to commit suicide in July, but his life was saved.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Oxygen’s legal representatives, said that the reason for his suicide was the mistreatment of the authorities in the Tora 2 high-security prison, where the prison administration prevented him from visiting for months, and also prevented him from receiving the prison canteen money his family deposited for him. The Arab Network said that the ban on visits to Oxygen has been ongoing for 15 months, and that the prison administration did not inform his family or his lawyer about the fact that food and personal supplies have arrived for him when they are handed over to the guard at the prison gate, in addition to preventing the network from obtaining a permit from the Supreme State Security Prosecution to enable its lawyers to visit him to check his physical, mental and psychological well-being.

The new case in which Oxygen has been added to is the fifth in which he has been charged in three and half years. He was arrested for the first time in April 2018, and the Public Prosecution held him in pretrial detention after he was included in Case No. 621 of 2018 Supreme State Security, before the Criminal Court released him with precautionary measures in July 2019, so that the police arrested him again, while he was on precautionary measures, in September 2019. He was included in Case No. 1356 of 2019 State Security Restriction, for which he spent about a year and two months in pretrial detention, until it was ruled that he should be released in November 2020, yet he was prevented from leaving and was recycled in Case 855 of 2020 State Security, on charges of joining a terrorist group.

Is this the promised breakthrough?

The process of recycling political detainees in new cases to keep them imprisoned indefinitely coincides with the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy, according to which the human rights situation in Egypt is supposed to improve, and with the intensification of talk of a “great political breakthrough” in which hundreds of political detainees will be released from prisons. Until now, it seems that all this is just talk and that this promised breakthrough is still far from being achieved, and is being leaked for international consumption but the Sisi regime is still insisting on abusing the opponents.