Growing repression in Egypt reflects the exacerbation of political and economic crises

70

The Egyptian security authorities released Mrs Neama Hisham, the wife of the detained human rights lawyer, Mohamed El-Baqer, after detaining her illegally for about 12 hours on the grounds of her blogging about her husband being tortured and beaten inside his prison cell in Badr Prison. This came after a massive solidarity campaign on social media platforms amid calls for the Egyptian opposition to withdraw from the national dialogue that the authority calls for.

“My husband has been tortured”

Last Sunday evening, Neama wrote on Facebook that her husband Al-Baqer, revealed to her, during her visit to him in his prison cell in Badr 1, the details of the assault on him: “I visited Baqer today for the first time after he was beaten, injured, and imprisoned in discipline cell with his underwear on the floor. And after that, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement and was prevented from physical exercise.” She explained: “The tragedy began on Monday, April 10, when an elderly prisoner in al-Baqer’s room refused to go to the renewal of the prosecution’s detention due to his depression after the death of his wife. After that, the prison forces intervened, and the old man was abused, and when al-Baqer and another prisoner tried to help the old prisoner, they were beaten, and Baqer was gagged.” She added: “After that, Baqer and the other two were transferred to the disciplinary chambers in the al-Dawaa ward, and he was imprisoned with his underwear on the floor for two days in the cold without any cover or treatment, and the first day without eating and the second day with only bread and cheese, in a room with no windows, no ventilation, no light, no electricity and the bathroom very poorly ventilated.” She also confirmed that: “He stayed to discipline cell from Monday to Thursday, after which he was transferred to a solitary confinement cell in his old cell, and was deprived of physical exercise until today. I am completely unable to speak. I am full of anger.”

A few hours after the publication, a security force raided Naama Hisham’s house and asked her to bring her phone, then took her to an unknown location without explaining to her or any of her family members the reasons for her arrest or the charges against her, according to Islam Salama, her husband’s lawyer. Neama’s imprisonment did not go unnoticed, as the news quickly spread like wildfire and campaigns were launched in solidarity with her and her husband, who has been detained since 2019 because of his human rights activities. 11 human rights organizations issued a statement calling for “the immediate release of Mrs Neama Hisham, who did not commit a crime, but rather sought help from the violence that her husband is subjected to by the administration of Badr Prison 1 after she saw him injured in his mouth, ribs and wrist as a result of what he was subjected to.”

The organizations expressed “grave concern about the Ministry of Interior’s continued use of cruel and degrading treatment policies against detainees, including assault, beating and abuse of detainees, despite the continuous official statements about the development of the infrastructure of prisons system. But this development happened without regard for the development of the institutional culture of prison personnel and administration, despite talking about National dialogue and freeing up political space. The statement added: “We demand the immediate release of Mrs Neama Hisham, the wife of the human rights lawyer, prisoner of conscience Muhammad Al-Baqer, and to stop pursuing the detainees’ families, and we call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately stop the policy of practising the crime of torture and ill-treatment in Egyptian prisons, whatever the goal is, whether it is for extracting confessions or using it as a means of punishing detainees.” After the unexpected broad solidarity campaign, in which several prominent politicians and human rights activists participated, the Egyptian security services were forced to release Nema after 13 hours of illegal detention.

Who is El-Baqer?

In September 2019, lawyer Muhammad Al-Baqer was practicing his work before the Supreme State Security Prosecution as a lawyer for the detained human rights activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, then he was surprised by the issuance of an arrest warrant against him in connection with the same case in which his client is accused, and on the same charge: “Joining a terrorist group knowing its purposes, and spreading false news and statements.” Al-Baqer was known in the human rights field after the revolution of January 25, 2011. Although he graduated from the Faculty of Law in 2001, he worked in commerce and entrepreneurship and holds a master’s degree in business administration. However, the January Revolution awakened the flame of human rights work within him. In its immediate aftermath, he volunteered to defend civilians referred to military trials and the victims of human rights violations. With the increasing number of cases, Al-Baqer decided to establish the “Justice for Rights and Freedoms” centre, and the name reflected his conviction in the right of everyone to obtain legal justice in all its forms. His work shed light on criminal justice files, academic freedoms, and legal protection for refugees and immigrants. He defended accused people from all political backgrounds, worked on issues of people with special needs, the file of detaining children in penal institutions, student rights, and health care in prisons.

Al-Baqer spent two years in prison without trial, the maximum period of pretrial detention, after which the law requires the release of the accused. Still, the security services decided not to respect the law and referred him to a new case on charges of “spreading false news”, a case reproduced from the first case. The new case was quickly referred to the State Security Misdemeanor Court, which sentenced al-Baqer to 4 years in prison, in a ruling that cannot be appealed before any other judicial authority, as it was issued by an “extraordinary emergency court.” In his capacity as military ruler, the current president ratified the ruling to become final.

The case witnessed numerous violations of justice principles, which Al-Baqer had always defended. It was decided after three trial sessions described as “fair” as the prosecution refused to show the lawyers the file of accusations. The court should have responded to the defence’s requests, including the lawyers’ visit to consult their clients, obtaining a photocopy of the case file or a copy, or hearing the pleadings. In addition to that Al-Baqer was not confronted with any evidence of the accusations attributed to him, except for old posts on social media pages about some violations inside prisons. In appreciation of his prominent human rights role, in November 2020 El-Baqer won the 2020 CCBE Award for Human Rights for his commitment and dedicated defence of human rights in Egypt. The United Nations and member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the US Congress, and the European Parliament have previously called for his release and condemned his prosecution because of his legitimate work in human rights. Despite all this, the government refuses to release or include him in any of the presidential pardon lists, claiming he has a “problematic personality.”

In appreciation of his prominent human rights role, in November 2020 El-Baqer won the 2020 CCBE Award for Human Rights for his commitment and dedicated defence of human rights in Egypt. The United Nations and member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the US Congress, and the European Parliament have previously called for his release and condemned his prosecution because of his legitimate work in human rights. Despite all this, the government refuses to release or include him in any of the presidential pardon lists, claiming he has a “problematic personality.”

Growing repression

Political analysts considered that what happened with Neama Hisham is evidence of growing oppression and security repression, as it is no longer enough for the authorities to take revenge on human rights defenders and opponents. Still, their family members have also become a target for abuse just because they talk about the violations their families are subjected to. “There is a rule governing the behaviour of police regimes. The more they become politically and economically in crisis, the level of their violence increases, they become brutal, and their centres of power are reduced to the security services, not the military ones. Their behaviour remains unpredictable as if they are spasmodic. The surplus of oppression from the regional and international forces that put pressure on the regime comes out as violence against the people as if the authority tells them: You are the reason for that. Like a father whose children have turned into a burden on him, but the father will often not hate his children, contrary to the authority that can hate its people, it can be separated and being completely foreign to the society,” says a writer-researcher, commenting on the authorities’ expansion of crackdowns.

Several political and human rights activists criticized the continuation of the civil democratic movement, which includes many opposition political parties and personalities, in negotiating with the authority to hold the national dialogue, despite the serious human rights violations it is committing, which confirms that it is not severe.