The Egyptian authorities have intensified their crackdown on opposition activists ahead of the upcoming 2018 presidential elections, arresting at least 36 people in 17 cities from five opposition parties and political youth groups, said Amnesty International today. Many were arrested in connection with comments they posted online about the elections.
Among who have faced arrest is the former presidential candidate and prominent human rights lawyer Khaled Ali who was detained yesterday and released today on bail. He will now face trial on Monday for “violating public morals”. If convicted he faces a one year prison sentence or a fine. He would also be barred from running for the presidency. In February he acknowledged that he was considering a renewed presidential bid for 2018 elections.
“The presidential elections are not scheduled to take place until 2018, yet the Egyptian authorities seem intent on pre-emptively crushing any potential rivals to maintain their grip on power,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s campaigns director for North Africa.
“Khaled Ali’s arrest and prosecution was clearly politically motivated. The Egyptian authorities must drop the absurd charge he is facing and end the smear campaign against him.”
Khaled Ali is the founder of Aish we Horreiya (Bread and Freedom) party whose members are among those targeted by the wave of arrests.
He was first summoned by the prosecutor in Giza for questioning on 23 May. Negad al Borei, his lawyer, who attended the interrogation session, told Amnesty International that he was charged with making physical gestures “that violate public morals”. The charge relates to a photo showing Khalid Ali celebrating with his supporters outside the High Administrative Court, after winning a prominent case to reverse a government decision to hand over control of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.
His lawyer said that the prosecutor refused to share a copy of the casefile and the video evidence against him.
Amnesty International has interviewed 13 lawyers, four human rights researchers and 14 family members about the crackdown which has targeted members of political parties, opposition groups and political activists who have criticized President Abdelfattah al-Sisi online from across the country in recent weeks.
At least 26 people are still detained on a series of vaguely worded counter-terrorism related charges, including belonging to groups that are attempting to overthrow the government and in some cases “insulting the President” via social media and “misusing social media platforms”. Two others have been released on bail and six others were released without bail, all pending investigations in connection with the same charges. If convicted they could face between five and 25 years in prison. Security forces arrested two other members of the Dostour party on 24 May, but their whereabouts remain unknown.
“The crackdown on political activists is yet another sign of Egyptian authorities’ desire to crush any peaceful opposition and stifle alternative views instead of allowing Egyptians to have a say in their future,” said Najia Bounaim.
“The Egyptian authorities must halt this wave of arrests and prosecutions of peaceful activists.”
Four human rights lawyers in Cairo who are representing nine of those accused told Amnesty International that the evidence submitted against their clients included Facebook posts and old political posters and “found in their homes”.
The crackdown has seen political activists arrested in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Ismalia Suez, Dumyat, Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Kafr el-Sheikh, Dakahliya, Bani Souwaif, Minya, Faiyum, Qina, Luxor, Asiut, and Aswan.
In at least 29 cases members of Egypt’s National Security Agency broke into activists’ homes in the early hours of the morning before detaining them for several hours and questioning them in the absence of their lawyers.
“The wide-scale and coordinated nature of the crackdown against political activists makes it even more chilling,” said Najia Bounaim.
“The authorities are shamelessly using the draconian counter-terrorism law to round up young political activists for social media posts merely criticizing President Abdelfattah al-Sisi.”
Those arrested include seven members and former members from April 6 Youth group, a political group that gained prominence after the 25 January revolution. The two co-founders of the group had previously been imprisoned for three years in November 2013 and now face three more years of probation. They also include four members of Dostour, a political party founded in 2012 and one member from the Socialist People’s Alliance Party, as well as one from the Egyptian Popular Current, a political party that is in the process of registration and supported former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi in the 2014 Presidential election against President Abdelfattah al-Sisi.
On 19 May, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement on its Facebook page stating that they had arrested 40 people in cases of “internet crimes” including using social media to “incite violence” across several police districts, without specifying further details.
Over the past month the Egyptian parliament has been debating a controversial bill that would restrict access to sites such as Twitter and Facebook, requiring users to register with the government beforehand. Unauthorized use could result in prison sentences of up to six months and up to 5,000 EGP (250 USD) fine.
In the last presidential election in 2014, President Abdelfattah al-Sisi won almost 97% of the vote against his sole contender Hamdeen Sabahi. The run up to the election saw arbitrary arrests and assaults against his rivals’ supporters.