CAIRO — Egypt has a long and rich history, mostly famous for its ancient cultures that left behind truly perplexing wonders that continue to amaze people today. Despite this, quality of life for many Egyptians in recent years has been challenging, and there are significant issues with human rights in Egypt that need to be addressed.
The 2014 Egyptian presidential election resulted in a new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has since exacerbated state-sanctioned use of excessive force, torture and enforced disappearances. Al-Sisi’s regime has silenced nearly all forms of expression, speech or assembly. Below are descriptions of three of the most serious violations of human rights in Egypt.
Freedom of expression and assembly
It is not uncommon in Egypt for activists and journalists to face arrest and imprisonment for things they choose to publish or say. According to the 2016 Amnesty International Human Rights Report, Egypt began a mass trial in December 2015 that involved more than 730 people. Among them was a photojournalist named Mahmoud Abou Zeid, who was falsely charged with several offenses, including “joining a criminal gang.”
In December 2016, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported a total of 25 journalists in Egyptian prisons. This considered, it appears that to put it mildly, opposition journalists and activists alike are taking a great risk in regard to their personal freedom.
As for the right to assembly, in 2013, government officials enacted a demonstrations law prohibiting numerous activities and gives the minister of interior absolute discretion to prohibit demonstrations or deem them unlawful. On April 15 and 25, 2016, security forces discharged tear gas into peaceful protests and around around 1,300 arrests were made upon the basis of the 2013 protest law.
According to the Daftar Ahwal Research Center, more than 37,000 incidents have occurred in which individuals have been arrested, charged or stopped due to this law between November 2013 and September 2016. From this, 6,382 convictions resulted.
Right to a fair and public trial
Of all human rights in Egypt, the procedures of court proceedings are among the most commonly abused. Mass trials, varying from several or dozens to hundreds of people, are common. Lack of due process, the right to a speedy trial and the use of military courts to try civilians are all common as well, despite the constitution explicitly forbidding this practice.
This was made possible as of August 2016 when Egyptian officials extended a law dramatically expanding the jurisdiction of military courts to include crimes civilians commit against “public installations,” in addition to a 2014 decree allowing for the military to aid police in “securing vital public facilities.” Public access to these trials are highly restricted and many cases involve mass trials. Since this decree, one human rights group said that 7,420 citizens, at least 86 of whom were children, had been tried in military courts.
In May 2016, a military court sentenced eight civilians to death on questionable charges and sent 18 co-defendants to prison. All defendants showed signs of being tortured while in court and were denied requests for medical evaluations. In February 2016, a military court sentenced 116 individuals to life in prison, 100 of whom were absent at sentencing. One was a three-year-old, who was charged with murder, attempted murder and possession of firearms and explosives.
Torture and enforced disappearances
Using torture to obtain evidence and forced confessions is extremely common in Egypt and is arguably the most violent abuse of human rights in Egypt. Officers within the interior ministry can do it with absolute impunity. According to Human Rights Watch, as recently as this year, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture are so prevalent it is described as an epidemic.
Fortunately, the world is noticing. In April 2017, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, lambasted the country for the current circumstances surrounding its human rights. Hussein said that his office had received numerous reports of arbitrary detention, torture, trials of civilians in military courts, extrajudicial killings, travel bans, asset seizures, intimidation and other forms of retaliation toward journalists, activists, political opponents and human rights organizations.
Hussein responded by praising the actions of activists, political dissidents and journalists for standing up for what they believe in, despite the risk they are taking, adding that by suppressing speech and information, societal development will be limited and extremism and instability will inevitably increase. It will take a great deal of time, effort, diplomacy and systemic change in order for human rights in Egypt to be reformed, but the path is clear.
– Hunter McFerrin