Egypt uses prosecution branch to crush dissent: Amnesty International

Egyptian security forces carried out a harsh crackdown in September to stamp out small but rare anti-government protests. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2019

Egypt uses prosecution branch to crush dissent: Amnesty International

  • Egyptian security forces carried out a harsh crackdown in September to stamp out small but rare anti-government protests
  • Late Tuesday, police made six new arrests — including three journalists — in central Cairo

CAIRO: Egypt’s government is using a secretive security agency designed to fight terrorism to detain peaceful protesters, journalists and critics on trumped-up charges without trial, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.
The 60-page report by the London-based rights group details how Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution, or SSSP, has become increasingly central to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s sweeping crackdown on dissent.
“In Egypt today, the Supreme State Security Prosecution has stretched the definition of ‘terrorism’ to encompass peaceful protests, social media posts and legitimate political activities,” said Philip Luther, the group’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Concertgoers were accused of terrorism for waving rainbow-colored flags. A journalist charged with “broadcasting false news” was detained repeatedly for three years. A human rights lawyer was arrested for joining a protest he says he didn’t attend. Several Christians were imprisoned for “aiding a terrorist group,” a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization.
“Ridiculous” prosecutions have proliferated, said report author Hussein Baoumi.
Citing these cases and over a hundred others, Amnesty International said the SSSP, a secretive agency comprised of just a few hand-picked judges, is abusing its legal powers as a counterterrorism branch to stifle political dissent.
“There’s no judicial oversight. We’re talking about a completely closed circuit,” Baoumi said. “If these cases were referred to trial, people would be acquitted at once,” as the state’s accusations are based on confidential police reports, he added.
Egyptian security forces carried out a harsh crackdown in September to stamp out small but rare anti-government protests. The SSSP played a critical role in sweeping up thousands of people on charges of terrorism, the report said.
The prosecution agency renews people’s detentions for months and years without evidence, denying them access to lawyers and a fair chance to appeal, it added.
Amnesty said SSSP investigations into allegations of torture and enforced disappearance by the police intelligence division amount to a whitewash. The SSSP routinely buries evidence of police abuse and gives credence to confessions extracted with torture, it said, drawing on court documents and interviews with dozens of witnesses.
Under El-Sisi, Egypt has seen a “meteoric rise” in cases prosecuted by SSSP, according to Amnesty. The report drew attention to the expansion of the branch’s covert role since a court declared indefinite administrative detention unconstitutional in 2013.
There was no immediate comment from the government on Amnesty’s report, but authorities have repeatedly denied charges of violations or police brutality. Authorities say they are fighting terrorism and have accused rights groups of working with foreign entities to undermine the state.
El-Sisi led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president in 2013 after his one-year rule proved divisive, sparking nationwide protests.
The general-turned-president has overseen an unprecedented political crackdown, silencing critics and jailing thousands.
“Our goal with this report is to make it very clear that when someone is accused of terrorism in Egypt, the international community cannot take it at face value,” Baoumi told The Associated Press. “More likely, that person was arrested for peacefully expressing an opinion.”
Late Tuesday, police made six new arrests — including three journalists — in central Cairo. Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafiz, a board member of Egypt’s journalists’ association, wrote a post on social media about the arrests, listing the journalists as Solafa Magdy, Hossam El-Sayyad and Mohamed Salah.
In Washington, a senior State Department official called on Egypt “to ensure journalists can work without threats of imprisonment and intimidation.” Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters Tuesday that “as part of our long-standing strategic partnership, we continue to raise the fundamental importance of respect for human rights.”
For decades, the US has been Egypt’s largest weapons supplier, with over a billion dollars in military aid each year.


Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

Updated 21 January 2020

Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

LONDON: An academic currently imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage has reportedly refused an offer to become a spy for Tehran in return for her freedom.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a UK-Australian dual national, made the revelation in a series of letters handed to The Times that were smuggled out of Evin prison, located in the north of the capital, where she is serving 10 years.

In the letters, addressed separately to a Mr. Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Hosseini, who are thought to be officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Moore-Gilbert stated in basic Farsi that she had “never been a spy, and I have no intention to work for a spying organization in any country.” 

She added: “Please accept this letter as an official and definitive rejection of your offer to me to work with the intelligence branch of the IRGC.”

Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, was arrested in 2018 after attending a conference in Tehran. 

She was tried and convicted in secret, and her letters implied that she had been kept in solitary confinement in a wing of Evin prison under the IRGC’s control.

It is reportedly the same wing being used to detain UK-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, also incarcerated for espionage, and away from the all-female cellblock that Moore-Gilbert was meant to have been housed in.

The letters catalog a series of other mistreatments and inhumane conditions, suggesting she had been permitted no contact with her family, and that, having been denied access to vital medication, her health was deteriorating.

She also suggested that she had been subjected to sleep deprivation methods, with lights in her cell kept on 24 hours per day, and that she was often blindfolded when transported. 

“It is clear that IRGC Intelligence is playing an awful game with me. I am an innocent victim,” she wrote.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in India last week, where the case was discussed.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry later issued a statement claiming that the country would not “submit to political games and propaganda” over the issue.

This comes at a time when international pressure has ratcheted up on the regime in Tehran following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane over the capital on Jan. 8. 

Mass demonstrations nationwide followed the news that the plane had been shot down by Iranian forces. 

Olympian defects to Germany

Meanwhile, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, announced that she would not return to the country, citing her refusal to continue to be used as a “propaganda tool.”

She wrote of her decision on Instagram: “I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. None of us matter for them, we are just tools.”

It was revealed on Jan. 20 that the taekwondo martial artist, who had been living and training in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, had elected to move to Hamburg in Germany, for whom she will now compete.

Alizadeh’s defection is just one in a series of high-profile acts of defiance by Iranians outraged by the actions of the regime.

At least two journalists working for Iranian state-owned TV channels are known to have resigned their positions in protest.

One, news anchor Gelare Jabbari, posted on Instagram: “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”