Egypt - The Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the journalist and human rights defender, Hisham Gaafar, who will have completed two years in arbitrary pre-trial detention on 21 October, Amnesty International said. He is being held in inhumane conditions and prolonged solitary confinement causing his health to deteriorate seriously.
Security forces arrested Hisham Gaafar on trumped up charges in October 2015. Since then, a judicial panel has repeatedly renewed his pre-trial detention without examining the scant evidence prosecutors have presented against him.
“It is disgraceful that Hisham Gaafar has been forced to spend two years behind bars. His arbitrary and prolonged pre-trial detention is another shameful illustration of how Egypt’s judiciary is abusing the criminal justice system to punish peaceful critics and dissidents,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Hisham Gaafar is a prisoner of conscience solely detained for his human rights work. He should never have been detained in the first place. His prolonged and arbitrary detention is a flagrant breach of both Egyptian and international law that the judges should not allow to be extended by even one more day.”
Hisham Gaafar, 53, is the director of Mada Foundation for Media Development, an NGO which provides consultation, training and information on a variety of human rights and development topics. He had been researching sectarian violence and democratic transition before his arrest.
On 21 October 2015, officers from the National Security Agency of the Ministry of Interior seized him from his office in Cairo without an arrest warrant. They searched the premises and confiscated documents and office laptops. Simultaneously, another force raided his home in Cairo. They held his wife and his children inside the house for 17 hours before leaving with their cell phones, laptops and personal documents.
He is being detained on the unfounded charges of receiving funds from foreign agencies for “the purpose of harming national security” and belonging to “a banned group” - the Muslim Brotherhood. If convicted, he could face a sentence of life in prison.
According to Article 143 of Egypt’s Code of Criminal Procedure, the maximum period of pre-trial detention must not exceed six months for defendants accused of crimes punished by up to three years in prison, 18 months for crimes punished by up to 15 years in prison and two years for crimes punished by death or life imprisonment.
The judges reviewing Hisham Gaafar’s detention are therefore obliged, by law, to release him once he completes two years in pre-trial detention. His next review session is scheduled for 26 October.
His lawyer Karim Abdelrady, from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Amnesty International that since his arrest, the Supreme Sate Security Prosecution has failed to present any evidence justifying his continued detention. He added that the prosecution has based its investigation on reports from the National Security Agency and lawyers have not been allowed any access to the case file.
Systematic use of pre-trial detention
Since July 2013, thousands have been held in custody as a result of Egypt’s abusive pre-trial detention system which grants judges and prosecutors broad powers to justify detaining defendants before and during trials.
During the Mubarak era, the authorities used to circumvent the limits on pre-trial detention by applying the Emergency Law, which allowed them to use administrative detention to hold individuals indefinitely without charge or trial. Today, the Egyptian authorities’ routine use of prolonged pre-trial detention is again being used as a means to evade fair trial guarantees and silence any form of peaceful dissent.