Egypt: Ongoing judicial harassment of 32 Nubian human rights defenders

16/03/2018
Urgent Appeal

New information
EGY 005 / 1117 / OBS 114.4

Judicial harassment /
Restrictions to freedom of assembly
Egypt
March 16, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Egypt.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment of 32 Nubian human rights defenders actively involved in the defence of minority and Nubian rights in the Aswan governorate, including Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, lawyer and President of the General Nubian Union [1], Maysara Abdoun, Training Coordinator at Border Center for Support & Consulting (BSC) [2], and Ms. Seham Osman [3].

According to the information, on March 13, 2018, a judge in the Aswan Misdemeanour State Security Emergency Court recused himself from presiding the trial of Messrs. Mohamed Azmy and Maysara Abdoun, Ms. Seham Osman as well as 29 other Nubian rights activists, allegedly over issues of impartiality although no further information was available as of publication of this urgent appeal. A different court circuit for the trial as well as a date for the next hearing are yet to be determined.

The 32 Nubian activists have appeared before the State Security Emergency Court under charges of “participating in an unauthorised protest”, “inciting protests” and “disrupting public order” on the basis of the Protest Law No. 107 of 2013. If convicted under these charges, they could face up to five years in prison and fines of 100,000 EGP (approx. 4,734 EUR).

A Cabinet decree issued under the state of emergency allows civilians exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression to be tried by State Security courts. The verdicts of these courts are implemented immediately upon signature by the President of the Republic and cannot be appealed.

Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun, Ms. Seham Osman and the 29 other Nubian rights activists were arrested and detained throughout September and November 2017, during peaceful demonstrations demanding the rights of the Nubian minority in Egypt to be upheld as well as solidarity demonstrations following the death while in custody of Mr. Gamal Sorour, French-Egyptian resident and prominent Nubian human rights defender (see background information).

The Observatory expresses its concerns over the reprisals against rights activists defending the constitutional Nubian right of return [4], as well as over the fact that the exercise of their right to peaceful protest is being prosecuted by a State Security Emergency Court with no possibility to appeal.

The Observatory calls upon the Egyptian authorities to put an end to the judicial harassment of Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun, Ms. Seham Osman and the above-mentioned 29 other Nubian rights defenders.

The Observatory urges the Egyptian authorities to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all 32 Nubian rights defenders and to ensure that, until charges are dropped, all the judicial proceedings are carried out in full compliance with their right to a fair trial and due process as well as without undue delays, as protected under international law.

Background information:

Originally spread over Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan, the Nubian people were subjected to forced displacement from their ancestral land as a result of various government-led projects such as the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.

Article 236 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution provides for the Nubian right of return by stating that “the State works on developing and implementing projects to bring back the residents of Nubia to their original areas and develop them within 10 years in the manner organised by law”. Since then, Nubian people have been demanding for their constitutional right of return to be upheld.

However, in October 2015, President el-Sisi announced a massive land reclamation project, including Nubian ancestral land [5]. Later in October 2016, the Egyptian government put plots of Nubian land up for sale to Egyptian and foreign investors, as well as farmers.

In response, Nubian rights activists organized a series of peaceful activities to protest the move by the Egyptian government and to demand their right of return to be upheld, including a caravan driving towards their ancestral land in November 2016.

In early 2017, Egyptian intelligence in Aswan called in members of the General Nubian Union threatening them with closure and asset freeze if Mr. Mohamed Azmy was to remain President.

On September 3, 2017, on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, Nubian rights defenders held a peaceful demonstration, demanding the return of Nubians to their ancestral lands. On that same day, Messrs. Gamal Sorour, Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun together with 22 Nubian activists were assaulted by security forces, arrested and taken into custody to Shallal Central Security forces camp. They were reportedly being held in one cell with several sleeping on the floor.

Mr. Gamal Sorour, who suffered from diabetes, was not given proper access to medical care during his detention. As a result, on November 5, 2017, he entered in a diabetic coma and died while in custody. Reportedly, the prison authorities did not give him access to his medication for five days prior to his death, allegedly because they could not understand the label on the medication, which was written in French. In addition, prison authorities allegedly did not immediately transfer Mr. Gamal Sorour to the hospital when he fell into a coma.

Subsequently, other Nubian rights activists were arrested during peaceful solidarity protests carried out in October and November [6], and eight of them were added to the case.

On November 13, 2017, Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun Ms. Seham Osman and the other 29 Nubian human rights activists were referred to a Misdemeanour State Security Emergency Court under charges of “participating in an unauthorised protest” and “repeating chants against the state for the purpose of harming public interest" [7].

On November 15, 2017, the Aswan Misdemeanour State Security Emergency Court ordered the release of Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun, Ms. Seham Osman and 29 other Nubian rights activists, pending trial. The Court adjourned the trial to December 12, 2017.

On December 26, 2017, an appeal procedure to have their case tried before a regular procedural Court was rejected.

On January 30, 2018, all 32 Nubian rights activists appeared before the Aswan Misdemeanour State Security Emergency Court, who adjourned the trial to February 27, 2018.

On February 27, 2018, the Aswan Misdemeanour State Security Emergency Court postponed the verdict hearing to March 13, 2018.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun, Ms. Seham Osman, the above-mentioned 29 other Nubian rights activists and all human rights defenders in Egypt;

ii. Order an immediate, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into Mr. Gamal Sorour’s death in custody, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Mohamed Azmy, Maysara Abdoun, Ms. Seham Osman, the above-mentioned 29 other Nubian rights activists as well as against all human rights defenders in Egypt, and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance;

iv. In the meantime, guarantee the right to a fair trial and due process of all 32 Nubian rights activists;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1, 6(c) and 12.2; and

vi. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Egypt.

Addresses:

• President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, H.E. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Fax: +202 2391 1441. Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg, Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial
• Prime Minister, Mr. Sherif Ismail. Fax: + 202 2735 6449 / 27958016.
• Minister of the Interior, Mr. Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
• Minister of Justice, Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rahim, Fax: +202 2795 8103 

• Minister of Social Solidarity, Ghada Waly, Fax: +202 3337 5390
• Public Prosecutor, Counsellor Nabeel Sadek, Fax: +202 2577 4716
• Mr. Mohamed Fayeq, President of the National Council For Human Rights, Fax: + 202 25747497 / 25747670. Email: nchr@nchr.org.eg
• H.E. Mr. Amr Ramadan, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.egypt@ties.itu.int, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
• Embassy of Egypt in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 675.58.88; Email: embassy.egypt@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Egypt in your respective country.

***
Paris-Geneva, March 16, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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