The hand that tortures and punishes

Press release
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An Op-Ed by Karim Lahidji, FIDH President, published in the German newspaper die Zeit on the occasion of General Abdel Fattah al Sissi’s official visit to Berlin on 3-4 June.

Dear Madam Chancellor,

You will be shaking the hand of General Abdel Fattah al Sissi.

Shaking that hand does not give peace and stability a chance in the Middle East. Instead, it perpetuates injustice, sanctioning the regime’s violence, and its domination, humiliation, and absolute control of civil society and political life. It perpetuates a kind of injustice that the revolutions, which have shaken the Arab World, have already proven is no longer viable.

Since he took power in July 2013, General Abdel Fattah Al Sissi has been orchestrating a repression that is unparalleled in the history of modern Egypt. According to figures documented by independent Egyptian NGOs, 41,000 political prisoners, including leading figures of the pro-democracy movement, such as Alaa Abdel Fattah and Yara Sallam, are languishing in prison. More than 670 death sentences were handed down after mass sham trials. Any meeting of more than ten persons that is not authorised by the Ministry of the Interior is prohibited. Under the influence of various ultimatums, penal amendments and retaliatory measures, independent NGOs, including several FIDH member organisations, are waiting for the axe to fall, an axe that threatens to imprison their members for life on the grounds that they receive foreign funds with the purpose of harming the "national interest." As indicated in a recent report published by FIDH, sexual violence perpetrated by the police and military security forces against men and women have become widespread, growing proportionally with the increase in arrests. Generally widespread in detention centres in the form of harassment, rape, rape with objects, electrocution of genitals, this violence also threatens anyone arrested by the police. General Abdel Fattah Al Sissi has personally defended the “virginity tests” inflicted on female protesters by the military, which remain a common practice, despite the army’s commitment to end it.

Even as you shake that hand, government repression is about to take on even more alarming proportions. On 17 May, six men convicted by a military court were summarily executed before their appeal hearings. On 20 May, the tortured body of a student from the University of Ain Shams, Islam Atito, was found in the middle of the desert the day after his arrest by the security forces. And when he returns home after shaking your hand, General Al Sissi will find a new cybercrime bill sitting on his desk awaiting his signature. According to versions of the bill leaked to the press, it will give judges the power to hand down sentences of life in prison for “cybercrimes,” crimes defined as statements or activities on social media that aim to “defame national unity” or “a divine religion,” that engage in "blasphemy" or that are deemed a "sexual offence."

The hand that you will shake is the same one that silences human rights defenders and activists, electrocutes and violates the bodies of political prisoners, searches the vagina of demonstrators and the anus of homosexuals in the name of "virginity tests" imposed by military order, the same one that signs the death warrant of hundreds of political prisoners after unfair trials.

As government spokesperson Steffen Seibert rightly noted, Egypt is a cornerstone of regional stability. Madam Chancellor, take your place in history. Prove that you believe that the right to dignity, security and the physical integrity of Egyptian men and women has the same value as those of any German citizen. They are inalienable and fundamental rights. In so doing, you will show all Arab peoples your refusal to extract them from one inhumane situation only to throw them into another. In so doing, you will show your recognition of their aspiration to enjoy the same rights as yourself. You will be making great strides in favour of peace, security and stability in the Middle East and in Europe.

Madam Chancellor, do not shake the hand of Abdel Fattah Al Sissi.

Karim Lahidji
FIDH President

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