Covering events from January-December 2001

Arab Republic of Egypt
Head of state: Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
Head of government: 'Atif Muhammad 'Ubayd
Capital: Cairo
Population: 69.1 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

At least 27 prisoners of conscience were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years. At the end of the year, 47 prisoners of conscience, including 21 people imprisoned in previous years, remained held. Thousands of suspected supporters of banned Islamist groups, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention without charge or trial; some had been held for years. Others were serving sentences imposed after grossly unfair trials before military courts. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees was widespread. Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were reported. At least 67 people were sentenced to death and at least four were executed.


Elections to Egypt's Upper House began in mid-May and took place over a period of several weeks. The ruling National Democratic Party won the vast majority of seats. Scores of alleged members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization were arrested, particularly in the run-up to the elections.

Following the attacks in the USA on 11 September, the Egyptian authorities arrested several people suspected of having links with militant Islamist groups; they included people who had been forcibly deported to Egypt. The authorities also clamped down on public gatherings and demonstrations.

Freedom of expression and association

Prisoners of conscience were sentenced to up to seven years' imprisonment. At least 21 prisoners of conscience, including political activists and members of religious groups, sentenced in previous years remained in prison. Among them were 15 alleged Muslim Brothers sentenced in 2000 to up to five years' imprisonment after an unfair trial.

Civil society institutions such as political parties, non-governmental organizations, professional associations and trade unions, and the news media continued to face legal restrictions and government control. In July, an administrative court ruled that the authorities should no longer obstruct the registration of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

In June, the Cairo office of the Sudanese Human Rights Organization was closed by the Egyptian authorities. The Sudanese authorities had allegedly demanded the closure of the office which had operated for some years in Egypt.

The Egyptian authorities imposed a ban on the activities of two political parties and maintained bans on other parties, including the suspension of party newspapers, imposed in previous years.

Human rights defenders

In May the Supreme State Security Court in Cairo sentenced Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent human rights defender and Director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, to seven years' imprisonment. Three fellow human rights defenders who also worked at the Center were sentenced to two-year prison terms. The main charges against them were in connection with European Union funded projects aimed at promoting participation in elections. In a joint statement the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers declared that the conviction "will have a chilling effect on the activities of other human rights defenders in Egypt".

Freedom of religion

People continued to be at risk of detention, trial and imprisonment in violation of their right to freedom of religion.

  • More than a dozen alleged members of the Baha'i faith, most from the Sohag Governorate, were arrested between January and April and detained for several months. In February the UN Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance noted that "Baha'is are not allowed to meet in groups, especially for religious observances, and their literature is destroyed".
  • In January, Salah al-Din Muhsin, a writer, was convicted of "offending religion" in several of his publications and sentenced to three years in prison after an unfair trial before the (Emergency) State Security Court for Misdemeanours in Giza.
  • In June, feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi appeared before a Personal Status Court in Cairo after a private complaint had been filed against her accusing her of apostasy. The complaint was linked with comments she made on religious issues which were published in the Egyptian weekly newspaper, al-Midan. In July the court rejected the complaint.
Imprisonment for alleged sexual orientation

In July, the trial of 52 allegedly gay men was opened before the (Emergency) State Security Court for Misdemeanours in Cairo; this Court permits no right of appeal. All the defendants were charged with "habitual debauchery" while two faced additional charges of "contempt of religion". They were reportedly tortured or ill-treated while held in pre-trial detention; all the defendants were forcibly subjected to anal examinations. In November the Court sentenced 23 of the defendants to between one and five years' imprisonment. They were imprisoned for their alleged sexual orientation; 22 were prisoners of conscience.
  • A 17-year-old boy was convicted in September of charges of "habitual debauchery" and sentenced to three years' imprisonment – the maximum sentence allowed – by the Cairo Juvenile Court. In December, his sentence was reduced on appeal to six months.
Unfair trials

Hundreds of people were tried or referred for trial before exceptional courts, such as state security courts, established under emergency legislation. They faced a variety of charges, including membership of illegal organizations, contempt for religion, publishing obscene material, habitual debauchery, espionage and corruption. The procedures of these courts fell far short of international standards for fair trial. For example, defendants did not have the right to a full review before a higher tribunal.
  • In September, the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court began the retrial of Sharif al-Filali who was charged with spying for Israel. He had been acquitted of the same charges by a different panel of the same court in June. However, President Mubarak refused to ratify the acquittal and ordered a retrial.
  • In September the (Emergency) State Security Court for Misdemeanours in Cairo sentenced the editor-in-chief of al-Naba'a newspaper, Mamduh Mahran, to three years' imprisonment on charges including insulting a religion and holy places, spreading false information, and publishing pictures which violate public morals. The charges related to an article published in June about a former Coptic monk. The article included photographs of alleged sexual activities in a monastery and led to widespread protests by the Coptic community in Egypt against the publication of the article, which was considered offensive.
  • In October, President Mubarak decreed that more than 250 people would be tried in two separate cases before the Supreme Military Court in connection with their alleged affiliation with armed Islamist groups. The majority of the defendants had been detained for several years without charge or trial.
  • In November, President Mubarak ordered that 22 alleged members of the Muslim Brothers should be tried before a military court. They had been detained in connection with alleged preparations for political activities opposing military intervention in Afghanistan by the USA and its allies.
Detention under emergency legislation

Following the attacks in the USA in September, several people suspected of being affiliated to militant Islamist groups were arrested under provisions of the emergency legislation. Thousands of suspected members or sympathizers of banned Islamist groups arrested in previous years, including possible prisoners of conscience, continued to be administratively detained without charge or trial.

More detainees were allowed visits by their relatives. However, prison conditions remained poor. Scores of detainees were reportedly suffering from diseases caused or exacerbated by the lack of hygiene and medical care, overcrowding or poor food. Thousands of political detainees continued to be denied the right to visits by lawyers and family members.

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture continued to be widespread in detention centres throughout the country. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture concluded that "torture is systematically practised by the security forces in Egypt, in particular by State Security Intelligence". The most common methods reported were electric shocks, beatings, suspension by the wrists or ankles and various forms of psychological torture, including death threats and threats of rape or sexual abuse of the detainee or a female relative. Torture victims came from all walks of life and included political activists and people arrested in criminal investigations.
  • Saif al-Islam Mohammad Rashwan was detained for several days in May at a branch of the State Security Intelligence in Giza, suspected of membership of the Muslim Brothers. He was reportedly given electric shocks, beaten and suspended from a horizontal pole.
  • Fifteen-year-old Rania Fathi 'Abd al-Rahman was detained in April for one day, together with other family members in a neighbourhood in the north of Cairo in connection with a criminal investigation. While held at the police station of Shubra al-Khaima's first precinct she was reportedly subjected to torture, including electric shocks. The Association for Human Rights and Legal Assistance reported that a family member was intimidated and harassed after filing a torture complaint. No investigation had been initiated by the end of the year.
Local human rights organizations

Local human rights organizations filed numerous complaints on behalf of torture victims and published several reports. In September the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners received a communication from the Ministry of the Interior in response to its report documenting the cases of more than 1,000 torture complaints filed over the past two decades.

Deaths in custody

In January the UN Special Rapporteur on torture commented on communications received from the Egyptian authorities regarding cases of deaths in custody in previous years. He expressed concerns about the persistence of explanations of the cause of death such as "sharp drop in blood pressure". He concluded that such symptoms were generally provoked by prior factors such as trauma or malnourishment. Several security officers were given prison sentences in connection with deaths in custody in previous years.

Harassment of victims and their relatives

Victims of torture and their relatives who filed complaints with the authorities continued to report harassment by security agents.
  • In May relatives of Fathi 'Abd al-Mun'im, who had died in 1994 in police custody in Helwan in circumstances suggesting that torture had caused or contributed to his death, were harassed and reportedly ill-treated by police officers. Fathi 'Abd al-Mun'im's widow, Sammah Hamid Ali, was arbitrarily detained for three days at Helwan police station. The harassment was apparently linked to the forthcoming trial of a police officer accused of Fathi 'Abd al-Mun'im's murder.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints of torture, some relating to deaths in custody, lodged over the past two decades by victims, relatives, lawyers and human rights organizations had still not been investigated.

Forcible return

There were reports that several Egyptian nationals forcibly returned to Egypt were held in incommunicado detention for weeks or even months. People suspected of having links with Islamist organizations were returned from several countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.
  • In December, the Swedish authorities forcibly returned two Egyptian asylum-seekers – Muhammad Muhammad Suleiman Ibrahim el-Zari and Ahmed Hussein Mustafa Kamil Agiza – after rejecting their applications for asylum in an unfair procedure. At the end of the year, the two men remained held in incommunicado detention in Egypt and were at risk of human rights violations, including torture and unfair trial.
Death penalty

The death penalty continued to be used extensively. At least five women and 62 men were sentenced to death by criminal courts during 2001 and at least one woman and three men were executed.

Intergovernmental organizations

In January the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concerns regarding insufficient measures for the "prevention and elimination of violence against women, including domestic violence, marital rape, violence against women in detention centres and crimes committed in the name of honour."

In January the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns about child labour in Egypt, in particular in the agricultural sector. The Committee noted that many children work "long hours in dusty environments, without masks or respirators, receiving little or no training on safety precautions for work with toxic pesticides and herbicides."

AI country reports/visits

  • Egypt: Torture remains rife as cries for justice go unheeded (AI Index: MDE 12/001/2001)
  • Egypt: Imprisonment of human rights defenders (AI Index: MDE 12/016/2001)
  • Egypt: Torture and imprisonment for actual or perceived sexual orientation (AI Index: MDE 12/033/2001)

In July AI organized a training seminar for human rights defenders from North Africa in Cairo, in conjunction with local human rights organizations. AI delegates also visited Egypt in July.

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