Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
Head of government: 'Atif Muhammad 'Ubayd
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: signed

At least 32 prisoners of conscience were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years. At the end of 2002, 28 prisoners of conscience, including seven 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 continued to be systematic. At least 48 people were sentenced to death and at least 17 were executed.

Several leaders of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, Islamic Group, imprisoned for grave human rights abuses in previous years, publicly condemned the use of violence and declared that the killing of civilians is forbidden by Islam. They added that they owed the Egyptian people an apology, and suggested paying compensation to the families of those killed in their attacks. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya declared a halt to violence at the end of 1997, since when it has not carried out violent attacks.

Freedom of expression and association

Legal restrictions and government controls continued to limit the activities of political parties, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), professional associations and trade unions, and the news media. The authorities maintained bans on several political parties imposed in previous years and party newspapers remained suspended. In June parliament passed a controversial law requiring NGOs to obtain prior approval from the authorities before conducting board elections, joining an organization outside Egypt or receiving funding from abroad.

The authorities continued to detain, try and imprison people in violation of their right to freedom of expression. Prisoners of conscience, including political activists, human rights defenders and members of religious groups, were sentenced to up to seven years' imprisonment.

  • In July the Supreme Military Court sentenced 16 alleged Muslim Brothers to between three and five years' imprisonment for non-violent political activities. They included doctors, university professors and engineers.
  • In October, a court of appeals in Cairo upheld a one-year prison sentence in absentia on Shohdi Naguib, son of the poet Naguib Surour, for posting his father's political poetry, described as "sexually explicit", on the Internet.
Human rights defenders

In July the Supreme State Security Court in Cairo upheld a seven-year prison sentence on Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent human rights defender and Director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, after the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial in February. In the same trial Nadia 'Abd al-Nur, the Center's accountant, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. The main charges against them were in connection with European Union funded projects aimed at promoting participation in elections. Following the verdict the US government announced a halt to all additional aid to Egypt. In December the Court of Cassation ordered a further retrial and Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Nadia 'Abd al-Nur were released.

Freedom of religion

People continued to be at risk of human rights violations solely for exercising their right to freedom of religion.
  • In March an (Emergency) State Security Court for Misdemeanours, which allows no right of appeal, sentenced Amin Youssef and 'Ali Mamduh to three years' imprisonment for "contempt of religion"; six others, including Amin Youssef's wife, received one-year suspended prison terms. Amin Youssef and 'Ali Mamduh, both prisoners of conscience, were convicted for holding private religious gatherings and advocating modifications to basic Islamic rules.
  • In September an (Emergency) State Security Court for Misdemeanours convicted 21 men and women charged with "contempt of religion". The alleged leader, Sayid Tolba, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment while one of his co-defendants received a one-year prison term; 19 others were given suspended sentences. The charges related to their variant interpretation of mainstream Islamic belief.
  • Several Egyptians who converted from Islam to Christianity reported human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and torture or ill-treatment.
Trials connected with alleged sexual orientation

In May President Mubarak annulled the verdict of 50 of the 52 men tried in 2001 in connection with their alleged sexual orientation and as a consequence 21 prisoners of conscience were released. However, he upheld prison terms imposed on two men in the same case by an (Emergency) State Security Court for Misdemeanours. Sherif Farahat was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and Mahmud Ahmed 'Allam Daqla to three years' imprisonment. A retrial of the 50 other men opened in July before a criminal court in the Qasr al-Nil district of Cairo. The trial was continuing at the end of 2002.

Nine prisoners of conscience who had been sentenced in two separate trials for "habitual debauchery" to the maximum of three years' imprisonment were acquitted on appeal. In April, five men were acquitted by an appeals court in Damanhour, and in September, four men were acquitted by an appeals court in the Bulaq al-Dakrur district of Cairo.

Several men were detained and tried after having agreed to meet a person contacted over the Internet who turned out to be a security officer or police informant.
  • In January, Zaki Sayid Zaki 'Abd al-Malak was detained in such circumstances and sentenced to three years' imprisonment for "habitual debauchery". The verdict was upheld in March by an appeals court of the Agouza district of Cairo. He was reportedly ill-treated in detention.
Unfair trials

Scores of people faced trial before exceptional courts, such as state security courts, established under emergency legislation. They were charged with a variety of offences, including membership of illegal organizations, contempt for religion, 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 March Sharif al-Filali was sentenced by the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court to 15 years' imprisonment on charges of espionage for Israel. In June 2001 he had been acquitted on these charges but President Mubarak refused to ratify the acquittal and ordered a retrial. He had been detained for several months in incommunicado detention before trial.
  • In September, the Supreme Military Court sentenced 51 men to between two and 15 years' imprisonment on various charges, including possession of arms and membership of an illegal organization referred to as Tanzim al-Wa'd, Organization of Promise. Forty-three others were acquitted but the majority of them continued to be held in administrative detention at the end of 2002. Dozens of the accused alleged that they had been tortured, including with electric shocks, by members of State Security Intelligence (SSI) before the trial. Among those alleging torture were Magdi Hassan Idris Muhammad, 'Omar 'Abd al-'Aziz Khalifa, and 'Omar Hagayif Mahdi, who were all sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. Several of the accused claimed that they had been coerced into making confessions.
  • In October, the trial of 26 men, including three Britons, opened before the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court. They were accused of being affiliated to the banned Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami, Islamic Liberation Party. Several of the defendants were reportedly tortured or ill-treated following their detention in April.
Incommunicado detention of relatives

Several relatives of political prisoners and political activists were detained in connection with the activities of their family members. They were held for weeks in incommunicado detention where they were at risk of torture or ill-treatment.
  • In July 'Aziza 'Abbas Muhammad, the wife of a political prisoner, was detained for the third time that month. For approximately two months she was held in incommunicado detention at an unknown location, possibly by members of the SSI. In September she was transferred to Qanatir Women's Prison, where she continued to be held in administrative detention under emergency legislation. In June her two sons, one of them a minor, were detained when they attempted to visit their father in prison. Both were held for several weeks in incommunicado detention. 'Aziza 'Abbas Muhammad and her sons continued to be held in detention at the end of the year.
  • Yahya Tawfiq 'Ali al-Sirri, a football trainer, and Muhammad Tawfiq 'Ali al-Sirri, an engineer, two brothers of an Islamist activist based in the United Kingdom, Yasser al-Sirri, were arrested in August. Muhammad al-Sirri alleged that he had been tortured and was referred for a medical examination. In October Al-Sayid Muhammad Hassan 'Abd al-Ghani, an uncle of Yasser al-Sirri, was arrested at Cairo airport and held for four weeks in incommunicado detention.
Torture and ill-treatment

Torture continued to be systematic and widespread in detention centres throughout the country and the authorities failed to investigate reports of torture promptly and thoroughly. 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. The UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee both expressed concern at the persistence of torture.
  • In January Wa'el Tawfiq, an activist of the Egyptian People's Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada, was arrested during the Cairo International Book Fair. He alleged that he had been tortured at the SSI headquarters. An independent medical examination found evidence consistent with his torture allegations. Wa'el Tawfiq filed a complaint, but thorough and impartial investigations which could lead to the prosecution of those responsible were not conducted.
  • In February Umm Hashim Abu al-'Izz, a young actress, was detained at the Agouza Police Station in Cairo. When she protested against insults by a police officer, she was beaten with a belt on her face and on other parts of her body. AI delegates met her a few days after the incident when her face was still bruised and swollen. She filed a complaint but in August her lawyers learned that the torture complaint file had been closed although there had been no proper investigation of her allegations.
Deaths in custody

Several security officers were tried in connection with two deaths in custody, allegedly as a result of torture, which occurred in 2002. However, many other such cases, including from previous years, remained uninvestigated. Marks found on the bodies of detainees who died in police custody were consistent with traces left by electric shocks and other forms of torture, according to forensic evidence presented in several trials.
  • Sayid Khalifa 'Isa died in March after reportedly being tortured at the police station of the second precinct of Madinat Nasr. In August Cairo Criminal Court sentenced two police officers to three years' imprisonment each. A forensic report noted signs on Sayid Khalifa 'Isa's body consistent with torture, including marks on his penis from electric shocks.
Forcible return

There were allegations that people forcibly returned to Egypt in 2001 from countries including Sweden and Bosnia-Herzegovina were tortured or ill-treated in incommunicado detention. People forcibly returned in 2002 were held for several weeks in incommunicado detention after their return. Among them were Nabil Ahmad Soleiman and Muhammad al-Zahir who were returned from the USA in June and September respectively.

Excessive use of force

In April thousands of students demonstrated throughout the country against Israel's incursions into the Israeli Occupied Territories. Many students were seriously injured when police used excessive force, including buckshot, to break up demonstrations.
  • Mohammed 'Ali al-Sayid al-Saqqa, a 19-year-old student at the University of Alexandria, was killed, reportedly after security forces fired buckshot at demonstrators.
Death penalty

The death penalty continued to be used extensively. At least five women and 43 men were sentenced to death by criminal courts during 2002 and at least 17 men were executed.

Intergovernmental organizations

In November the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at the "semi-permanent" state of emergency in effect since 1981; the very large number of offences punishable by death; the apparently systematic practice of torture; trials of civilians before military courts; and restrictions on the activities of NGOs.

In November the UN Committee against Torture expressed particular concern at the widespread evidence of torture in premises of the SSI; the many reports of "abuse of under-age detainees, especially sexual harassment of girls, committed by law enforcement officials"; and ill-treatment of people because of their sexual orientation. The Committee called for prompt and impartial investigations into all torture allegations and the abolition of incommunicado detention.

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture reported that a request to visit Egypt had been pending since 1996. The UN Special Representative on human rights defenders and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers both reported that in 2001 they asked to visit the country, but received no invitations.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Egypt to conduct research in February and in September/October. On both visits delegates were refused permission to visit prisoners and detainees.

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