Egypt: Release human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Masry and others arrested in crackdown

ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate release of human rights defender and lawyer Mahienour El-Masry, who was arrested by Egyptian state security forces without formal charges on 22 September 2019.  Her arrest comes in a month where protestors, journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and lawyers have been arrested in mass crackdown on dissent, and we urge the Egyptian authorities to release all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

El-Masry’s family reported that she was kidnapped outside the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) building in Alexandria by three men and forced into a van. She was there in her capacity as a defence lawyer, for the questioning of her colleague and client Amr Nouhan and representing other protestors, who were arrested for taking part in protests earlier in the week. She is currently being held in pre-trial detention on “aiding a terrorist organization” and “spreading false news”.

Legal professionals who witnessed the kidnapping filed a claim with the Egyptian Prosecutor General, which in turn informed them that an arrest warrant had been issued against El-Masry. She has been detained awaiting trial, but the date is yet to be announced. She is currently detained in Al Qanater women’s prison and no date has been set for the investigation to resume. 

El-Masry’s family informed ARTICLE 19 that she was questioned by the state security prosecution on 23 September 2019 following her arrest, and has been added to the case number 488/2019, dubbed “the whistles and horns case”, accused of “helping a terrorist group and publishing false news”. The case dates back to March 2019, and relates to terrorism charges brought against a number of protestors involved in a  demonstration in Cairo’s main train station following a fatal accident. El-Masry was not part of these protests. El-Masry remains in Al Qanater women’s prison pending investigation under this case.

Mahienour El-Masry has a long history of human rights activism in Egypt, where she has been arrested and jailed previously for protesting and speaking out on human rights issues. Her arrest and detention is part of an on-going crackdown on dissent in the last month. 

In late September 2019 protests broke out across Egypt, resulting in a massive crackdown under the direction of President el-Sisi. The authorities have arrested over 3,000 peaceful protesters, including 111 minors. They have also targeted high profile critics of the government through the arbitrary arrests of human rights lawyers, journalists, political activists and politicians. At least ten are facing investigation on “terrorism-related” charges and related charges such as “membership in a banned group” and “spreading false information”. The majority of those arrested are being investigated as part of one single case. According to Amnesty International, if referred to trial, it would be the largest protest-related criminal case in Egypt’s history.

Elsewhere, random police searches of digital devices have been reported, and on 13 October journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah was arrested On October 13 by plainclothes security officers arrested. It is reported that  security officers took Abdel Fattah to an undisclosed location where she was beaten, hung by her handcuffs for hours, and choked her with her clothing while demanding she give up her cellphone password. On the 14 October she was charged with “spreading false news”, “membership in a banned group”, and “abuse of social media networks” and is to be detained for 15 days while an investigation is conducted. It is reported by Abdel Fattah’s lawyers that she the same case 488 of 2019, which includes El Massry, journalist Khaled Daoud, political science professor Hassan Nafea and labour activist Kamal Khalil among others.

Other reported arrests include:

  • At least 7 journalists
  • At least 25 politicians and academics from four different political parties, including Khaled Dawoud, journalist and former head of liberal Dostour party, as well as political science professors Hassan Nefea and Hazem Hosny; 
  • 15 other lawyers, including human rights lawyer and director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms Mohamed el-Baqer 

El-Masry’s arrest is part of an alarming, targeted crackdown on protest and dissent. We urge her immediate release, as well as that of all others detained for exercising their right to protest and free expression. Egyption authorities must respect international guarantees on the fair administration of justice and the right to speak out against repression, and end the use of mass arrest and detention to suppress dissent,” said Saloua Ghazouani, Director of ARTICLE 19 MENA.