Egypt’s al-Sisi’s visits Berlin: speaking notes for Angela Merkel

June 2, 2015
Angela Merkel
Egypt’s Abdel Fattach El Sisi is due to meet German chancellor Wednesday 3 June

On the eve of the visit to Germany by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a number of leading international human rights organisations (AI, HRW, EMHRH, OMCT and Front Line) wrote an open letter to the German chancellor Ms Angela Merkel. It reads in essence:

The government headed by President al-Sisi presides over the gravest human rights crisis Egypt in decades. We urge you in the strongest terms to make clear in your meetings with President al-Sisi, ..that the nature and extent of Germany’s relations with Egypt going forward will depend on the Egyptian authorities taking prompt and concrete measures to put an end to government policies that systematically violate Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law as well as the Egyptian Constitution of 2014.

Since July 2013, authorities have by their own admission detained more than 22,000 people. Egyptian rights organizations documented at least 41,000 persons (including 300 lawyers). Many have been detained solely on the basis of alleged membership in or sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood, with which President Morsy was affiliated. Hundreds of others have been arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations, in violation of the repressive November 2013 assembly law outlawing gatherings of 10 or more persons not approved in advance by the Interior Ministry (including some of Egypt’s leading human rights defenders).

– there are mass trials in which a judge sentences hundreds of people to death without any regard for individual criminal responsibility. [between January and March 2015, Egyptian courts convicted 2,381 political dissidents, sentencing 194 of them to death and 312 to life in prison, according to the Egyptian Observatory for Rights and Freedoms].

– the Egyptian government tries to restrict the legitimate activities of human rights organizations, which criticize government policies.

– In September, President al-Sisi amended by decree the Penal Code to raise the penalty for accepting foreign funding with intent to “harm the national interest” to life in prison and a US$70,000 fine. [This comes on top of the closure of offices of international organizations that support Egyptian groups, including the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and criminal prosecution of their staff. These threats have led several of Egypt’s most prominent NGOs to shut down key programs for fear of running afoul of the law and relocate some of their programs abroad.]

– there are fatal conditions in badly overcrowded prisons, police stations and security directorates [Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented the deadly consequences of these overcrowded conditions and the lack of proper medical care in such facilities. At least 124 detainees have died in police custody since August 2013 as a result of medical negligence or torture and other forms of ill-treatment, according to human rights groups including three former Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarians.]

– Women continue to face discrimination in law and in practice, including high levels of gender-based domestic, public and state violence.

To put the context even more clearly here a almost arbitrary selection of recent actions against human rights defenders in Egypt:

The FIDH has issued a statement on its webpage on 2 June, strongly condemning the sentencing and detention of well-known Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist, Mahienour el-Masry, who had been sentenced to 15 months in prison together with nine other defendants over charges of assaulting al-Raml police station in Alexandria back in March 2013. On 11 May 2015, Front Line reported on the same case that the El Raml Misdemeanor Court of Appeal in Alexandria governorate heard the appeal of human rights defenders Ms Mahienour El-Massry, Mr Youssef  Shaban, Mr Mohamed Ramadan and Mr Loay Mohamed Abdel Rahman, along with eight other activists. The Court ordered the preventive detention of Mahienour El-Massry and Youssef Shaban, who were the only defendants in attendance at the session, along with Loay Mohamed Abdel Rahman, who is currently serving a prison sentence in connection to a separate case. The Court excluded relatives, friends of the defendants, and journalists from attending the session. The trial was adjourned to 31 May. [In June 2014, El-Massry was awarded the prestigious Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize]

On 2 June 2015, a travel ban was imposed on human rights defender Mr Mohamed Lotfi by Egyptian state security. Mohamed Lotfi is the founder and executive director of the Egyptian  Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), an organisation that works in several governorates to peacefully defend human rights in Egypt. He was also a researcher at Amnesty  International (via Front Line Defenders alert).  [Travel bans have repeatedly been imposed on human rights defenders such as digital media specialist and journalist Ms Esraa Abdel Fattah, Mr Hossameldin Ali and Mr Ahmed Ghonim from the Egyptian Democratic Academy.]

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network raised on 2 April 2015, the case of the human rights defender and lawyer Azza Soliman, who was charged with 16 others for participating in an illegal protest after they came forward as witnesses to the fatal police shooting of political activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh. A judge acquitted Soliman and the 16 members of al-Sabbagh’s Socialist Popular Alliance Party on May 23, but prosecutors have appealed the acquittal and continue to seek to jail peaceful activists (13 June is the date set for the next step). This case is particularly galling as Azzi Soliman was this time purely a spectator/witness of police brutality and is being charged under the draconian Law No 107 (the Protest Law); only because she had to courage to step forward as a witness!

see also:

Joint Letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel Re: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Visit to Berlin.

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