Egypt: all you can think of: widespread arrests, torture allegations, cyber attacks

October 19, 2019

On 18 October 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Egypt to immediately release scores of citizens who have been arrested in connection with recent anti-government demonstrations in several cities. Civil society groups report more than 2,000 people were detained before, during and after the protests on 20 September, which prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to express concern about reports of lack of due process. On Friday her office reported that the arrests are continuing, with a number of well-known and respected civil society figures affected, some of whom have been accused of terrorism. “Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights”, spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.

The abduction, arbitrary detention and torture of human rights defender and journalist Esraa Abdelfattah is another indication that Egyptian authorities are stepping up brutality against human rights defenders in a bid to ‘terrorize’ critics and opponents, said Amnesty International today. Esraa Abdelfattah was assaulted and abducted by security forces in plainclothes on 12 October. The next day she described to the Supreme State Security Prosecution how she was tortured by officers who beat her, attempted to strangle her and forced her to stand for nearly eight hours. “Esraa Abdelfattah’s account of torture, coming just days after the prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah described a similar ordeal in custody, is an alarming indication that Egypt’s authorities are stepping up their use of brutal tactics to crack down on human rights defenders,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah as well as his lawyer, Mohammed El-Baqer are currently being held at the Tora Maximum Security Prison, south of Cairo. Both have been accused of belonging to a terrorist group, funding terrorism, spreading false news that undermines national security and “using social media to commit publishing offices”, the UN human rights office said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/]

On 28 September the High Commissioner had already urged the “authorities to radically change their approach to any future protests’.

More than 2,000 people were detained, including lawyers, human rights defenders, political activists, university professors and journalists on 20-21 September, she said. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed that there no citizen in Egypt is arrested or prosecuted for carrying out legitimate activities or criticizing the Egyptian government, but for violating the law. He added that the right to peaceful demonstration is guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and the law. Hafez stressed that the OHCHR report was based on undocumented information, which only leads to falsehoods as the allegations contained in it are based on wrong ideas, and this hasty judgment reflects a lack of professionalism. He added that any actions taken against any person is done in accordance with the law and through sound legal procedures, all carried out with transparency and clarity.

In addition on 3 October 2019 it was reported in the New York Times that a series of sophisticated cyberattacks targeting Egyptian journalists, academics, lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists has been traced to Egyptian government offices, a cybersecurity firm has found. The attackers installed software on the targets’ phones that enabled them to read the victims’ files and emails, track their locations, identify who they contacted and when, according to a report to be published Thursday by Check Point Software Technologies, one of the biggest cybersecurity companies in the world, with headquarters just south of San Francisco and in Tel Aviv.

The cyberattack began in 2016, according to the Check Point report. The number of victims is unknown but Check Point identified 33 people, mostly well-known civil society and opposition figures, who had been targeted in one part of the operation. “We discovered a list of victims that included handpicked political and social activists, high-profile journalists and members of nonprofit organizations in Egypt,” said Aseel Kayal, a Check Point analyst.

CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

2 Responses to “Egypt: all you can think of: widespread arrests, torture allegations, cyber attacks”


  1. […] The authors then try to explain why other countires went along with Egypt’s intention to divert attention and resources from addressing human rights violations. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/19/egypt-all-you-can-think-of-widespread-arrests-torture-a… […]


  2. […] “It’s very easy for cultural events to become smokescreens,” Soueif said, remembering her own nephew, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is currently in jail in Egypt on charges linked to his human rights activism. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/19/egypt-all-you-can-think-of-widespread-arrests-torture-a…%5D […]


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