Human Rights Groups Rebuke Egyptian Arrests on Suspicion of Homosexuality Crackdown

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Concert Goer at Mashrou’ Leila Concert Displays LGBT Flag. Photo Courtesy of The Independent.

CAIRO, Egypt — A string of arrests following the recent display of the LGBT flag at a concert in Cairo has human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International calling for an ease in crackdowns against suspected homosexuals. According to the Independent, the flag in question was displayed at a Mashrou’ Leila concert on September 22, 2017. Since the concert, a number of people have been detained on suspicions of homosexuality,

“Both Amnesty and HRW said in their Saturday statements that a total of 11 people had been arrested since the concert, held at an upscale mall in an eastern Cairo suburb.”

One of the techniques commonly used in a homosexuality investigation is an anal examination. Countries such as Tunisia are moving away from the mandatory use of anal examinations, but that does not change the status of homosexual people in the Middle East.

Homosexuality remains a sensitive topic in Egypt particularly,

“Homosexuality is highly taboo in Egypt among Muslims and minority Christians alike, but it is not explicitly prohibited by law. Egypt regularly arrests gay men, with large police raids on private parties or locations such as public baths, restaurants and bars.”

The majority of Egyptians see homosexuality in a negative light and as an import of Western culture, “Most Egyptians see homosexuality as a practice that goes against nature and religion and insist it is a social disease exported by a decadent West.”

Mashrou’ Leila actually developed as a counter to the environment around homosexuality in the Middle East. Founded in 2008 at the American University of Beirut, the band has been touring the Middle East and large parts of the United States. The band is billed as an alternative rock band. The lead singer, Hamed Sinno, has developed a notable reputation for his advocacy through music,

“Hamed Sinno, the band’s lead singer and lyricist, may be the most prominent gay musician in the Arab world, and much of his songwriting takes aim at homophobia and misogyny.”

Music has been utilized as a prominent tool for resistance from Africa to Russia. The art form offers some the ability to connect with those that share similar struggles without openly voicing those struggles.

For more information, please see:

The Independent — ‘Human rights groups urge Egypt to halt crackdown on LGBT people after rainbow flag waved at concert’— 30 September 2017

Impunity Watch — ‘Tunisian Authorities Pledges to Stop Forced Anal Examinations for Homosexuality’ — 30 September 2017

CNN — ‘Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova: Authoritarianism is spreading like ‘sexually transmitted diseases’ — 18 August 2017

Wikipedia — ‘Mashrou’ Leila’ — August 2017

The New Yorker — ‘Mashrou’ Leila and the Night Club’s Political Power’ — 31 July 2017

New Report Details Torture by Police in Egypt

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

CAIRO, Egypt – A new report by Human Rights Watch released  September 6, 2017 claims to shed light on a culture of torture by Egyptian police and national security forces. The report is based on interviews from multiple detainees who were interned by Egyptian police and security forces between 2014 and 2016. According to the report:

“Of the 20 cases documented by Human Rights Watch, 13 detainees were tortured in National Security offices, five in police stations, and two in both places. Six men were tortured at the National Security Agency headquarters inside the Interior Ministry near Cairo’s Lazoghly Square, a place where detainees have alleged torture for decades. In five cases, security officers used torture to force suspects to read prewritten confessions on video, which the Interior Ministry then sometimes published on social media channels.”

The report claims that detainees were subjected to harsh torture tactics such as electric shock, awkward hanging positions and threats of physical violence.  The torture could last hours on some occasions with numerous techniques being utilized interchangeably. One detainee even claims to have been raped on multiple occasions by police officers with foreign objects.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi obtained the presidency of Egypt in 2013 following a military coup of then President Mohammed Morsi. President el-Sisi continues to face accusations of rampant torture at the hands of police and security forces since taking the presidency. The report also claims that some of the deplorable techniques that characterize the reign of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have be reinstituted and even expanded in some instances.

Human Rights Watch is not the only organization to focus on allegations of torture in Egypt at the hands of police and security forces. The United Nations reached similar conclusions in its own report in May of 2017, “Torture appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters.” 

The UN also opined that attempts at detainees to make their cases known and to seek redress against the harms have not been met with adequate procedural recourse:

“[P]rosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints…In the view of the Committee, all the above lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

Egyptian officials rebuke the claims of Human Rights Watch and, according to Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, are indicative of “a new episode in a series of deliberate defamation by such organization, whose politicized agenda and biases are well known and reflect the interests of the entities and countries sponsoring it.”

The Egyptian Government has since blocked the Human Rights Watch website as of September 7, 2017, bringing the grand total of blogs and news websites blocked to 424.  

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Egypt blocks Human Rights Watch website – 8 September 2017

CNN – Report: Egypt police security forces ‘routinely torture political detainees – 7 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – “We Do Unreasonable Things Here” Torture and National Security al-Sisi’s Egypt – 5 September 2017

United Nations – Summary from Committee Against Torture – 12 May 2017 

The New York Times – Army Ousts Egypt’s President; Morsi Is Taken Into Military Custody – 3 July 2013 

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Claims Responsibility for the Egypt Bus Attack that Killed Christians

By: Yamillet Brizuela
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MINYA, Egypt –  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”) on Saturday, May 27 claimed responsibility for the attack on buses transporting Coptic Christians in Egypt that occurred earlier. These Coptic Christian bus passengers were on their way to volunteer at the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor. This attack killed 29 men and children and wounded at least another 25.

Relatives of victims mourned on Friday, May 26, during a funeral service for those killed by the attack on a Coptic Christian caravan near Minya, Egypt. Photo courtesy of AP.

The eyewitnesses described that the attack began with gunmen shooting the windows of the buses. After firing at the windows, the gunmen then boarded the buses, shooting and killing all the men on on board. The gunmen then shot at the feet of the women and children. Some children were killed, and the gunmen took all the gold the women were wearing.

The eyewitnesses also made a note that one of the gunmen had a camera, which means the gunmen may release footage of the attack in the future.

On Friday, May 26, Egyptian fighter jets carried out six air strikes directed at camps in Libya which Cairo says have been training militants behind the Egypt attack.

Following the Minya shooting and Egypt’s counterattack, President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said that Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps that trained people to carry out operations against Egypt.

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera- Egypt Launches Strikes Libya After Minya Attack – 27 May 2017

Los Angeles Times- Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt that Left Dead- 27 May 2017

New York Times – Gunmen in Egypt Force Christian Pilgrims from Buses and Kill 28 – 26 May 2017

Reuters- Egypt air raids on Libya after Christians Killed- 27 May 2017

Reuters- Egypt Says Air Strikes Destroy Militant Camps after Attack on Christians- 27 May 2017

Reuters- Grief, Rage in Egyptian Church after Copts attacked by Gunmen- 27 May 2017

U.S. News & World Report- Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Egypt Attack – 27 May 2017

ISIS Suicide Bombers Carry Out Attacks at Churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Palm Sunday, April 10th, the Islamic State (“ISIS”) carried out two suicide attacks at Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, injuring and killing over 100 people. Following the attacks, on Sunday evening, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency.

The suicide bombers detonated explosive devices at two churches in the towns of Tanta and Alexandria (Photo courtesy of CNN)

The suicide attacks, which were carried out merely hours apart, were responsible for the deaths of at least forty-four people, and injured at least 126 more. These attacks marked the “single deadliest day for Christians in decades” and were the worst since thirty people had died in a bombing at a church in December.

The bombings took place in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria. The first bomb, which exploded in Tanta at St. George’s Church, killed at least twenty-seven people and wounded seventy-eight. A civilian who rushed to the scene of the bombing, Mr. Maged Saleh, cried out “[w]here is the government? There is no government!”

The first explosion led to “horrific” scenes, and reportedly “destroyed” the church. A state-run news agency reported that an explosive device had been planted under a seat in the main prayer hall. The bombs reportedly “overturn[ed] pews, shatter[ed] windows and stain[ed] the whitewashed walls with blood.” Media reports from the site depicted “lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.” Several doors had been blown off, and women were shown as “wail[ing] outside.” A survivor who had been attending the Palm Sunday mass with his brother noted that smoke filled the area, leading to complete darkness.

A nearby resident, Ms. Susan Mikhail, stated that the explosion shook her building. “violently[.]” She reported that many of the deacons, who were the first to run out of the church, had “blood on their white robes[.]” Ms. Mikhail added that those who had been seriously injured were rescued by other survivors and carried out to private cars to be taken to the hospital.

The second bomb, which was detonated at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, killed a minimum of eighteen civilians and four police officers, and injured forty-eight. A man who had reportedly been wearing an explosive belt was stopped from entering the church by two police officers. The bomb was detonated shortly thereafter near the gate of the church. An Egyptian blogger, Maged Butter, reported that there were bloodstains 100 meters away from the explosion. He added that women were “crying and looking for their loved ones[.]” A nearby witness stated that there were “bodies and body parts everywhere[,]” and added that he “saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag.”

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, leading to escalating fear that the extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, and particularly on the Christian minority in Egypt: the Coptics. The group released a statement in which it provided the names of the suicide bombers, and stated that it “vow[s]” to continue its attacks against Christians.

For more information, please see:

CBS—Rage, crackdown after deadly ISIS attack on Christian minority—10 April 2017

The New York Times—Attacks Show ISIS’ New Plan: Divide Egypt by Killing Christians—10 April 2017

CNN—ISIS claims responsibility for Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt—10 April 2017

Fox News—Palm Sunday attacks: 44 dead, more than 100 injured in church bombings carried out by ISIS in Egypt—9 April 2017

ABC News—Egypt declares state of emergency; ISIS attacks killed scores of Palm Sunday churchgoers—9 April 2017

Daily Mail—Egyptian forces shoot dead seven jihadists planning to attack a Christian monastery days after bombing Coptic church as part of ISIS plan to divide the country—11 April 2017

Dozens of Christian Egyptian Families Fleeing After Targeted ISIS Attacks

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Friday, February 24th, hundreds of Christian Egyptian families fled the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula after the Islamic State (“ISIS”) killed another member of their community following several weeks of targeted killings in the area.

Families brought only their children and a suitcase of clothing (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

 

At least seven people have been killed as a result of ISIS’s attacks in the past three weeks. The fleeing Egyptians escaped their homes after ISIS released a video on Sunday, “vow[ing]” to increase their attacks on Sinai’s Christian minority. Following the video, numerous attacks were carried out by gunmen in Sinai over the course of several days. ISIS claimed responsibility for beheading one man, while setting another on fire. On Wednesday, a man was killed in front of his pregnant spouse by gunmen who “then calmly drank a bottle of Pepsi” before departing. On Thursday, a plumber was shot dead at his home in front of his wife and children.

After the series of killings, most families fled their homes with nothing more than their children and some clothes. They then sought refuge at a church compound in the city of Ismailia. A volunteer with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms stated that ISIS “want[s] to send a message that nobody is safe[.]”

The deacon of the church in Ismailia, Mr. Nabil Shukrullah, stated that the situation is extremely difficult, and that approximately fifty to sixty more families are expected to arrive. The fleeing Egyptians indicated that they are “scared of [their] shadows,” and cried out against being “targeted in an ugly way.” A refugee from the town of Arish stated that waiting for death was not an option, while characterizing ISIS militants as “ruthless.” Residents of the town reported that Christians were warned to “leave or die” after the terrorists “circulated death lists online and on the streets[.]” A vegetable seller who fled the town on Friday, Mr. Munir Adel, indicated that anyone who is Christian was put on the list. Although his father is the second name on the list, he was unable to leave his home due to his old age. Mr. Adel stated that his father “could be killed at any moment.”

The Christian Egyptians, who belong to the Coptic faith, comprise the Middle East’s largest Christian community, and make up approximately 10% of the country’s population, currently estimated to be around 90 million. Christians of the nation declared that the security measures taken towards protecting them are insufficient, while claiming that “nothing” is being done to ensure their safety. The Coptic church, which stated that the attacks were directed towards “dividing Egyptians[,]” subsequently condemned the attacks.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times—Targeted by ISIS, Egyptian Christians Flee Violence—24 February 2017

BBC News—Egypt’s Coptic Christians flee Sinai after deadly attacks—25 February 2017

Reuters—Egypt’s Christians flee Sinai amid Islamic State killing spree—24 February 2017

Fox News—Christians flee Egypt’s Sinai after militant killings—24 February 2017

Daily Mail—More Egypt Copts flee jihadists in Sinai—25 February 2017

Washington Post—Christians flee Sinai Peninsula in fear of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate—24 February 2017

 

 

 

Egypt Criticizes Condemning Statements Made by EU and U.K. for Freezing Assets of Human Rights Activists

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On January 11th, an Egyptian court approved freezing the assets of three prominent human rights activists in connection with the ongoing case in which NGOs are accused of receiving foreign funds in an attempt to destabilize the country.

Ms. Hassan is one of the many human rights activists who have had their assets frozen (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

In its holding, the court froze the assets of prominent human rights activists Mozn Hassan, director of the Nazra for Feminist Studies, Mohammed Zaree, head of the Arab Penal Reform Organization, and Atef Hafez, director of the Arab Organization for Judicial Reform, as well as five other rights activists. Hassan spoke out against the decision, and stated this was the “first time in history [in which] a feminist or women’s rights organization” had its assets frozen.

The case against Hassan and her organization had been initiated in March 2016, and led to widespread criticism from women’s rights groups. 43 organizations had condemned the investigation decision, and declared that the country should “acknowledge the important and pivotal work” undertaken by Hassan in the “advancement of women’s rights [and] provision of support services for survivors of sexual violence[.]”

President Sisi has long defended the country’s dedication to human rights by indicating that Egypt “should not be judged by Western standards.” The European Union (EU), however, criticized the Egyptian court’s decision to freeze assets. In its statement, the EU indicated that the “decision continues a worrying trend of restricting space for civil society to operate in Egypt.” The British Foreign Office Minister also issued a statement declaring his concern over the decision, while urging the country to “lift restrictions on civil society organizations, and allow them to operate freely in line with the constitution.”

In response, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s “sharply worded statement” accused both countries of “double standards,” while “telling them to mind their own business.” The statement further declared that the comments made by the EU and UK “amounted to flagrant interference in the country’s affairs.”

For more information, please see:

Haaretz—Egyptian Court Approves Freezing Assets of Three Human Rights Activists—11 January 2017

The Guardian—Egypt court ruling upholds decision to freeze assets of women’s rights activists—12 January 2017

Albawaba—EU condemns Egypt for freezing NGO directors’ assets—13 January 2017)

ABC News—Egypt Slams EU, UK for Criticizing Ruling on Activists—14 January 2017

Ahram Online—Egypt says EU and UK statements on NGO asset freeze shows ‘double standard’—14 January 2017

 

Egyptian Journalists Union Head Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

CAIRO, Egypt– The Union Head of Egyptian Journalists was sentenced to two years in prison on November 19th.   Yahia Qalash — the head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate — and board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim were convicted for harboring wanted journalists.

Yehia Qallash at a protest rally outside the Journalist Syndicate headquarters in Cairo. Photo: 4 May 2016

Yahia Qalash speaks in front of Union headquarters. (Photo Courtesy BBC)

Prosecutors ordered Qalash, al-Balshy, and Abdel Rahim tried for harboring wanted journalists who spread lies.  These journalists came under fire after they started protests after the Egyptian government turned over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.  Many Egyptians see this as an unconstitutional, non transparent act.

Qalash, al-Balshy, and Abdel Rahim have the opportunity to appeal their convictions.  In the meantime their bail has been set at $630.  They have the opportunity to go about their business as they await appeal.  This is the first time that the Union Head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate has been arrest in the unions over 75 year history.

Human rights activists are not pleased that Qalash, al-Balshy, and Abdel Rahim were put on trial.  Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said, “This case shouldn’t have gone to court to begin with,…the decision is political…we are not talking about the law and judiciary.”  Dozens of other opposition journalists have been arrested under President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi rule, who has ensured that dissenters are quashed quickly.

For more information, please see: 

ABC News Austrailia – Head of Egypt press union sentenced to two years’ jail for harbouring wanted journalists – 19 November 2016

BBC – Egypt journalist’ union head gets two-year jail term – 19 November 2016

Wall Street Journal – Head of Egyptian Press Union Gets Two Years in Prison – 19 November 2016

Egyptian Human Rights Activist Banned from Travel

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Wednesday, November 23rd, a prominent Egyptian human rights activist was banned from leaving the country as she attempted to board a plane.

Director of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation Victims of Violence subjected to travel ban due to alleged involvement in Egypt’s ongoing foreign funding case (Photo courtesy of Financial Times)

Ms. Aida Seif Al-Dawla, Director of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation Victims of Violence, was attempting to board a flight before she was stopped by Egyptian authorities. A statement released by the Center indicated that she was traveling to Tunisia to attend a conference bringing together NGOs working on rehabilitating victims of violence in North Africa.

An airport security official stated that the travel ban was implemented because of Ms. Al-Dawla’s involvement in the “ongoing trial implicating the majority of the most active human rights groups in Egypt.” Ms. Al-Dawla issued a statement in which she indicated that the travel ban is aimed at “eradicating the rights movement” in an attempt to cover up the government’s systematically committed violations. Her statement further indicated that the government’s attempt to “prevent individuals who dedicated their efforts to support and alleviate the pain” of violence victims “will not work.” Egyptian human rights activists stated that the travel bans are “part of the authorities’ attempts to silence criticism from civil society groups.”

The Egyptian government had attempted to shut down the Center earlier this year. In February, the Health Ministry had threatened to close the Center due to “violations,” which included “shifting its focus from operating as a medical facility to working in human rights and advocacy.” The threat had attracted local and international criticism and outcries from rights groups. In early November, Egypt’s Central Bank had ordered the freezing of the El Nadeem Center’s bank account. The Bank had lifted the freeze shortly thereafter when the Center documented that it does not fall under the authority of the Social Solidarity Ministry.

Ms. Al-Dawla is one of many human rights activists who have been banned from travel for their involvement in the country’s pending foreign funding case. Earlier this week, the Egyptian legislature also ordered issued travel bans for Ms. Azza Soliman, lawyer and head of the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance, and Mr. Ahmed Ragheb, lawyer and Director of the National Community for Human Rights and Law. Both were on their way to attend international conferences, and were informed that the ban was the result of a judicial order, issued without their knowledge, regarding the case involving illegal foreign funding of NGOs.

For more information, please see:

Ahram Online—Egyptian activist Aida Seif El-Dawla banned from travel: Nadeem Centre—23 November 2016

All Africa—Egypt: El Nadeem Center Director Aida Seif El Dawla Banned From Travel—23 November 2016

New York Times—A Top Egyptian Human Rights Activist Banned From Travel—23 November 2016

Financial Times—Egypt imposes travel bans on human rights activists—23 November 2016

 

Assets of Torture and Violence Victims’ Rehabilitation Center Frozen by Egyptian Authorities

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — The head of a prominent Egyptian human rights organization that works with torture victims reported that its assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities.

The El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence was allegedly shut down for not registering as an NGO (Photo courtesy of Al Arabiya)

The El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence (“Center”) provides psychological support for victims of torture and violence, and documents complaints of torture in prison.

The Center’s lawyer, Taher Abu al-Nasr, stated that the legal department had received a ruling from the Central Bank freezing its account. He indicated that an employee who was attempting to cash a check was told by the bank’s manager that its account had been suspended until it registered as an NGO with the Social Solidarity Ministry. The head of the Center, Ms. Adly, indicated that the Central Bank linked the asset freeze decision to the Center’s “legal status,” and that the decision coincides with an NGO law dating back to the rule of President Mubarak.

Amnesty International condemned the move and urged Egyptian authorities to revoke the decision against the Center. The regional advocacy director declared that the decision to “arbitrarily” freeze the Center’s bank account is a “cruel blow to human rights in the country” because it prevents the Center from providing crucial care to survivors of violence. He added that the Center is a “lifeline” for hundreds of torture victims, as well as for the families of those who have been a victim of “enforced disappearance.” He further stated that the decision is additional evidence of Egypt’s “chilling contempt of perceived critics.” The organization indicated that it is “inexcusable” to obstruct care for victims of torture. Additionally, it also stated that Egyptian authorities should be focused on implementing safeguards to prevent custodial torture and ending forced disappearances, instead of “lashing out” at the Center.

Egyptian authorities had previously attempted to shut down the Center on two occasions. In February and April 2016, officials had issued orders to close the Center, while the Health Ministry had stated that it was “carrying out activities other than those allowed.” Mr. Al-Nasr, however, stated that the Center is registered as a clinic with the Health Ministry, and does not need to be registered as an NGO.

All NGOs operating in the country are subject to a strict law permitting the government to supervise their activities and finances. International human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Egyptian government of rights violations, including “forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and illegal detentions.” Egyptian authorities deny allegations that security forces gather and torture individuals in “secret detention centers.”

The Center is still operating despite its frozen assets and has challenged the order in court.

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Egypt blocks bank account of torture victims’ center—10 November 2016

Middle East Eye—Egypt freezes assets of anti-torture NGO—10 November 2016

New York Times—Egyptian Rights Group Is Told Its Bank Account Is Blocked, Lawyer Says—10 November 2016

Amnesty International—Egypt: Freeze of torture rehabilitation centre’s financial assets a cruel blow to human rights—10 November 2016

Egyptian Parliament Member Calls for Virginity Tests Prior to University Admission

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — A member of the Egyptian parliament’s Human Rights Committee, Ilhami Agina, declared that females seeking to attend university should be required to undergo a mandatory “virginity test” before being admitted.

Mr. Agina called for virginity tests for university admission (Photo courtesy of Al Arabiya)
Mr. Agina called for virginity tests for university admission (Photo courtesy of Al Arabiya)

In an interview with an Egyptian newspaper, Mr. Agina stated the parliament has to check the medical examination of “any girl who enters university” in order to “prove that she is a Miss.” He further commented that each female must present an “official document” upon university admission, which states that “she is a Miss.”

Mr. Agina defended his comments by stating that the virginity tests would help reduce the number of Urfi marriages in the country, and further commented that “no one should be upset by this decision.” Urfi marriages, also known as customary marriages, are viewed as a religiously sanctioned way of having premarital sex, which is a taboo in the conservative country. In Egypt, a young woman’s virginity is widely seen as a matter of family honor, and its loss could prevent her from getting married. Accordingly, Mr. Agina indicated that a woman who fails the virginity test will have her parents notified immediately in an attempt to prevent couples from entering into pre-marital relations.

National outrage broke out after Mr. Agina’s use of “Miss” was interpreted by Egyptians as referring to a woman who is a virgin. Egypt’s National Council for Women is set to file a report with the country’s top attorney over Mr. Agina’s “offensive remarks about women in Egypt and abroad.” The Council will also be submitting a complaint to the speaker of parliament, demanding Mr. Agina’s expulsion from parliament and seeking a criminal investigation into his actions and comments. In addition to his statements about medical exams for university admission, the council is also referencing previous remarks in which Mr. Agina stated that the practice of female genital mutilation was needed in Egypt to restrict women’s sexuality and counterbalance male impotence.

Ms. Amna Nosseir, an Egyptian female parliament member and Islamic Law professor, stated that “Agina’s remarks represent an insult to women and public manners in Egypt.” Mr. Agina, however, has stated that his remarks had been misinterpreted and that he only made a “suggestion,” not a “demand” in response to a question regarding the government’s role in ending customary marriages.

For more information, please see:

AhramOnline—Egypt’s women’s council to file complaint against MP who called for college virginity tests—1 October 2016

Al Arabiya—Egyptian lawmaker’s call for virginity tests draws fire—2 October 2016

Washington Post—Egyptian lawmaker says women should prove they are virgins to go to college—01 October 2016

Daily Mail—Egyptian MP calls for universities to perform virginity tests on female students – and tell their parents if they fail—30 September 2016

Egyptian Court Freezes Assets of Human Rights Activists and Organizations

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Saturday, September 16th, an Egyptian court ordered the assets of five human rights activists and three non-governmental organizations (NGO) to be frozen.

Mr. Eid stated the case is “politically motivated revenge” (Photo courtesy of AlJazeera)

The Zeinhom Criminal Court based its decision on a case that has been pending since 2011, in which the NGOs were accused of receiving foreign funds to “sow chaos.” The case was brought on charges that include “pursuing acts harmful to national interests,” “destabilizing general peace,” or “harming security and public order”. This decision now paves the way for criminal proceedings against these defendants. All of them could face life sentences if found guilty, which is equivalent to a twenty-five-year prison sentence in Egypt.

The individuals and NGOs whose assets were frozen include Hossam Bahgat (founder and former director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights), Gamal Eid (head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and its director Bahey el-din Hassan, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and its director Mostafa al-Hassan, and the Egyptian Right to Education Center and its director Abdelhafiz Tayel. While the assets of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information were not frozen immediately, they could be linked to Mr. Bahgat and Mr. Eid and frozen at a later date.

Egypt had begun looking into foreign funding in early 2011 during a crackdown against civil society groups after an 18-day uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and left the military in charge. At the time, Egypt had come under international fire when it raided Egyptian and Western NGOs in Cairo on suspicion of illegal financing, including the U.S. National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

Following Saturday’s ruling, NGOs and Egyptian human rights activists have stated that they are “facing the worst assault in their history” during a campaign to remove the liberties that were won in the 2011 uprising. In response to the court’s decision, Mr. Eid stated that the decision was expected, but that the NGOs and activists “will carry on despite living under threat.” He further declared “we will not live in complicity with a police regime that hates human rights, the 2011 revolution and democracy.” Amnesty International declared the ruling “a shameless ploy to silence human rights activism,” and further stated that it is a “reprehensible blow to Egypt’s human rights movement.”

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye—Egypt court freezes assets of top human rights defenders—17 September 2016

World Bulletin—Egypt freezes assets of human rights defenders, NGOs—17 September 2016

Amnesty International—Egypt: Asset freeze is a shameless ploy to silence human rights activism—17 September 2016

BBC News—Egypt Court freezes assets of human rights workers and NGO’s—17 September 2016

AlJazeera—Egypt court freezes assets of rights defenders and NGOs—17 September 2016

 

Egyptian Court Strips Citizenship over Marriage to Israeli Citizen

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian court ruled on Thursday, September 8th that an Egyptian citizen who is married to an Israeli woman must be stripped of his citizenship.

Egyptian Court ruled in favor of stripping citizenship based on marriage to an Israeli citizen

Ms. Shaimaa Amin had filed a lawsuit demanding that her brother, who had been living in the United Kingdom for twelve years, be stripped of his Egyptian citizenship on the grounds that he is married to an Israeli woman. Ms. Amin claimed that her brother’s political, religious and social views do not “suit Egyptian society,” and that his marriage constitutes a “threat to Egypt’s national security.”

The Court decided that marriages between Egyptians and Israelis constitute a risk to national security. It further held that this is a serious offense which is a sufficient basis for an individual to lose citizenship. It referenced Article 62 of the Egyptian constitution, which grants personal freedoms, including marriage. The Court stated that despite this Article, citizens are not entitled to freedom from all restrictions or the responsibility to “protect society and the state.” It declared that the defendant should have “worked hard to make his wife and son give up their Israeli nationality and come to live in Egypt.” The defendant, Ms. Amin’s brother, defended his decision to marry an Israeli woman. He stated that, unlike the Arab states, Israel was a defender of human rights that was contributing to fighting terrorism.

Ms. Amin’s lawsuit and the Court’s subsequent holding was in line with, and based on, a June 2010 ruling by the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court, which ordered the Interior Ministry to strip citizenship from Egyptians married to Israeli women. This holding stated that the Interior Ministry must present each case to the Cabinet, which will then make an individualized decision on stripping citizenship based on whether the man married an “Israeli Arab or Jew.” In 2015, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court issued a further ruling based on Egyptian Nationality Law, which mandated the Cabinet and Interior Ministry to strip Egyptian nationality from citizens married to Israelis. Per Article 16 of this Law, the Egyptian government can strip citizens of their nationality to protect Egypt’s national security.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — Security threat? Egypt court strips man married to Israeli of citizenship — 10 September 2016

The Algemeiner — Egyptian Court Rules: Marriage to Israeli Grounds for Stripping of Citizenship — 9 September 2016

Ahram Online — Egyptian court rules Egyptians married to Israelis must be stripped of citizenship — 8 September 2016

The Jerusalem Post — Egypt restricts marriage to Israelis — 6 June 2010

Egyptian Lawyer Set Free Following Delayed Release

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — Malek Adly, an Egyptian human rights lawyer, was released from prison on Sunday after he was arrested in May 2016 over protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian human rights lawyer Malek Adly (Photo Courtesy of Daily News Egypt)

In April 2016, President Sisi handed over the two islands, Sanafir and Tiran, to Saudi Arabia on the grounds that they had always belonged to the country and were only leased to Egypt. This act was criticized by Egyptians as unconstitutional, leading to widespread protests throughout Egypt. Mr. Adly argued that the islands belonged to Egypt, and joined a group of journalists supporting the protests. Following the rallies, the Egyptian government arrested over 100 people for either participating in peaceful protests or spreading false information.

Mr. Adly was arrested in May 2016 on accusations of plotting a coup and spreading false information. His spouse and lawyers stated that he was placed in solitary confinement, denied visits for two weeks, and assaulted by guards. Following Mr. Adly’s arrest, in May 2016, reporters for the United Nations issued a statement expressing concern over the “worsening crackdown on peaceful protests” in Egypt. These reporters further urged the government to bring an end to “disproportionate reactions.”

On Thursday, August 25th, a Cairo court accepted Mr. Adly’s petition against his detention, and granted a release. The prosecution, however, filed an appeal against this decision to extend his detention. On Saturday, August 27th, the Egyptian courts rejected this appeal, and ordered his release. Despite issuance of this order, Mr. Adly had not been set free as of the morning of Sunday, August 28th. Rights groups and activists criticized the delayed process. A statement signed by sixteen entities, including political parties and NGOs, indicated that delays such as this were “common.” The statement further provided that the practice is considered unlawful detention as the aim in the delay is to obstruct the releasing procedures.

Mr. Adly was eventually released from prison on Sunday, August 28th. His lawyer, Mr. Mahmoud Belal, however, stated that he does not know what will happen next as the Egyptian government could try to detain him once again.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press — Egypt Court Releases Lawyer Who Defied President — 28 August 2016

BBC News — Egypt crackdown widens with arrest of leading rights lawyer — 6 May 2016

Daily News Egypt — Condemnations pour after Malek Adly’s delayed release — 28 August 2016

Human Rights Watch — Egypt: Scores of Protesters Jailed Unjustly — 25 May 2016

IS Leader in Sinai Killed by Egyptian Airstrike

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptian military announced that airstrikes had killed a top Islamic State (IS) leader in the Sinai peninsula. Abu Duaa al-Ansari, was the head  of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis movement that operated out of the volatile region.

Egyptian Army Picture Showing IS Targets in Sinai (Photo Courtesy of Haaretz)

The Egyptian military launched a strike against the IS affiliate following “accurate intelligence” that the head of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis was near the town of Al-Arish. The Egyptian air force then struck just south of al-Arish and killed 45 ISIS operatives along with Ansari. Egyptian military officials stated that numerous arms and ammunition were also destroyed in the strike. The IS group in the region provided no confirmation of the death of Ansari.

Egypt has been persistently fighting IS in the region following numerous attacks on its personnel. This attack comes after a promise to hunt down IS operatives following attacks that killed Egyptian security officers. The campaign is party of a larger struggle for the Egyptian government to restore stability to the volatile country.

Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which translates to “Champions of the Holy House,” began operating after the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The group has led attacks against Egyptian security officials and Egyptian infrastructure, including a gas pipeline between Egypt and Jordan. There attacks became deadlier after the ouster of the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. In 2014, the group pledged allegiance to IS and have since been referred to as Wilayat Sinai or Sinai Province. The IS affiliate receive support from the local tribes in Sinai that have felt neglected by past Egyptian governments.

Sinai Province previously claimed responsibility for the crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268. In October 2015, Sinai Province claimed to plant a bomb on the plane which blew up in flight killing 224 passengers. The terrorist attack came after Russia began a bombing campaign in Syria against rebel groups, including IS, in supporter of the Syrian regime.

For more information, please see:

CNN — ISIS leader killed in Sinai, Egypt says — 5 August 2016

Fox News — Leader of ISIS in Egypt’s Sinai killed by air force, sources confirm — 4 August 2016

Haaretz — ISIS Leader in Sinai Killed in Airstrikes, Egyptian Military Says — 4 August 2016

Huffington Post — Egypt Claims To Have Killed The Leader Of ISIS’ Sinai Affiliate — 4 August 2016

Hundreds of Activists Have Disappeared and Tortured in Egypt Since 2015

By Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — A new report from Amnesty International has documented hundreds of people disappearing since early 2015. The enforced disappearances are being carried out by the Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA) and torturing some of those that are taken.

Egyptian Security Forces Have Detained Hundreds of Activists for Months (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Amnesty International has documented over 630 instances of people disappearing since early 2015 by NSA. This amounts to three to four people everyday being taken by Egyptian security forces. The main targets of the disappearances are political activists, protesters, students, and other opponents to the regime. Those targeted include both Islamists that support the ousted political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and secular activists. People as young as 14 have been victims to these enforced disappearances. Amnesty International says enforced disappearances are a “key instrument of state policy.”

Amnesty International’s report describes that some people, including children, are taken from their home in the night and sometimes blindfolded and handcuffed as they are transported to detention facilities. They are detained for months without access to a lawyer or their family with no formal charges brought against them and they do not stand trial.

The report also lists numerous instances of torture to those that were captured. Some of the examples of torture have ranged from long instances of interrogation to use of electric shocks to force confessions.

One example of torture was the enforced disappearance of Aser Mohamed, a 14 year old. Aser was arrested and held for 34 days in NSA offices in Cairo. While there, Aser suffered electric shocks and beatings to force a confession. Aser was later brought before a prosecutor that warned him more electric shocks would occur if he retracted his confession. When he returned to his family, he had wounds from electric shocks on his lips, head, arms, chest, and genitalia. Aser is currently awaiting his trial before an Egyptian court.

The disappearances and torture may have also extended to foreign activists. An Italian PHD candidate at Cambridge University, Giulio Regeni, was found dead on the outskirts of Cairo with visible signs of torture. The Egyptian government denied any responsibility for his death, but Amnesty International says his case matches the other documented instances.

Enforced disappearances are illegal under Egyptian law. Authorities are required to refer arrested persons to the Public Prosecution within 24 hours of detention. Enforced disappearances are not a new tactic in Egypt but are on the rise recently according to Mohamed Lotfy, Executive Director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom. Most of those that forcibly disappear are later charged with terrorism related charges.

The Egyptian government has denied the information that was released in the report and accused Amnesty International of being a “non-neutral organisation motivated by political stances aimed at tarnishing the image of Egypt.” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid told CNN that torture is illegal in Egypt and all suspected cases are prosecuted. Zeid also said that a committee was being formed to investigate the allegations in the report. The United States State Department issued a statement calling the report “deeply troubling.”

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International — Egypt: Hundreds disappeared and tortured amid wave of brutal repression — 13 July 2016

BBC — Hundreds forcibly disappeared in Egypt crackdown, says Amnesty — 13 July 2016

CNN — Amnesty: Hundreds ‘disappeared’ by Egyptian forces — 13 July 2016

NPR — Amnesty International Report Documents Activist Disappearances In Egypt — 13 July 2016