Egypt: concerns about the detention of human rights lawyer Malek Adly

The International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA) and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) are deeply concerned about the detention of human rights lawyer Malek Adly in Cairo, since his arrest last week. Both organisations call for the respect of the freedom of the legal profession in Egypt. Mr. Adly is a prominent human rights lawyer and director of Lawyers Network at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). He also co-founded the Front for Defending Egypt’s Protesters, a group comprising of 34 human rights organisations and several lawyers, which documents illegal practices carried out by state police forces against peaceful protesters. An arrest warrant was issued against Mr Adly on 23 April 2016 in connection with a call to protest against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to hand over two Red Sea islands administered by Egypt to Saudi Arabia and human rights abuses committed by the Egyptian security forces. Mr. Adly’s arrest follows a wave of arrests in Egypt reported to reach over 1,200 following protests against the President’s decision in connection with the islands. Mr Adly’s defence team alleges that he was severely beaten by security personnel upon his arrest on 5 May 2016 and has filed claims to several authorities regarding violations against Mr Adly in respect of his arrest and investigation. The human rights lawyer will be held in custody for 15 days, pending investigation into a list of allegations, including attempting to overthrow the ruling regime, affiliation to a banned organisation and broadcasting false news, all of which he denied during questioning. AIJA and ASF call upon the Egyptian authorities to unconditionally respect the Egyptian Constitution and its international obligations, and to respect fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression and the right to freely exercise the profession of lawyer. As an international NGO specialised on access to justice, ASF implements a regional program to promote and expand the scope of freedom of expression in the MENA region. The current crackdown on lawyers as Mr. Malek Adly, Mr. Ahmed Abdallah, the Head of the Board of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) arrested on April 25th, and many other human rights defenders constitutes a serious threat to freedom of expression in Egypt. Together with ASF, Mr. Adly contributed to AIJA’s 2015 annual conference in London by sharing the challenges of working as human rights lawyer in the context of national uprising and transition to democracy in Egypt. His keynote speech on the role of the lawyer in defending freedom of expression had been an eye-opener for many European young lawyers.
Picture © ECESR
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New defeat for freedom of expression in Egypt

Cairo/Brussels, 31 August 2015 – In a judgment delivered on Saturday by the Cairo Criminal Court, the Al Jazeera English journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste (in absentia) and producer Baher Mohamed, as well and three co-defendants, were found guilty for not being registered as journalists, publishing false news, and having operated from a Cairo hotel without a licence, among other charges. They have been sentenced to 3 years of prison, Baher Mohamed to 3 years and 6 months. Two defendants were acquitted. Having jointly observed the entire trial, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF) and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) deplore this ruling which is a new defeat for freedom of expression in Egypt. Moreover, the organisations are highly concerned by the conditions under which the case was conducted and used as efforts to increase the control on the Press in Egypt.

This ruling is related to the arrest, on December 29, 2013, of several journalists and technicians who worked for a branch of the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera Media Network, the Al-Jazeera English (AJE) channel. The journalists were prosecuted together with a group of individuals arrested on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood. The group was later banned in Egypt and accused by the Egyptian authorities of being responsible of terrorist attacks in the country.

With a joint team of four observers, ASF and the ECRF have observed the entire re-trial (12 hearings since February 2015). The trial presented significant guarantees in the conduct of the proceedings, which demonstrated, to a certain extent, a willingness to guarantee the fairness of proceedings.

Both associations however express their concerns with regards to the way this case was built by the prosecution and treated by the Judiciary, from its very outset.

It was observed that some of the accusations on which the judicial proceedings were initiated, more specifically the ones related to the affiliation to a terrorist organization, have being neither debated during hearings nor backed up by factual evidence. This amounts to a breach of the fundamental rules of criminal proceedings.

As a direct consequence of the terrorist charges brought against the journalists, the case was brought in front of a specialized court. Moreover, the case hearing was held at a court room in the prison complex, totally controlled by the Interior Ministry and not a public judicial place hence limiting access to the public. In addition, the set up of the courtroom violated defendants’ fundamental human rights: the defendants were placed in a glass cage which impacted their defense.

This case is being perceived by the international community as emblematic of the treatment of journalists as suspected terrorists by the application of abusive judicial proceedings. “The case remains an example of how an issue on the freedom of the press can be considered and treated as a terrorist case, with grave and irreversible consequences for the journalists involved”, says Chantal van Cutsem, ASF Strategic Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

Recognizing this, the ECRF and ASF call upon the Egyptian authorities to unconditionally respect the Egyptian Constitution, which guarantee the respect of press freedom and journalists.

They also urge the Egyptian authorities to reform the media legislation to be in line with international standards on the freedom of the press and other media and, in particular, to decriminalize the practice of journalism without being affiliated with the Journalists’ Syndicate.

The Egyptian authorities are also urged to review the conditions and procedures of international correspondent working in Egypt to insure that journalists are able to report freely, independently and without intimidation.

Download the full press release (pdf)

Picture: © Youtube/Al Jazeera English

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