Egypt: Authorities step up repression ahead of presidential elections

The Egyptian authorities have ramped up their repression of dissent against political opponents, peaceful protesters and other critics ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential elections, said Amnesty International today. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place between 10-12 December, amid a mounting financial and economic crisis, with genuine opposition candidates barred from running.

Since 1 October, Egyptian authorities have arrested and interrogated at least 196 individuals due to their participation in unauthorized protests, as well as on allegations of engaging in terrorism-related activities and spreading “false news”. They are also prosecuting Egyptian opposition politician and former presidential hopeful Ahmed Altantawy and members of his electoral campaign in retaliation for exercising their rights to political participation and to freedom of expression and association. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 28 November.

“Once more, the Egyptian authorities lay bare their utter intolerance for even the faintest whisper of dissent. Ensnared in their suffocating web of repression are not only individuals who dare to envision an alternative political future but also those who, in peacefully expressing pro-Palestinian solidarity, deviated from state-endorsed rhetoric and designated protest areas,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Egyptian authorities must end their shameful campaign of repression against dissent and immediately release all those arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights. Ahead of next month’s presidential elections, it is paramount to lift the sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

Crackdown on supporters of former presidential hopeful

On 7 November, a criminal trial began against Ahmed Altantawy, his campaign manager Mohamed Abu al-Dayyar, and 21 supporters, in relation to his unsuccessful bid to collect enough public endorsements to run for presidential elections.

Ahmed Altantawy and Mohamed Abu al-Dayyar face charges under Law No. 45 of 2014, which regulates the exercise of political rights. They are accused of conspiring and inciting others to disseminate election-related material without authorization. The remaining defendants are charged with the printing and distribution of such materials. These charges stem from calls made on 8 October by Ahmed Altantawy’s campaign urging supporters to complete endorsement forms online. Those attempting to register endorsements for him at public notary offices faced obstacles and intimidation.

If convicted, defendants face one-year prison terms and/or fines, as well as a ban from seeking political office for five years. Ahmed Altantawy and his campaign manager remain at liberty, while the other 21 defendants are in pre-trial detention.

The trial comes against the backdrop of months of harassment and intimidation of Altantawy’s campaign, his relatives and supporters. On 13 October, he announced his inability to garner enough endorsements due to institutional obstructions, claims rejected by the National Election Authority. A week later, on 21 October, he published the names of 137 members of his campaign whom he said remained arbitrarily detained.

In September, Citizen Lab confirmed that Altantawy’s phone was infected with Predator spyware, assessing with “high confidence” the government’s involvement.

Crackdown on peaceful protests

Between 20 and 29 October, Egyptian security forces arbitrarily arrested dozens of people, including children, in connection to Palestine solidarity protests in the governorates of Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Dakahlia.

Although coordinated mass pro-Palestinian protests across Egypt had been initially endorsed by pro-government political parties and other actors at designated areas, security forces resorted to their well-honed tactics of violently cracking down on peaceful protests when criticism of the president and demands for freedom or social justice were voiced or when spontaneous protests erupted outside of designated areas.

Most were arrested in the vicinity of the iconic Tahrir Square on 20 October, after security forces cordoned off the area and ordered crowds to disperse, amid chaotic scenes of men in plainclothes beating protesters with batons and sticks. On 27 October, after Friday prayers at Al-Azhar Mosque, men in plainclothes also beat protesters after they refused to heed to orders by security forces to disperse.

On 21 October, security forces also arrested four others from their homes in Cairo and Giza, after they shared videos of protests on social media. Ali Mohamed Ali Abo Al-Majd, a university student, was among those arrested from his home in Giza and forcibly disappeared for one week before being interrogated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP). Ali Mohamed Ali Abo Al-Majd and at least 56 other protesters remain in pre-trial detention pending investigations into terrorism-related charges, participation in unauthorized gatherings harming national security and public order, and vandalism, according to Egyptian human rights groups. At least six others remain forcibly disappeared.

Protesters subjected to enforced disappearance were held at Central Security Forces’ (riot police) camps or at the National Security Agency headquarters for up to seven days.

On 15 October, Egyptian authorities also violently dispersed a peaceful gathering of teachers in front of the Ministry of Education protesting their exclusion from appointments, following new requirements for civil service job candidates to attend a six-month course at the military academy, which attendees said involved “national security” classes and physical tests. Some candidates complained about being excluded on security grounds or for being pregnant or overweight. Fourteen teachers were arrested in connection to protests and remain arbitrarily detained pending investigations into charges of joining a terrorist group, spreading “false news” and misuse of social media.

In a separate incident on 23 October, the army unlawfully fired live ammunition to disperse hundreds of peaceful protesters who staged sit-ins in Rafah demanding to be allowed to return to their cities and villages in North Sinai, from where they had been forcibly displaced since 2014 due to military operations against armed groups. According to the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, a rights group, the Ismailiya military court has ordered the pre-trial detention pending investigations of at least 47 people arbitrarily arrested in connection to the protests.

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