Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.
There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai.
There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers by security forces. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases, but lack of accountability remained a problem.
On May 25, an Italian judge ordered four senior members of the country’s security services to stand trial in Italy concerning their suspected role in the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo in 2016 bearing what forensics officials said were signs of torture. On June 15, the prosecutor general gave the Italian ambassador a document for the Italian court outlining a lack of evidence in the case. On October 14, the Italian judge suspended the trial and sent the case back to a preliminary hearings judge to determine whether the defendants knew they had been charged. According to Italian media, a hearing before the preliminary hearings judge was scheduled for January 2022.
There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. On August 5, Amnesty International called on the country’s Public Prosecution to investigate a video released on August 1 by the armed forces spokesperson allegedly showing two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.
ISIS-Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in North and South Sinai. Other terrorist groups, including Harakat al-Suwad Misr, reportedly continued to operate. There were no official, published data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. A combination of local and international press reporting, government press releases, and social media accounts tracking events in Sinai suggested terrorist groups killed or wounded more than 90 civilians in 2020. Approximately 15 of these civilians were reported to have been killed by booby traps left by ISIS-Sinai Province between October and December 2020.
International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities utilized this tactic to intimidate critics.
Authorities detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers.
Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4 and held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 17 before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, who ordered his detention pending investigation into charges of spreading false news, joining an unspecified banned group, and misusing social media. Journalist Ahmed Khalifa was arrested on January 6, the day after he covered a labor protest, and was held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 16 before the State Security Prosecution, who ordered his detention pending investigation into the same allegations as al-Zaeem. Khalifa was released in July, while Zaeem remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.
On June 25, 1,000 days after the 2018 disappearance of former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Naggar, 15 local and international organizations called on the government to investigate and disclose information on his whereabouts, as ordered by the Administrative Court in 2020.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances. Nonetheless, there were reports that government officials employed them.
Local rights organizations reported torture was systemic, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings, electric shocks, psychological abuse, and sexual assault. On July 15, Human Rights First issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces based on testimony from prisoners released between 2019 and 2021. Human Rights First characterized torture and other abuse as pervasive in prisons.
On March 1, detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 20, claimed during a pretrial detention hearing that he had been subjected to incidents of intimidation after he reported hearing fellow prisoners being subjected to torture with electric shocks.
The government released journalist Solafa Magdy and her photographer husband Hossam el-Sayed on April 14 and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah on July 18 from pretrial detention. International organizations reported that Magdy and Abdel Fattah were abused while in pretrial detention following their 2019 arrests. The abuse reportedly included beatings and suspension from a ceiling.
On September 17, a local human rights attorney said that secretary general of the Foundation for the Defense of the Oppressed, Ahmed Abd-al-Sattar Amasha, had been deprived of visits, exercise, sunlight, and access to health care for more than a year. He had been detained since his June 2020 arrest and was previously arrested in 2017, allegedly abused, and released in 2019. He joined an international campaign in 2016 urging authorities to close the maximum-security branch of Tora Prison and cofounded the League of Families of the Disappeared in 2014.
There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Local media reported that the state detained Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed el-Kassas in solitary confinement and had prevented him from exercising, reading, or listening to the radio since his initial arrest in 2018 on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. El-Kassas was re-arrested in three new cases during continuous confinement without release, all on similar charges in 2019, in August 2020, and again on July 28.
According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for pursuing prosecutions and investigating whether security force actions were justifiable.
On April 4, the Court of Cassation upheld as a final verdict a 2019 acquittal of six police officers and two noncommissioned police personnel charged with torturing to death a citizen and forging official documents inside a police station in 2017. According to local media, the victim was arrested with his brother on charges of murdering and robbing their grandmother.
On April 10, a criminal court reconvicted, in absentia, two noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. In December 2020 a criminal court sentenced a police officer and eight other noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison in this case. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted.
On August 5, a criminal court acquitted 11 police officers in a retrial that challenged their suspended one-year prison sentences and their convictions for the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in 2011.
On December 28, a court ruled that the family of Khaled Said, who died of police brutality in 2010, would receive one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($62,500) in compensation. Two police officers were convicted of the crime in 2011.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This follows one allegation of attempted transactional sex in 2020 and another of sexual assault in 2016, both of which also occurred in MINUSCA. As of September investigations into the three most recent allegations were pending. A separate investigation substantiated the 2016 allegation, leading to the repatriation and, imprisonment of the perpetrator.
Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order forced medical exams in “family values” or “debauchery” cases. On July 5, the New York Times published testimony from women who claimed sexual abuse in detention by police, prison guards, and state-employed doctors, including forced stripping, invasive examinations, so-called virginity tests, and forced anal examinations in front of onlookers (see section 6).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to widespread overcrowding and lack of adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water.
Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded On April 11, a local human rights organization estimated the total prison population at more than 119,000 located in an estimated 78 prisons, including approximately 82,000 convicted prisoners and 37,000 pretrial detainees. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals on politically motivated grounds.
Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In a March 24 report based on research conducted between February 2020 and November 2020 from the experiences of 67 individuals (10 of whom had died in custody) in 16 prisons (three for women and 13 for men) in seven governorates, a local human rights organization reported that conditions in prisons and detention centers included medical negligence; solitary confinement; and the denial of visits, telephone calls, academic studies, and the provision of outside food, or some kinds of foods, to prisoners and detainees.
In July, Human Rights First released a report alleging recruitment by ISIS in the prison system. The report said that prisoners were more susceptible to recruitment in part because of poor prison conditions.
The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to a significant number of deaths in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and in some cases denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.
On January 5, an Interior Ministry security source denied social media accounts of the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates and the deaths of several inmates from COVID-19. On May 17, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to give COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners across the country. On June 26, the Interior Ministry filed a court document in response to several lawsuits, stating that it had vaccinated 5,000 prison inmates, officers, and those working in prisons, according to local media. On August 23, the Administrative Court denied a request for COVID-19 vaccines for researcher Patrick Zaki, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, and other high-profile detainees and prisoners, according to local media. Zaki was released on December 8 pending trial (see section 2.b.). At year’s end it remained unclear whether Elbakr had received the COVID-19 vaccine.
On July 24, imprisoned former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh survived a “severe heart attack” but did not receive medical treatment despite calling out for help, according to statements by Aboul Fotouh’s son on social media. Aboul Fotouh’s son said that in the weeks prior to his heart attack, Aboul Fotouh had been prevented from buying anything from the prison canteen and from receiving injections for spinal pain. According to an August 18 report by four international organizations, 10 detainees died in custody between July 6 and August 11. Activist Mona Seif quoted her brother, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that one of his prison mates, Ahmad Sabir, died in prison on July 11 after Sabir became ill and his cellmates shouted to guards for medical help without any response for five hours.
Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. In September a local human rights organization reported that skin diseases were widespread among prisoners in high security prisons due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of sunlight, and in the Qanater women’s prison due to lack of clean water and overcrowding. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were reported to be marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.
Local media reported that the Interior Ministry’s social protection sector sent medical providers from various specialties to eight prisons (male and female) in July and August to provide medical services to prisoners. According to reports, 55 prisoners received medical evaluations and medications at Mansoura prison and 39 prisoners received limb prostheses at the Borg al-Arab prison.
There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security matters from other prisoners accused of nonpolitical crimes and subjected the former to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On May 11, Amnesty International called for the release of political activist Ahmed Douma after what it called a “grossly unfair and politically motivated” trial that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence in 2020. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,200 days.
The law authorizes prison officials to use force against prisoners who resist orders.
Administration: Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhuman conditions, but NGO observers claimed prisoners were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government did not investigate most of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.
The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons ostensibly provide for reasonable access to prisoners, but according to NGO observers and relatives, the government regularly prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Rights groups also claimed that state security emergency court hearings and trials were not accessible to family or legal counsel and detainees lacked full access to legal counsel and documents related to their charges. Authorities cited restrictions put in place during the year as part of COVID-19 preventive measures.
Independent Monitoring: The government arranged visits between January and May for delegations of local and foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and the National Council for Human Rights to Tora Prison, Borg al-Arab Prison, El Marag General Prison, Wadi al-Natroun Prison, Fayoum Prison, and three prisons in Minya Governorate.
Improvements: In October the country opened its new Wadi al-Natroun Reform and Rehabilitation Center, which included new medical facilities, vocational training spaces, and worship areas including a mosque and a church. Officials stated inmates from 12 aging prisons planned for closure would be transferred to the new prison, and the new prison will provide improved onsite medical care, including treatment for addiction and mental health, psychological therapy and services, dialysis, dental treatment, dermatology, and computerized tomography scans.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act based on a judicial warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, but there were numerous reports of arrests without a warrant.
Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.
Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases political or legal obstacles, and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventive detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors or felonies. In regular criminal cases, the period of preventive detention is subject to renewal in increments of 15 days by the investigative judge up to a total of 45 days, for both misdemeanors and felonies. Before the 45th day, the prosecutor must submit the case to a misdemeanor appellate court panel of three judges, who may release the accused person or renew the detention in further increments of 45 days. In cases under the jurisdiction of the State Security Prosecution, prosecutors may renew preventive detention in increments of 15 days up to a total of 150 days, after which the prosecutor must refer the case to a criminal court panel of three judges to renew the detention in increments of 45 days.
Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. The combined periods of prosecutor- and court-ordered detentions prior to trial may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors, 18 months in cases of felonies, and two years in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment. After the pretrial detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Rights groups claimed accused persons may face additional charges after their detention limit was reached, thereby “recycling” the accused person into indefinite pretrial detention. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in death penalty or life imprisonment cases once the trial has commenced, with some arguing there was no time limit on detention during the trial period, which may last several years.
Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, such as joining an unspecified banned group that is claimed to undermine state institutions, sometimes were added to cases related to expression or other politically motivated cases. As a result, authorities might hold some individuals charged with nonviolent crimes by prolonging the duration of their trial or rearresting them into new cases to avoid the two-year pretrial detention limit.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. These rights are suspended during a state of emergency, the most recent of which expired in October. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and denied access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).
According to a local human rights attorney, police arrested journalist Gamal el Gaml on February 22 upon his return from his “voluntary” exile since 2017 in Istanbul. Local media noted el Gaml had gained limited notoriety in 2014 when President Sisi called him directly regarding el Gaml’s assertions that the country did not provide basic services; al-Masry al-Youm newspaper halted his regular column in 2015. On July 18, el Gaml was released pending trial.
In 2019 Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Christian human rights activist, was arrested in his home in Cairo. On June 22, the Criminal Court renewed for 45 days his pretrial detention on accusations of joining an unspecified terror group and spreading false news. An international organization stated Kamel had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. He remained in custody at year’s end.
Inmate Abdulrahman el-Showeikh’s mother, father, and sister were arrested on April 27, which international human rights organizations claimed was in retaliation for his mother’s reports in early April that el-Showeikh had been abused in Minya Prison, as well as his brother’s April 26 social media posts from Turkey condemning the alleged abuse. El-Showeikh’s father and sister were released shortly after their arrest and his mother was accused of joining a terrorist group and publishing and broadcasting false news. On December 30, a human rights organization reported that el-Showeikh’s mother remained in pretrial detention in solitary confinement without visits or medical care for certain medical problems, according to a son’s social media post. Kholoud Said, the head of the translation unit of the publication department at Bibliotheca Alexandria, was charged on January 11 in a new case with joining an unspecified terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, the same charges as in the original case for which she had been arrested in April 2020. Despite a December 2020 order for her release in the original case, Said was not released and remained in pretrial detention. Freelance translator Marwa Arafa remained in pretrial detention after her April 2020 arrest on similar charges. Representatives of a women’s rights organization said they could not identify any apparent reason for these arrests.
On March 17, a criminal court convicted activist Sanaa Seif, sister of imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison for broadcasting false news by making allegations the government asserted were false concerning the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, defaming and insulting a public employee, and using an electronic account to commit a crime. Seif was arrested in June 2020 outside the New Cairo Public Prosecutor’s office where her family was filing a complaint seeking to receive communications from Abdel Fattah. On December 23, Seif was released after serving the entirety of her sentence.
Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventive detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to human rights organizations, the government sometimes rearrested detainees on charges filed in new cases to extend their detention beyond a two-year maximum.
Media reported that after four years of pretrial detention, al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was released on February 6 with precautionary measures that required him to report to a police station two days per week. Hussein continued to face charges in several cases pending trial, including spreading false news and receiving foreign funds to defame the state’s reputation. On August 21, Reporters Without Borders called for the release of al-Jazeera journalist Rabie el Sheikh, who was arrested at Cairo International Airport on August 1, and three other al-Jazeera journalists in pretrial detention since 2019 and 2020. All were charged with spreading false news and membership in a terrorist group.
On August 23, the State Security Prosecution referred human rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms Ezzat Ghoneim to trial before the Emergency State Security Criminal Court on charges including joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood, deliberately broadcasting false news, and disturbing security. Ghoneim had been in pretrial detention since his 2018 arrest and was added to second case in May 2020 and a third case on May 29, all on similar charges.
Political activist Sameh Saudi, whom authorities arrested in 2018 and added to new cases in 2019 and 2020 remained in pretrial detention.
On November 20, the State Security Prosecution released journalist Ahmed Shaker after exceeding the maximum limit of 24 months of pretrial detention, according to local media. Security forces had arrested Shaker in 2019 and charged him with spreading false news and participating in a terrorist group.
The Public Prosecution released Ola Qaradawi on December 12, according to local media. Authorities had arrested Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in 2017 on charges of communicating with and facilitating support for a terrorist group. At year’s end Khalaf remained in pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Human rights organizations claimed the State Security Prosecution bypassed court orders to release detainees by arresting them again in a new case, in some instances on the same charges.
The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and prosecutes individuals for membership in or support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. The court designation may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court, and authorities do not inform most individuals of their impending designation before the court rules.
The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent an assault against military facilities, military barracks, facilities protected by the military, designated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent an assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”
Under the state of emergency that expired on October 24, authorities regularly used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers said defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.
Authorities released journalist Moataz Wadnan on July 18. Police arrested Wadnan in 2018, after he conducted a press interview with the former head of the Central Audit Organization, and charged Wadnan with joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. Two days after a court ordered Wadnan’s release in May 2020, the State Security Prosecution added him to a new case with the additional charges of inciting terrorist crimes. Before his July 18 release, Wadnan had been in continuous pretrial detention for more than three years. Journalist Mostafa al-Asaar, who was also arrested in 2018, and lawyer Mahienour al-Masry, who was arrested in 2019 after she defended detainees arrested during street protests, were released on July 18. Police charged all three with joining a banned group and spreading false news.
Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and 2014.
On April 8, Mahmoud Ezzat was sentenced to life in prison for inciting violence and other terrorism-related charges, stemming from clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in 2013 that resulted in the killing of nine persons and injuring of 91 others.
On June 14, the Court of Cassation issued a final ruling upholding the death penalty sentences for 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including three senior Brotherhood leaders: Mohamed El-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, and Abdel-Rahman El-Bar. The court also commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment for 31 others in the same case, the 2013 Rabaa sit-in.
On July 11, in a separate case, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2019 sentencing of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed Badie, to life imprisonment on charges of killing policemen, organizing mass jail breaks, and undermining national security by allegedly conspiring with foreign militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, during 2011 unrest. The Court of Cassation in the same case also overturned the convictions of eight mid-level Muslim Brotherhood members who had been sentenced in 2019 to 15 years in prison. It remained unclear at year’s end whether they were released or were held pending charges in other cases.
In an August 23 statement, a local human rights organization said the Public Prosecution refused to allow attorneys to visit blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (aka “Mohamed Oxygen”) after Ibrahim reportedly attempted suicide in pretrial detention in July. According to his attorneys, Ibrahim had been suffering mentally from mistreatment, including because of authorities depriving him family visits for a period exceeding 15 months, which the government said was due to COVID-19 preventive measures. Ibrahim had been in pretrial detention between his 2019 arrest and his December 20 conviction on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, after he tweeted a list of protesters and journalists detained in 2019 who had protested alleged military corruption. On October 16, the State Security Prosecution referred Ibrahim, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and human rights lawyer Mohamed Elbakr to trial before an emergency court. On December 20, an emergency court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and Ibrahim and Elbakr to four years in prison. Human rights groups and activists said the trial lacked due process and called for presidential commutation or pardon for all three individuals; at year’s end their sentences remained in place.
Khaled Lotfy, founder of the Tanmia bookstores and publishing house, remained in custody at year’s end. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for distributing the Arabic edition of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, as well as charges of spreading false news and allegedly divulging military secrets.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.
The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform defendants promptly of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. During the year authorities denied entrance to representatives of civil society, media, foreign embassies, and family members attempting to attend trial and pretrial detention hearings. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation by a court-assigned interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.
The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated and referred for trial most such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.
On June 15, President Sisi ratified law 70/2021, which criminalizes, with a fine, the filming, photographing, or recording of criminal court hearings without prior permission from the presiding judge and prosecutor general.
On November 11, the president ratified amendments to a 2015 terrorism law that ban the photography, recording, or live broadcasting of trial sessions involving any terrorism crimes without prior approval.
On May 24, an international human rights organization said there had been at least 53 mass trials since 2011, in which 2,182 persons were sentenced to death.
On August 13, Amnesty International said the government had executed at least 81 persons in 2021. On July 4, authorities executed engineering student Moataz Hassan, who was convicted of participating in the 2018 attempted assassination of Major General Mustafa al-Nimr. A human rights organization claimed security forces had coerced Hassan’s confession with torture and threats after his 2018 arrest.
Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances as those in civilian courts, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights on public security grounds and regularly did so. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the rapid rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising due process rights and undermined fair trial assurances. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys only once every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.
The military judiciary law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president or his delegate must certify sentences by military courts. There were limited media reports concerning the ratification of military court sentences. In 2019 local independent media reported that the military ruler ordered the retrial of one military case presented for ratification. State security emergency courts, which were activated pursuant to the nationwide state of emergency in effect between 2017 and October, had jurisdiction concerning cases related to the state of emergency, which had been broadly interpreted to include several politically motivated cases. By law verdicts in state security emergency courts have no avenue for judicial appeals and require ratification, annulment, amendment, or an order for retrial by the president or his delegate.
On June 13, the Cairo 24 private news website asked the prime minister not to ratify the June 10 state security emergency misdemeanor court’s convictions against journalists Islam Saadi and Moamen Samir for publishing and spreading false news. Local media had reported on June 12 that their arrests came after they took photographs of Saadi’s mother in a government hospital where she was being treated for COVID-19.
On June 22, the state security emergency misdemeanor court convicted Central European University researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and sentenced him to four years in prison and a fine for joining a terrorist group and publishing false news. International and local human rights organizations condemned the action and called on the president, in the absence of the possibility for judicial appeal, to commute the sentence. At year’s end Santawy’s conviction remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate. According to local media, Santawy was questioned in December 2020 upon his arrival in the country to visit family, regarding his research on women’s rights for his graduate studies program in Vienna. On January 23, security forces searched his family’s apartment in South Sinai and ordered Santawy to report to the National Security office in Cairo. Santawy voluntarily reported to a police station in Cairo on February 1 and appeared before the State Security Prosecution on February 6. Local human rights organizations reported that Santawy and former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy, whose five-year emergency court prison sentence on November 17 was ratified on November 24 (see section 2.a.), were physically abused in detention by security forces on May 21.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of significant numbers of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs or activities.
Amnesty: The government periodically issued pardons of prisoners, sometimes including individuals whose cases human rights organizations considered to be politically motivated. Local press reported that the Interior Ministry Prisons Authority ordered the release of thousands of inmates based on presidential decrees in April, May, July, and October on the Eid al-Fitr, Eid El Adha, Sinai Liberation Day, and Armed Forces Day holidays.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: According to local media and international human rights organizations, on February 10, police raided a house in Luxor belonging to the family of Germany-based academic and political activist Taqadum al-Khatib, seizing personal property and documents belonging to Khatib’s parents. Khatib previously served in the National Association for Change in Egypt and had posted recollections of Mubarak’s overthrow in the weeks leading up to the Luxor raid. In February security forces raided the homes of six relatives of a prominent human rights activist based abroad. Two family members were arrested, while others were questioned regarding their contact with the activist.
On February 11, Human Rights Watch called on the government to reverse its December 2020 decree, published in the official gazette, that revoked the citizenship of Ghada Naguib, a political activist and frequent critic of the government who lived in Turkey. The government’s decision stated Naguib falsely claimed she was born in Cairo and cited Law 26 of 1975, which gives the government the power to revoke citizenship without judicial review. Naguib denied any false statements and said she was born in the country to a Syrian father.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights abuses and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed such cases or acquitted defendants claiming insufficient evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights (Standing Committee) and the National Council for Human Rights (National Council) released reports in April and February, in part to review grievances faced by North Sinai residents following government counterterrorism operations in 2018 that resulted in demolition of homes and commercial buildings and seizure of farmland to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate, which authorities stated was needed to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions, including to and from the Gaza Strip. The government implemented plans to expand the commercial and military capacity of the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish, which local NGOs said threatened to displace 4,000 families.
The Standing Committee reported $224 million (out of a total $260 million budgeted) in government expenditures as of April 2020 used to compensate North Sinai residents for houses or land lost or damaged in counterterrorism operations, compensation for the families of “martyrs” and injured, as well as for humanitarian and medical aid and social assistance. The Standing Committee report detailed $196 million in housing and agricultural compensation. The Ministry of Planning’s Citizen Investment Plan for North and South Sinai governorates was established to provide $548 million to further develop housing infrastructure and public services in the area.
According to the National Council, North Sinai residents complained that slow compensation distribution coincided with rising construction costs and inflation, which complicated efforts to use reimbursements to acquire a comparable house or plot of land elsewhere. Residents also complained of lack of documentation regarding ownership, maximum compensation limits, the government’s inability to conduct assessments due to security problems, and rent previously owed to the government for farming on government land.
On March 17, Human Rights Watch alleged the military’s continuing home demolitions and forced evictions during the armed conflict in North Sinai were abuses of international humanitarian law and likely amounted to war crimes.
On March 19, local media reported that police detained five residents of Tersa district in Giza during a small gathering of 30 residents to protest the February cabinet decision to demolish 27 legally registered residential buildings. According to local media, local officials tried to persuade the residents to sign eviction notices, which most refused to do without sufficient guarantees of compensation. On March 20, local media reported the administrator of a Facebook page campaigning against the government actions, also a Tersa district resident, was detained at his home.
In December a Cairo governorate source told media that the government paid 454 million EGP ($28.4 million) to residents in compensation for demolishing their homes to accommodate a highway expansion project.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner. Ahead of planned protests or demonstrations, there were reports police stopped young persons in public places and searched their mobile phones for evidence of involvement in political activities deemed antigovernment in nature.
The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The law allows the president to issue written or oral directives to monitor and intercept all forms of communication and correspondence, impose censorship prior to publication, and confiscate publications.
Surveillance was a significant concern for internet users. The constitution states that private communications “may only be confiscated, examined, or monitored by causal judicial order, for a limited period of time, and in cases specified by the law.” Judicial warrants are required for authorities to enter, search, or monitor private property such as homes. During a state of emergency, warrantless searches are allowed provided the Public Prosecution is notified within 24 hours, and police may detain suspects for up to seven days before handing them over to the prosecution. The government’s surveillance operations lacked transparency, potentially violating the constitution’s privacy protections. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority, including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government.
On February 5, the government released film director and screenwriter Moamen Hassan from detention pending trial on allegations of using social media for the purpose of “promoting a terrorist act.” Local media reported that on January 25, security forces arrested Hassan after stopping his taxi in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, searching his mobile phone, and alleging he had sent suspicious texts containing inappropriate political comments regarding the government. Hassan reportedly appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 31, and a court ordered his release on February 4.
On August 9, a local human rights organization claimed the Public Prosecution’s Communication, Guidance, and Social Media Department, established in 2019 to monitor the internet for crimes, facilitated mass surveillance without due process of law.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
The conflict in North Sinai involving government security forces, terrorist organizations, and other armed groups (including militias and criminal gangs) continued. According to press releases and international media reports, at least 135 armed forces soldiers were killed in attacks on government positions or in counterterrorist operations during the year. The government continued to impose restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to the country’s mainland and movement within North Sinai Governorate and severely restricted media access to North Sinai.
Killings: The government acknowledged no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations alleged that some persons killed by security forces were civilians. According to an international NGO, at least 26 civilian deaths, 51 security force deaths, and 31 terrorist deaths occurred in the conflict in Sinai between January and July. According to an ISIS media affiliate, ISIS-Sinai Province claimed 101 attacks resulting in 206 casualties during the year.
Terrorist and other armed groups continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using gunfire, improvised explosive devices, and other tactics.
According to another international organization’s July 31 report covering January through July, ISIS-Sinai Province killed approximately 22 civilians, including a woman and a child; kidnapped 26 civilians; and killed approximately 51 members of the armed forces, including seven from an armed group of North Sinai tribes fighting alongside the army. The same report documented four civilian deaths by security forces.
Abductions: Terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, almost always alleging cooperation with the government as the rationale. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups sometimes released abductees; some abductees were shot or beheaded. According to media and social media reports, at least 30 civilians were abducted by terrorist and militant elements in Sinai between January and August. In June, ISIS-Sinai Province reportedly abducted five construction contractors supporting a government developmental project near the al-Salam canal.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Explosions caused by hidden explosive devices killed at least two children during the year. Approximately 15 civilians died between October and December 2020 due to improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS-Sinai Province members following an offensive in North Sinai.