The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called Friday for the release of thousands of people recently arrested en masse in Egypt in response to several peaceful protests at the end of September. The OHCHR stated that Egypt violated the protesters’ rights to due process as well as freedom of assembly and has failed to properly investigate allegations of torture in its prisons.
The September protests focused on a wide range of primarily socio-economic concerns that have arisen under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Public gatherings in Egypt larger than 10 people are illegal, since being banned in 2013 under the previous regime. In the days following the September protests, Egyptian police arrested between 2,000 and 3,000 people in connection with “spreading chaos” domestically. Many of those arrested were not present at the protests, including those who provided legal assistance to detainees and prominent Egyptian social activists.
The OHCHR cited three prominent cases as an illustration of the type of individuals caught in the arrest. The three individuals, a journalist, a lawyer and an activist, are all prominent figures in Egyptian opposition movements. The three are not believed to have been present at the protests, and each of them has experienced serious physical abuse during their imprisonment. Two of the three were also charged with “belonging to a terrorist group,” “funding a terrorist group” and “spreading false news undermining national security” based on their public support of the protesters.
In the statement, the OHCHR called for the immediate release of those imprisoned and an end to the ongoing arrests on the grounds that they violate international law.
Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained—let alone charged with serious offenses such as terrorism—simply for exercising those rights.
They went on to say that the Egyptian government will be held to accepted international standards by the UN and the international community at large.
The actions of the authorities at all levels—police, intelligence services, prosecutors and judiciary—should be in line with international norms and standards regarding the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as due process and fair trial, including the right to legal assistance and not to be compelled to incriminate oneself.
The Egyptian government has not responded to the statement made by OHCHR. They have, however, defended their actions since September in an earlier statement.