Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
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.
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.
According to the constitution, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, which must decide within one week if the detention is lawful or otherwise immediately release the detainee. Authorities regularly deprived individuals of this right, according to international and local human rights groups. The constitution also defers to the law to regulate the duration of preventive detention.
From July 11 to 13, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered the release of 128 detainees and renewed the pretrial detention of more than 2,100 detainees, who a human rights attorney said, “were involved in various political cases,” including human rights defender Ibrahim Ezzedine, who 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.
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.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.
Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.
The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.
On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.
Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.
Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.
Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.
After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.
More than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority held the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.
Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.
Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.
According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.
Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.
On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.
According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.
As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.
Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.
On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.
Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, al–Manassa, and Daarb.
The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.
The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.
Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy is a criminal offense. Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.
National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.
The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. The government maintained hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.
On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.
Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Judges may issue restraining orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security measures, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.
The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.
Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.
The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period for this surveillance.
The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.”
On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.
TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.
There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.
The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.
As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.
There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.
In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic matters. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also had to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.
In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.
On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.
On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.
There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement adds to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.
On June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.
On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.
The Prison Regulation Law prevents the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.
There were protests during the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.
On December 8, Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, was released pending trial before an emergency court. He faced charges of inciting individuals to protest in 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. He had been held in pretrial detention since his February 2020 arrest at Cairo International Airport, after which media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks.
According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.
On June 4, security forces broke up a demonstration in the Shooting Club area in Alexandria and arrested approximately 30 residents protesting government plans to relocate them to a new location in the governorate. While most detained residents were immediately released, 13 remained in detention until June 17 on charges of inciting protests, throwing stones at security forces, and injuring security forces. The 13 were acquitted on December 29.
Since his 2018 arrest, activist Mohamed Adel remained in pretrial detention in three separate cases, related to allegations of violating the protest law, joining a banned group, and spreading false news.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.
A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. On January 14, the government published executive regulations clarifying that NGOs would have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. The 2019 law stipulates that NGOs are established through notification; however, the executive regulations require NGOs to provide extensive data to register with authorities, including information on founders and planned activities. All NGOs must receive the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to register, receive funding, or conduct activities. Further, international NGOs are required to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to register to operate. NGOs must also comply with money laundering and antiterrorism legislations.
The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” by any individual or group from states or local or international nongovernmental organizations “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”
At year’s end lawyer Amr Emam remained in pretrial detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. Esraa Abdel Fattah was released on June 9, while Alaa Abdel Fattah and Elbakr remained imprisoned following their December 20 convictions by an emergency state security misdemeanors court, which sentenced them to five and four years, respectively (see section 1.c.). At year’s end their convictions remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate.
Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in pretrial detention since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
The government listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated terrorist organization. On July 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the life sentences of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and six others who were convicted in 2019 on charges of collaborating with Hamas.
Authorities continued investigations into local NGOs that received foreign funding under Case 173, originally brought in 2011. On October 21, local media reported that 75 locally organized NGOs had charges dismissed in Case 173 to date, although at least six continued to face charges.
On January 20, the Administrative Court annulled the Cairo Governor’s 2016 decision to close the El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. El-Nadeem was among the local NGOs still facing charges in Case 173 of receiving foreign funds.
On January 28, the Administrative Court ordered the Ministry of Social Solidarity to approve a 1.5 million euro ($1.76 million) grant from the embassies of Germany, Switzerland, and Norway to the Sadat Association for Development and Social Care, which was headed by former member of parliament and opposition figure Mohamed Anwar Sadat. This came in response to the Sadat Association’s 2018 lawsuit challenging the ministry’s denial of the grant based on security grounds. The court ruled a rejection on security concerns, without specifics, was insufficient. The court also declared that the Sadat Association was registered under the 2002 NGO law and the donors were working legally in the country, and that denying the grant would prevent the Sadat Association from exercising its constitutional and international convention rights to operate without restrictions as long as its activities did not disrupt public peace or safety.
On July 31, the Court of Cassation turned down the prosecution’s appeal of the 2017 acquittal of spouses Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein, founders of the Belady Foundation NGO, and their codefendants of torturing children, sexual assault, forcing children to participate in illegal demonstrations, and operating a criminal group for the purposes of trafficking, among other charges.
On February 2, the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights announced that it was forced to vacate its office after the landlord suddenly gave the lease to the parliamentary bloc of the Youth Coalition for Parties and Politicians, a body created by President Sisi in 2018. The organization added that troubles with its lease started after the November 2020 arrests and December 2020 releases of its members Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and Gasser Abdel Razek on charges of joining a terror group and spreading false news. The three remained subject to court-ordered travel bans and asset freezes.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the treatment of potential refugees and asylum seekers.
In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds, which the government stated were necessary restrictions in response to long-running counterterrorism operations. According to a local human rights organization, security forces set up security checkpoints in downtown Cairo and other locations around the anniversaries of street protests and conducted searches and arrests without warrants.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.
Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop the flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.
The government imposed travel bans on some human rights defenders and political activists who were under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.” Case 173 defendants who still had travel bans or asset freezes included Hossam Bahgat, Mohamed Zarea, Bahey Eldin Hassan, Abd El Hafez Tayal, and Mostafa El Hassan. On August 24, political science professor Hassan Nafaa posted on Twitter that hours before he intended to travel abroad that day, he learned that he had been banned from traveling. Nafaa appealed to the prosecutor general to reconsider the list of those banned from traveling, claiming the ban in general had changed from a precautionary measure into punishment outside the scope of the law. In March 2020 the State Security Prosecution released Nafaa along with 14 others.
Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced threats of prosecution.
On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party, who was living abroad. Nour had filed a lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the country’s consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.
According to UNHCR, as of August asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.
In 2013 the government began applying a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria, since the country lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.
Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean by boat, had almost stopped, according to UNHCR, following enactment and enforcement of a law dramatically increasing patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.
UNHCR had limited access to detention centers and border areas, except in cases upon approval by authorities. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed most detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR but frequently did not release detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese, who may have had a basis for asylum claims. Authorities often held detained migrants as unregistered asylum seekers in police stations and sometimes sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.
The government did not recognize UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.
On September 10, Amnesty International called on the government to halt the threatened deportation of two Eritrean nationals to Eritrea, where they could face persecution. Local media reported the two had been detained since 2012 and 2013. At year’s end they had not been deported. The two men claimed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Authorities deported eight Eritrean migrants on October 19, seven on October 31, and 24 on December 30, including several children, to Asmara, where they were detained upon arrival, according to local media and local NGOs. Despite multiple requests, UNHCR said it was not granted access to the detainees to make a refugee determination. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on November 19 “deploring” the country’s abuse of the principle of nonrefoulement.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.
According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps continued in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees at times reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.
Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from Sudan and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, faced barriers to accessing some services, including health care and public education. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases that were either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.
Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools or private schools, or they were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals could not do so. In some cases hospitals reportedly insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care.
Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.
On February 11, the Interior Ministry announced it granted citizenship to three brothers from the al-Muzaina tribe in Dahab, South Sinai. Media reported in February that some Bedouins in Sinai remained stateless after Israel handed the Sinai back to the country in 1982, and others remained stateless in disputed border areas with Sudan.