CAIRO — Many Egyptians live in fear because of the repressive practices of Egyptian security forces. Still, in June, Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Fathallah was granted a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which Egyptian authorities touted as a sign of international acceptance.
Yet the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which is affiliated with the Egyptian government, believes Egypt has not achieved any improvements regarding freedom and human rights. In its annual report, issued July 3, the NCHR indicates human rights issues are not a high priority for the government.
The report highlights pre-trial detentions, the conditions of prisons and detention centers, and the prevalent issuance of death sentences that are later shown to be unwarranted.
The report pointed out that military trials are being held for civilians. It also cited the issue of illegal detentions and said there is a double standard in how the law is applied to public officials.
While Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers its UN Human Rights Committee membership a reflection of the international community’s faith in Egypt, the Italian parliament voted June 30 to halt supplies to Egypt of spare parts for F-16 warplanes to protest the unsolved killing and torture of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni earlier this year.
Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization, has called on Egyptian executive and legislative authorities to review legislation and practices related to human rights. In a June 25 statement, Maat demanded revisions to legislation that restricts the work of civil society organizations and called for strict penalties for the crimes of torture and violation of body integrity.
The NCHR reported severe overcrowding at penal facilities, noting that prisons sometimes house 50% more inmates than the specified maximum and detention centers hold three times their stated capacity. In addition, NCHR head Mohamed Fayek said the council has documented three cases where detainees were tortured to death, in addition to roughly 20 other cases in which detainees died in prison due to poor health conditions there.
Yet the NCHR numbers are much smaller than those highlighted by other human rights organizations. For example, El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence published reports indicating that almost 1,000 inmates died because of torture and medical negligence. The government ordered El Nadeem to shut down Feb. 17 due to “administrative irregularities.”
In a monthly report, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information also noted that Egyptian authorities are continuing their offense against human rights defenders.
During the month of June, the report said, 32 Egyptian citizens were sentenced to death and 215 civilians were convicted in military courts. There are seven military trials involving 781 civilians underway.
Egypt has critics in many quarters.
Novelist Alaa Al Aswany posted on Twitter that loud celebrations — in reference to the June 30 anniversary celebration — will not silence the voice of thousands of wrongfully arrested detainees and will not hide the ugliness of oppression.
Amr Hamzawy, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, described Egypt as the republic of fear. He wrote on Twitter that the regime will not allow any free voice in the public sphere, indicating that people must either follow the government’s instructions or be punished and ostracized.
Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the head of the Egyptian parliament's Human Rights Committee, presented his views, telling Al-Monitor by phone that he agrees new laws are needed to address the human rights situation in Egypt, and police and security forces must be more disciplined in the way they treat citizens.
He said the committee plans to issue a decree to create the kind of legislative environment necessary to protect people. The decree, which will be released publicly within a few months, will also organize the work of civil society organizations.
Sadat said the committee will discuss at a later meeting the NCHR report and determine what measures are needed in response. In addition, he did not rule out the possibility of questioning Egypt’s Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar about documented cases of torture. He said the committee will visit prisons and detention centers inside the police stations.
Commenting on the Italian parliament’s actions against Egypt in the death of Regeni, Sadat said Italy’s decision indicates Egyptian authorities must correct “false impressions.” He also stressed the need for broader and more transparent communication with Italy.
Sadat has invited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to a meeting with the NCHR’s head and representatives of the human rights-related ministries — the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs — to discuss the NCHR report findings.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.
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