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PRESS RELEASE: Human rights violations in Egypt are undermining an inclusive and effective COP27 

November 8, 2022 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Human rights violations in Egypt are undermining an inclusive and effective United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), the Freedom Initiative said today, as environmentalists, human rights defenders, and members of civil society continue to be detained and tortured, subjected to travel bans, and denied their basic rights. 

As global attention turns to Egypt, any progress on climate will be fundamentally undermined by Egypt’s ongoing crackdown on civil society. It’s impossible to have an inclusive climate debate when the voices that need to be heard are languishing in a prison cell or under constant threat of arrest if they speak up,” said Andrea Prasow, Executive Director of the Freedom Initiative. 

Egyptian civil society — including environmental activists and organizations — have long faced regime repression. As COP27 opened in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt this week, tens of thousands are imprisoned or banned from traveling, and activists have warned that the climate conference is being exploited by the Egyptian regime to greenwash the past decade of horrendous rights violations. 

For the last decade, Egypt has severely curtailed the work of independent civil society, surveilling, harassing, and jailing a wide swath of activists and NGO workers. These restrictions have all but eliminated existing independent civil society in Egypt and have created barriers for new organizations or movements to form, a devastating blow to the country’s nascent climate movements. 

A number of environmental activists, engineers, and advocates for those affected by climate change are imprisoned for their activities. These include Dr. Ahmed Amasha, a veterinarian, environmentalist, and human rights activist who has twice been forcibly disappeared since 2017. Seif Fateen, an MIT-educated environmental engineer and father of U.S. citizens, has also been held for nearly four years in pretrial detention. Fateen was arrested from his home and forcibly disappeared in 2018. Sustainability-forward business leaders Seif and Safwan Thabet, founders of Egypt’s leading producer of dairy and juice products, have been imprisoned and tortured for refusing to handover their business to the Egyptian government. 

Egyptian authorities have also jailed those who oppose and protest harmful development initiatives. Since 2015, Egypt has been engaged in nationwide, state-led development projects, including the construction of a new administrative capital. These projects have caused the forced displacement of thousands, the destruction of green spaces, and prevented access to public lands. Demonstrations against the projects have been met with force and detention.  

In one instance, when the government announced plans to build luxury skyscrapers on the lower-income Warraq Island in the middle of Cairo, residents protested their imminent evictions. Protests have continued since 2017, and the authorities have met them with force, killing one and detaining dozens more.  In 2021, dozens of Alexandria residents were also detained when they protested their forced eviction. While they were at Friday prayers, the government had deployed riot police and demolition crews to destroy their homes and make way for skyscrapers and shopping malls. 

The government has restricted access to the Summit for independent civil society groups by limiting access badges to designated protest areas and requiring registration for “free” areas. While the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Egypt have granted access to 35 organizations, many of the country’s most active independent groups have been excluded.  

Egyptian authorities have requested a 36-hour notice for any protests held in the designated zone for demonstrations, in addition to information about the purpose of the protest, the date, the organizer(s), and “a designated focal point/s with a copy of the conference badge.” The same guidelines require 48-hour notice for any protests planned for Sharm El-Sheikh. 

Since a 2013 law on assembly came into effect in Egypt, protests have been effectively banned. The law allows for the use of force against any gathering of 10 or more people without prior approval from the Ministry of Interior and has been used to jail scores of Egyptian activists and human rights defenders.  

In October, the White House confirmed that President Joe Biden will travel to Sharm El-Sheikh to attend COP27 on November 11, the same day as calls for protests. His trip will mark the first time a U.S. president has traveled to Egypt since 2009. On Tuesday, administration officials confirmed President Biden will meet with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi while in Egypt for COP27. Last month, the Freedom Initiative and other human rights organizations urged the administration to secure human rights progress before meeting with the Egyptian president. 

“President Biden, members of Congress, and other U.S. officials should use their visit to urge greater respect for human rights, shedding light on Egypt’s brutality rather than greenwashing the ongoing abuse. They must stand with Egyptians and make clear to President Sisi that climate justice is a priority that requires respect for human rights,” said Todd Ruffner, Advocacy Director of the Freedom Initiative. 

 

CASE BACKGROUND 

 

Ahmed Abdelsattar Amasha 

Dr. Ahmed Abdelsattar Amasha is an Egyptian veterinarian, environmental activist and human rights defender who has long been on the frontlines of the movement for environmental justice. He is the founder of the Arab Association for Environment and Sustainable Development and led protests against the construction of a large fertilizer plant in the Northern Egyptian city of Damietta.   

Amasha is also the founder of the League for Families of the Disappeared and is an active campaigner for Egypt’s forcibly disappeared. After documenting cases of enforced disappearances for the United Nations, Amasha himself was forcibly disappeared twice. 

Amasha was first arrested in March 2017 and forcibly disappeared for three weeks before being ordered detained on terrorism-related charges, which are often used by Egyptian authorities to imprison human rights defenders. In November 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Amasha was arbitrarily detained and called for his immediate release. On October 4, 2019, he was released after over two years of pretrial detention. In June 2020, Amasha was rearrested and forcibly disappeared for 25 days before being brought before Egypt’s prosecution on July 12. He was then sent to an unknown location.  

In December 2020, Amasha’s lawyer saw him inside a glass cell with over 200 other detainees inside Tora Maximum Security Prison 2. In August 2022, Amasha was referred to trial before a terrorism court alongside Egyptian journalists Ahmed Sabie and Badr Mohamed Badr and others. 

Amasha suffers from stomach ulcers, herniated discs, retinal detachment and inflammation of the optic nerve and has been denied adequate medical care in prison. The torture he endured during his enforced disappearance resulted in broken ribs and other injuries. He has also been sexually assaulted, electrocuted, and threatened with the rape of his wife. 

“It’s tragic that the [President] Sisi regime is able to greenwash its environmental and human rights violations documented by the UN itself,” his son Mohamed, a PhD student at Yale told the Financial Times. “The regime is deliberately cutting environmentalist attendees from the harsh environmental reality that most Egyptians endure on a daily basis.” 

 

Seif Fateen 

Seif Fateen is an MIT-educated environmental engineer and father of seven children, including three US citizens. He has worked as a professor of chemical engineering at Cairo University, the director of the environmental engineering program at Zewail University, and as a former advisor to the Minister of Higher Education under former president Mohamed Morsi. He has published several works on renewable energy, including several research papers on solar energy 

In November 2018, Fateen was abducted from his family home by Egyptian security forces, taken to an unknown detention center and forcibly disappeared for nine months. During his enforced disappearance, Fateen was held in near-total isolation and subjected to torture, including electric shocks, beatings, and was also blindfolded and handcuffed for prolonged periods of time.  

In August 2019, Fateen appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) and was accused of “joining a terrorist group” and “funding a terrorist group” in Case No. 930 of 2019. According to his daughter, Fateen lost significant weight during his enforced disappearance and was unrecognizable to his youngest son – just three years old at the time – when the family first visited him in prison. 

Fateen has been unjustly detained for nearly four years under pretrial detention, far exceeding the legal limit in Egypt, and is currently confined to a cell with over 20 other prisoners for 22 hours per day. To date, no evidence has been presented against him to support the terrorism charges. He has been denied adequate medical care while detained and denied access to basic supplies.  

 

Alaa Abd El-Fattah 

Alaa Abd El-Fattah is a software developer, writer, and veteran activist who has been described as “synonymous” with the January 2011 revolution that ousted Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. Alaa has spent most of the last decade behind bars, and he has been charged or arrested under every Egyptian president in his lifetime. 

Alaa comes from a family of activists. His mother, mathematician and professor Laila Soueif, was a founder of the Kefaya Protest Movement and the March 9 Movement for the Independence of Universities. His father, human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad, was imprisoned and tortured under former president Hosni Mubarak. His sister, Sanaa Seif, has been detained three times for her activism, and his other sister, Mona Seif, was handed a one-year suspended sentence alongside her brother in 2014. Alaa was imprisoned when his own son, Khaled, was born.  

According to Amnesty International, Alaa has faced torture, medical negligence, unfair trial, poor detention conditions, solitary confinement, and been denied access to books and denied exercise time while in prison. 

Alaa was first arrested under former Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2006 for taking part in a peaceful protest and detained for several weeks. In October 2011, following Egypt’s revolution, Alaa was arrested again and jailed for several months. 

In 2013, following the July 3 military coup, Alaa was rearrested for organizing a protest in violation of Egypt’s draconian Protest Law. Police raided his home and beat him and his wife when they asked to see the warrant for Alaa’s arrest. He was held for over 100 days without trial before being temporarily released on bail in March 2014. In June 2014, Alaa was handed a 15-year sentence, which was later reduced to five years.  

In March 2019, Alaa was released from prison after serving his five-year sentence but required to spend each night at a police station in Cairo. His partial freedom did not last long. In September of that same year, Alaa was rearrested from the Dokki police station in Cairo where he was spending the night as part of his five-year probation. Alaa was charged with “joining an illegal organization,” “spreading false news,” “misusing social media,” and “receiving foreign funding.” His lawyer, Mohamed el-Baqer, was also arrested later that same day. Alaa was stripped, beaten, and subjected to psychological abuse upon his arrival at Tora Maximum Security Prison. 

In December 2021, an emergency court sentenced Alaa to five years in prison on “false news” charges for resharing a Facebook post about the torture of a fellow detainee. The two years of pretrial detention he served previously were not counted toward his sentence. 

In April 2022, Alaa’s family announced that he had been granted British citizenship through his mother, who was born in London. That month, Alaa also announced a hunger strike to protest his continued ill-treatment and to demand access to British consular services.  

In May 2022, Alaa was transferred to Wadi El-Natroun Prison, where he has been arbitrarily denied access to books, magazines, and a radio.  According to his family, authorities at Wadi El-Natroun prison falsified a medical report after Alaa refused to undergo an examination without the presence of his lawyer, a member of the human rights council, or a representative from the British embassy.   

In October 2022, Alaa marked 200 days on a partial hunger strike. At the end of October, his family announced he had stopped consuming all food and would stop consuming water on November 6, the first day of COP27 in Sharm Elsheikh, Egypt. 

 

Seif and Safwan Thabet 

Safwan and Seif Thabet are the father and son leaders of Juhayna Food Industries, Egypt’s leading juice and dairy producer. Safwan founded Juhayna in 1983, and the company has made sustainability, including a “farm-to-consumer” model built on vertical supply chains, a key priority. The men have been in pretrial detention for nearly two years for refusing to concede majority shares of the company to the Egyptian military’s National Service Products Organization. 

In August 2015, Safwan Thabet’s assets were frozen. In February 2016, the committee to Assess the Financial Assets of the Muslim Brotherhood seizes 7.2 percent of Juhayna’s shares that the committee said were indirectly owned by Safwan Thabet. In January 2017, a court adds Safwan to the country’s terrorism list.  

In December 2020, fifty armed men broke into Safwan Thabet’s home and arrets him. He was forcibly disappeared for four days. In February 2021, Safwan’s son, Seif Thabet, was arrested and denied any contact with his family or lawyers until April of that year. 

In October 2021, Bahira al-Shawy, the wife of Safwan Thabet, was summoned for questioning after appealing publicly for her husband and son’s release. She was released on bail but faced terrorism-related charges. In March 2022, Bahira died of cancer. Safwan and Seif were released temporarily to attend her funeral. Both men attended the burial, but the memorial was shut down by police. 

In October 2022, Safwan’s daughter Mariam reported that her father’s physical and mental health had declined as a result of prolonged solitary confinement. She reported that his personal belongings were confiscated during his transfer to a new prison complex. Both men continue to be held in solitary confinement and report the lights being switched on 24 hours per day. 

Safwan, who is 75 years old, suffers from chronic health problems and his health has deteriorated significantly during his detention. Both men have been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and held in conditions that Amnesty International has deemed akin to torture. 

 

Karim Ennarah 

Karim is an Egyptian human rights defender and researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of the most prominent rights organizations in the country. Karim was arrested in November 2020, while he was on vacation in Dahab, South Sinai. His arrest followed that of his other EIPR colleagues, Gasser Abdek Razek and Mohammad Basheer, after a meeting between EIPR and European diplomats.  

Karim appeared before the State Security Prosecution the following day and was placed in pretrial detention after being questioned about his work as the director of EIPR’s criminal justice unit. Charges against Karim included “joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes,” “using a personal account on the internet to spread false information and undermine public security,” and “broadcasting false news and statements that undermine public security and harm the public interest.”  

After significant international pressure, Karim and his EIPR colleagues were released on bail on December 3, 2020. 

Two years on, Karim is still trapped in Egypt, living under an unlawful travel ban and asset freeze, which have become a go-to method to silence critical voices. He has been unable to join his wife in the UK or to access money or employment. Despite multiple requests, he has not been granted a hearing to appeal the asset freeze and courts have refused to grant an appeal against the travel ban. 

For more information or to set up an interview, contact [email protected]. 

Published on

November 9, 2022

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