Written by Nani Jansen and Adrian Plevin.
After imprisoned Egyptian blogger and human rights defender Alaa Abd El Fattah went on hunger strike this past Monday, the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) to take all necessary steps to secure Abd El Fattah’s immediate release.
The 32-year-old award-winning blogger was one of the first netizens to call for political change in Egypt. Working with his wife Manal Hasaan, Abd El Fattah has promoted freedom of expression through the websites Manalaa and Omraneya – the first Arab ‘blog aggregators’ to not restrict inclusion based on content. His online writings have established him as a leading online force for the promotion of and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom in Egyptian society.
On 11 June 2014, Abd El Fattah was supposed to stand trial for allegedly organising a protest in contravention of Egypt's controversial new anti anti-protest laws. Instead, he was convicted without a trial and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing his first child’s birth. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial.
Egypt has come under mounting international pressure to address the worsening human rights situation that has accompanied the political turmoil following the 2011 ousting of then President Hosni Mubarak. Some sources speculate the situation is worse now than it was under the Mubarak government, as increasing numbers of journalists and bloggers have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment: the world’s attention has recently been focused on the heavily-criticised trial of three foreign journalists, highlighting the worrying developments in Egypt's justice system. While the military-backed government advances rhetoric of suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal and secular activists are increasingly falling foul of the regime. The judiciary has cracked down on political dissent and death sentences have been handed out on a large scale: in March of this year, over 500 protestors were sentenced to death. Another 683 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to the same fate in June.
The case of Alaa Abd El Fattah warrants special attention. He has established himself as a vocal critic and encouraged fellow Egyptians to strive for recognition of their fundamental rights. This has come at a significant personal cost, leading to his detention or investigation under every head of state who has served in his lifetime.
MLDI and EFF have now petitioned the UNWGAD to render an opinion that his detention is arbitrary and in contravention of Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They have requested the UNGWAD take urgent action in light of Abd El Fattah’s hunger strike, recognise that his deprivation of liberty results from his exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and to declare that Abd El Fattah has been deprived of his right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. The petition was drafted with the assistance of Rosa Curling of the UK-based Leigh Day law firm. Curling has been monitoring Abd El Fattah’s trial on behalf of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. Read the full petition here.
Nani Jansen is the Legal Director of the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). MLDI operates globally to help journalists, bloggers, and independent media outlets defend their rights by offering both financial assistance and substantive litigation support.
Adrian Plevin is an Associate Legal Officer with the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Tribunal or the United Nations in general.