Trial of Human Rights Defenders Threatens Freedom of Expression

The trial of Saad Eddin Ibrahim and three other human rights defenders is a blatant attempt by the Egyptian authorities to stifle freedom of expression, Amnesty International said as the Court of Cassation is set to pronounce its decision on 6 February 2002 regarding their appeal.

"The charges on which Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the other human rights defenders were convicted and imprisoned in May 2001 are a pretext to punish them for criticizing government policies. They should be immediately and unconditionally released," Amnesty International said.

The organization has sent a delegate to Cairo to attend the appeal session of the Court of Cassation.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim was convicted on the basis of several charges, including receiving unauthorized funding which carries a minimum of seven years' imprisonment and dissemination of false information abroad. Another human rights defender, Hafez Abu Sa'ada, General Secretary of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, had been detained in December 1998 in connection with similar accusations and was later threatened with a trial.

Although he received oral assurances that his case would not be pursued, it has not been formally closed.

"The trial was clearly politically motivated. By targeting Saad Eddin Ibrahim and his colleagues the authorities intend to threaten to the whole Egyptian human rights movement into silence," Amnesty International said.

Background The four human rights defenders are among dozens of other men and women in Egypt detained or imprisoned solely for the non-violent expression of their political views or religious beliefs. Among them are political activists, including members of the banned Muslim Brothers, and members of non-political religious groups accused of "contempt of religion".

On 22 January 2002 several activists of the Egyptian People's Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada were arrested during the Cairo International Book Fair. One of them, Wa'el Tawfiq, reported after his release on 24 January that he had been tortured and ill-treated, including being subjected to electric shocks, while held in the headquarters of the State Security Intelligence at Lazoghly Square in Cairo.

At the beginning of 2002, 48 prisoners of conscience, including 21 people imprisoned in previous years, remained held. Dozens of possible prisoners of conscience, including alleged members of the Muslim Brothers and religious groups, are currently tried before exceptional courts which violate international standards for fair trial.

Those imprisoned for their religious beliefs include Manal Wahid Mana'i, mother of five, who was sentenced in September 2000 by an exceptional court - established under emergency laws - to five years' imprisonment under charges of contempt of religion. She is accused of being the leader of a religious group which allegedly attributes divine status to a late Sufi Sheikh.