LONDON - The abduction, arbitrary detention and torture of human rights defender and journalist Esraa Abdelfattah is another indication that Egyptian authorities are stepping up brutality against human rights defenders in a bid to ‘terrorize’ critics and opponents, said Amnesty International today.
Esraa Abdelfattah was assaulted and abducted by security forces in plainclothes on 12 October. The next day she described to the Supreme State Security Prosecution how she was tortured by officers who beat her, attempted to strangle her and forced her to stand for nearly eight hours.
“Esraa Abdelfattah’s account of torture, coming just days after the prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah described a similar ordeal in custody, is an alarming indication that Egypt’s authorities are stepping up their use of brutal tactics to crack down on human rights defenders,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Esraa Abdelfattah has been targeted on spurious grounds and is being arbitrarily detained for her work defending human rights. She should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Esraa Abdelfattah was abducted at night from her car before being taken to an undisclosed place of detention, managed by the National Security Agency (NSA), and was barred from contacting her family or lawyers.
“The manner of her arrest – being abducted by plainclothes officers and taken away in a van in public – marks an alarming new trend in the way Egyptian authorities target human rights defenders,” said Najia Bounaim.
After her detention one NSA officer threatened her with torture after she refused to grant him access to her mobile phone. Several men then entered the room and began beating her on her face and body. The NSA officer then returned and repeated his request for her to unlock her phone. Esraa refused again and the officer took off her sweatshirt and strangled her with it saying: “your life in exchange for the phone”, until she gave him her password. The officer then handcuffed her hands and legs to prevent her from sitting or kneeling and kept her in that position for almost eight hours. Another officer warned that she would face further torture if she reported what had happened to the prosecutor.
A 2017 report by the UN Committee Against Torture found that torture is systematic in Egypt and even though it is perpetrated by security forces, prosecutors and judges are responsible for facilitation.
“Egypt’s Public Prosecutor must end the abhorrent use of torture, a crime in the eyes of Egypt’s constitution and international human rights law, and open investigations into all torture allegations to hold those responsible accountable,” said Najia Bounaim.
“Esraa Abdelfattah’s appalling treatment sends a clear message to the international community that Egyptian authorities will stop at nothing to ‘terrorize’ perceived dissidents into silence. Egypt’s allies must take a strong stand and make clear to the authorities that persecution, torture and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders will not be tolerated.”
The prosecutor ordered her detention for a further 15 days while she is investigated for “joining a terrorist group in achieving its goals”, “disseminating false news” and “misusing social media” as part of a case that also includes human rights defenders such as lawyer Mahienour el-Massry, politician Khalid Dawoud and political science professor Hassan Nefea. Like them, Esraa Abdelfattah was questioned about her previous political activism. The prosecutor did not produce any evidence against her, other than an NSA investigation casefile that neither she nor her lawyers are able to examine.
Amnesty International believes these charges are completely unfounded and solely stem from the peaceful practice of the accused’s rights to freedom of expression, association and participation in public affairs.
Esraa Abdelfattah was among the first human rights defenders in Egypt to face a travel ban, when she was prevented to board a plane from Cairo airport on 13 January 2015 and was told by officials that there is a travel ban decision against her in relation to the NGO foreign funding case known as “case 173”.
She is one of a series of prominent human rights defenders who have been rounded up since an outbreak of protests on 20 September.