The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) issued a position paper on December 2nd, 2017, on the Rainbow case. Activists, Sarah Hegazy and Ahmed Alaa are accused in the case. AFTE publishes a summary of the paper in English to promote solidarity with the activists and their right to freedom of expression.
The Paper was Prepared by: Mohamed Abdel Salam and Emad Mubarak
The state security prosecution renewed the detention of Sarah Hegazy and Ahmed Alaa last week for 15 days pending investigation. The two activists are charged -in record No. 916 of 2017/state security- of:
1-Joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law.
2- Promoting that group’s ideas.
On September 25th, 2017, the police announced that “they had arrested seven homosexuals, following their incitement to immorality and debauchery, their promotion of homosexuality, and raising the rainbow flag that promotes homosexuality during a Mashrou Leila concert”, according to Al youm 7 newspaper, which quoted informal sources. Later, the security services arrested two of the people accused of raising the rainbow flag: Sarah Hegazy and Ahmad Alaa, and referred them to the Supreme State Security Prosecution at the beginning of October 2017.
In 2016, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression warned that freedom of expression was under widespread attack and that governments around the world, which monopolized censorship, treat words as weapons. The Special Rapporteur drew attention to increasing instances where governments assert rationales having no basis in human rights law. “For example,” he said, “it has become routine for governments to explicitly target political criticism, journalism, and the expression of singled-out groups such as LGBTI communities and artists.”
In view of the behavior of official institutions in Egypt compared to international obligations, we can say that the investigation into the rainbow case is very vague. The defendants, Sarah Hegazy and Ahmad Alaa, have already been arrested since the beginning of October 2017. They are among an unknown number of defendants. The defense team was unable to access information about the remaining defendants. It was also unable to confirm the existence of charges against seven individuals, the media reported who were arrested in the context of the Rainbow flag case.
AFTE’s lawyer noticed during the investigations conducted by the State Security Prosecution with two persons accused of raising the rainbow flag, that the prosecution is inclined to charge more young people in this case. The prosecution opened the defendant’s Face book account and read her messages, and asked many questions about her relationship with her friends and how she met them. The official investigation, which was attended by the lawyers, followed another informal investigation that extended to everything in the life of the defendant, whether religious orientation, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Thus, the investigator investigated the ideas and beliefs of the defendant during the investigation and addressed questions concerning her private life.
Prosecution’s questions and behavior during the investigation show the extent to which official institutions restrict the expression of opinion, in an ongoing attempt to limit the space for expression of non-mainstream ideas and to keep the hatred and social stigmatization of the LGBT community. The Investigating Authority violated the provisions of the Egyptian Constitution. Article 65 of the Egyptian Constitution states: “Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed, and everyone has the right to express his opinion by saying, writing, photography or other means of expression and publication.” This provision is consistent with all relevant international standards and covenants, which guaranteed everyone the right to freedom of expression. However, state institutions have not complied with this text.
State institutions have violated their commitment to the Constitution and international covenants when they launched this campaign, instead of protecting the rights of all the citizens to free expression, and ensuring that they are not harmed for their opinions and beliefs. This is not the first campaign. AFTE has monitored through four annual reports since 2013 -the latest of which is the 2016 report- numerous practices and violations of the right to freedom of expression, involving the executive authority and its security apparatus, together with the legislature and the judiciary.
While condemning these practices, AFTE also expresses its concern about how the police systematically target LGBT community. We also fear that the legislative institution is going to enact laws or amend existing laws with the aim of restricting free expression and solidarity with the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities. AFTE fears that the detainees accused of raising the rainbow flag will be subjected to unfair trials and harsh sentences, especially in light of the continued detention of activists Ahmad Alaa and Sara Hegazy for 60 days pending investigation.
Finally, the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression calls for the continuation of joint action between civil society organizations and other parties interested in the defense of freedom of expression in order to provide support and solidarity with those accused of raising the rainbow flag. AFTE calls for the release of Sarah Hegazy and Ahmed Alaa.