Egypt: Release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and stop violating academic freedom

Date : Thursday, 1 April, 2021

The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian authorities to release Ahmed Samir Santawy, a master’s researcher at the Central European University (CEU) in Austria, who has been arbitrarily detained for two months and deprived of continuing his study in Austria. The organizations also call for an investigation into the enforced disappearance and beating of Santawy.

Police arrested Santawy on 1 February 2021, and the State Security Prosecution decided to remand him in custody in Case No. 65 of 2021 without solid evidence of indictment.

Santawy suffered from inhumane conditions of detention, including being denied communication with his relatives. He was also deprived of clothes and personal equipment for a month and eight days, before only one of his family members was allowed to visit him for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, international condemnations of human rights violations by the Egyptian authorities have increased. A joint statement issued by the governments of 31 member states of the United Nations during the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt, especially the restrictions imposed on freedom of expression.

In recent years, the Egyptian authorities have violated academic freedom and harassed Egyptian and foreign researchers, whether by imposing restrictions on the travel of Egyptian researchers or arresting Egyptian and foreign researchers, including the postgraduate student at the University of Cambridge Giulio Regeni who was tortured and killed in 2016. The truth about Regeni’s killing is still missing due to the Egyptian authorities’ intransigence in investigating the circumstances of his death.

At least four academics are currently held in pretrial detention or under house arrest. They include Patrick George Zaki, a master’s researcher at the University of Bologna in Italy, who has been imprisoned for more than a year without completing interrogation with him or referring him to trial. They also include Hazem Hosni, a political science professor at Cairo University, who was released recently but was put under house arrest.

Moreover, the Egyptian security services refuse to allow Walid Salem, a doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, to travel to continue his study. Salem was imprisoned before because of his research on the judiciary in Egypt.

Santawy was charged with joining a terrorist group, financing terrorism, spreading false news, and using a social media account for that purpose. The prosecution just showed Santawy some screengrabs of posts on a Facebook account, but he denied his connection to that account.

The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian authorities to stop violating academic freedom, enable Egyptian and foreign researchers to work freely, and guarantee their freedom of movement. They also stress the need to release Santawy and Zaki.

Undersigned organizations: (As of Mar 31, 12pm EST)

  1. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
  2. Article 19
  3. Vigilance for Democracy and Civic State
  4. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
  5. Globe International Center
  6. South East Europe Media Organisation. (SEEMO)
  7. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  8. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  9. PEN International
  10. Initiative for Freedom of Expression- Turkey (IFoX)
  11. PEN Norway
  12. Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
  13. Freedom Forum
  14. Mediacentar Sarajevo
  15. PEN America
  16. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  17. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  18. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  19. Index on Censorship