Prepared by: Rahma Samy, researcher at the Monitoring and Documentation Unit
Section One: Imprisonment is the legacy that dissidents leave to their children
Section Two: Placing pressure on expatriates through their families
Section Three: Conclusions
This report is based primarily on seven testimonies from a number of Egyptian political opposition figures and human rights defenders residing outside and inside Egypt about the imprisonment and targeting of their families because of their political or human rights activities. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) provided legal assistance and documented some of these cases. The researcher also contacted people with other cases and documented them in this report.
The report relied further on a number of testimonies published on social media, as well as human rights statements and news published in this regard.
A number of families and relatives of Egyptian political opposition members and human rights defenders, who are either imprisoned in Egypt or living abroad, have been subjected to multiple patterns of harassment and violations for years. AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit documented various violations, including surveillance, abuse, tracking, and targeting of some families after their relatives leave the country. These violations also include intimidation, arrest, and even imprisonment as a punishment for the activity of dissenting relatives.
AFTE does not have accurate statistics regarding the number of violations committed against the families and relatives of political opponents and rights activists inside and outside Egypt. But the Monitoring and Documentation Unit was able to reach a number of families that could be a sample, which does not reflect the real size of surveillance, abuse, tracking, and violations the families of opponents who are imprisoned in Egypt or living abroad are exposed to. However, the sample carries some traceable indicators to understand the policy of the Egyptian authorities in dealing with the subject of this report.
Section One: Placing pressure on the families of dissidents at home
Article 95 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates: “Penalties are personal. Crimes and penalties may only be based on the law, and penalties may only be inflicted by a judicial ruling. Penalties may only be inflicted for acts committed subsequent to the date on which the law enters into effect.”
So, criminal responsibility is personal, and therefore the penalty for a crime should be inflicted on the perpetrator only, if both the material and moral elements of the crime are proven against him.
According to what AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit has monitored over the past years, the Egyptian authorities are violating Article 95 of the constitution as well as the international conventions binding on Egypt by prosecuting Egyptian citizens just for being relatives of political opponents and human rights defenders, whether they are living in Egypt or abroad.
In this regard, AFTE documented five cases that included the arrest of relatives and supporters of a former MP and presidential hopeful, the arrest of the brother of an opposition journalist and unionist who currently heads the Journalists Syndicate, the arrest of the family of a human rights lawyer, and the arrest of the son of the editor-in-chief of a news website.
- Imprisonment is the price of announcing a presidential bid
In the early hours of 2 May, police forces arrested Mohamed Sayed Abdel-Qader, the uncle of former MP Ahmed al-Tantawy, from his home. The prosecution faced Abdel-Qader with several exhibits said to have been seized at his house, including 70 leaflets inciting demonstrations and violence. The leaflets contained the phrase “Get ready for the return of Ahmed al-Tantawy; if he does not enter Egypt peacefully, he will do by force.” The exhibits also included 20 fireworks. Abdel-Qader denied the ownership of the seized exhibits. The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, financing a terrorist group to carry out its purposes, and possessing explosives without a license. The Supreme State Security Prosecution remanded him in custody pending investigation.
Tantawy said in a Facebook statement that his uncle and a number of his close friends had also been arrested, coinciding with the approaching date he announced to return to Egypt from Lebanon, after a short study trip.
On 10 May, Abdel-Qader was released on a 5,000-pound bail, according to AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit.
In the same context, Tantawy pointed in a statement on 26 May to further security restrictions on his family and friends, the latest of which was the arrest of 9 of his friends. He said: “Nine of my friends who were on their way to visit me in Cairo, coming from the Manzala and Mataria districts in Dakahlia, disappeared. Others disappeared from the street where my office is located, just before they go up the stairs. Others, who I do not know their number, were arrested but released shortly later after they got the required messages.”
This was not the first time the Egyptian authorities have dealt with the families and relatives of dissidents and politicians as a tool of pressure and punishment.
On 4 November 2022, security forces raided the house of political activist Youssef Reo; two days after they came to the house but did not find him, so they searched his brother Mohamed Allam’s mobile phone where they found a satirical video clip on his TikTok channel, in which he talked about calls for the so-called 11/11 demonstrations. The security forces forced him to delete the video and make another one talking about the corruption of those calling for the demonstrations, according to a source that asked not to be named for security reasons.
The security forces arrested Reo’s brother in possession of filming devices. During the interrogation, the source said, Allam was asked only about the activities of his brother Reo. Allam was released in May 2023.
The same source noted that Reo was previously detained in Case No. 718 of 2018, known in local media as “the metro detainees”, and he was released in March 2020 under precautionary measures that required him to visit the Ain Shams police station twice a week.
- Kamal al-Balshy arrested as a punishment against his brother
On 20 September 2020, Kamal al-Balshy, the brother of journalist, opposition unionist, former editor-in-chief of the Darb website and current head of the Journalists Syndicate Khaled al-Balshy, was arrested while he was walking in the Opera neighbourhood in downtown Cairo.
Kamal left his job in Marsa Alam (a tourist town) as a result of the epidemiological situation the country went through in 2020. He stayed at the house of his brother Khaled in downtown Cairo. While he was returning from the gym, he passed through more than a security checkpoint where the police checked his ID and let him go. As he approached his brother’s house, he was surprised by a policeman chasing him and asking him to return to the checkpoint where a police officer asked him if he was the brother of journalist Khaled al-Balshy. Then, the police detained Kamal in connection with Case No. 880 of 2020 (Supreme State Security), known in local media as the second 20 September events. He faced charges of spreading false news, joining a banned group with knowledge of its purposes, and misusing social media.
Kamal was accused of demonstrating despite being arrested while walking alone. He was asked more than once during the interrogation about his brother’s activity. Member of the Journalists Syndicate’s Council Mahmoud Kamel said on Facebook at the time that he was searching for Kamal after his arrest. “We were told many different things, including that his [criminal] record was clean, he was not wanted, the whole problem was with his brother Khaled, don’t worry he would be released, and it was just a bit of abomination to his brother Khaled,” he said.
In May 2021, Khaled al-Balshy announced the release of his brother Kamal.
- Abuse of a whole family
On 26 September 2019, the family of Mohamed Hamdoun, a human rights lawyer and head of the legal committee of the Al-Dostour Party in Beheira Governorate, was directly targeted by the security services. A police force arrested Hamdoun, his wife Asmaa Daibes – who is a feminist and head of the Bint al-Nil Centre for Women’s Rights – as well as his father and brother, while they were sitting in a cafe in the city of Damanhour.
According to a family member who preferred not to be named for security reasons, they were beaten, blindfolded, their hands were tied with leather straps, and their personal belongings were confiscated, which included a personal computer and mobile phones.
The father, Helmy Hamdoun, a former police brigadier general, went to file a report on the incident, accompanied by an eyewitness, but it was rejected.
After four days of disappearance, Mohamed Hamdoun, his wife, and his brother Ahmed were included in Case No. 1338 of 2019, which included hundreds of detainees who were arrested at the same time. The trio remained in detention until 26 October. Later on, only Mohamed was released.
Mohamed was arrested again, along with his father. The prosecution charged them with using social media to spread false news, sharing the Muslim Brotherhood in their goals, and joining a terrorist group called the Egyptian Popular Movement. The prosecution remanded them in custody for 15 days pending investigation. The wife was released a week after the husband was arrested, until he was released for the second time after spending a year and eight months in detention. The father was released after spending a year in pretrial detention.
- The son of an editor-in-chief imprisoned and abused as a punishment for his father the journalist
In September 2019, a security force raided the house of the editor-in-chief of Al-Mashhad newspaper, Magdy Shendy, and when they did not find him, they arrested his son, Omar, who was a student at the Faculty of Music Education at the time. Omar was interrogated on charges of spreading false news. The Supreme State Security Prosecution remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation.
At the time, the Freedoms Committee of the Journalists Syndicate, headed by Amr Badr, issued a statement about Omar’s arrest. The statement said: “In continuation of the siege imposed on the press and journalists, and in continuation of the prevention policy that has reached its climax in recent years, a security force stormed the house of colleague Magdy Shendy, the editor-in-chief of Al-Mashhad at dawn on Tuesday, and arrested his young son Omar, in an unprecedented, dangerous and unacceptable move. The son disappeared for more than 24 hours before we learned that a decision was issued to detain him for 15 days pending investigation on charges of spreading false news. Everyone knows that the son of our colleague does not have any political activity, studies music, and has no other interests, as if the matter is revenge on the father.”
Section Two: Putting pressure on families of dissidents abroad
The security and judicial authorities did not only target political opponents and human rights defenders residing at home, but also those living abroad. Over the past years, the Egyptian authorities have pursued and abused the families of dissidents residing abroad in order to threaten them and force them to remain silent over the escalating human rights violations in Egypt.
In this regard, AFTE documented five incidents in which the Egyptian authorities targeted the families of dissidents residing abroad, in flagrant violation of the constitution, the law, and the binding international covenants. These included the targeting of the son and brother of an opposition journalist, the daughter of late Islamic scholar Youssef al-Qaradawi, the brother of activist Wael Ghoneim, as well as the brothers of self-exiled opposition journalists Moataz Matar and Mohamed Nasser.
- Abuse of brother and son
Last April, self-exiled journalist Hossam al-Ghamry said on Twitter that Egyptian security forces had arrested his brother, Engineer Mohamed, on charges of “joining a terrorist group, engaging in the activity of receiving funds from abroad, and financing the group inside Egypt”. Mohamed denied all the accusations, and confirmed that he had never belonged to any group or political party, and had no political activities.
On 25 October 2022, security forces arrested Ghamry’s son, Youssef, who is a student at the Faculty of Engineering, from the family’s home in the city of Al-Qanayat in Sharqiya Governorate. Youssef was forcibly disappeared for more than a month, before he was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group established in violation of the law. This came after his father joined a number of Egyptians residing abroad in calling for anti-government protests in Egypt on 11 November 2022.
- Salah Sultan as an example
We contacted human rights activist Mohamed Sultan to ask him about what his father Dr. Salah Sultan is exposed to inside his prison as a punishment for his son’s activity abroad. Mohamed said: “My father is subjected to torture, solitary confinement, and deprivation of his most basic rights as a political prisoner who is punished for his position in the government of late President Mohamed Morsi. He is punished again by putting pressure on me. The punishment of my father due to my human rights activities started in 2015, two months after I was released from prison. During meetings with the foreign minister before he went on a visit to Egypt, the regime recycled my father into the case of Al-Fath Mosque events, after he spent almost five years in jail in connection with the case of Rabaa events. After attending a hearing in the [US] Congress in November of the same year, my father disappeared for 38 days, and his teeth were broken. It was said that the direct reason was my activity. This is what my father said after he appeared again. The matter was documented and sent to the UN committee concerned with arbitrary detention. It was documented in the committee’s resolution as a punishment for the son’s human rights activity.”
According to Sultan, the matter reached its climax “when a lawsuit was filed against former Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy in 2020, after five of my family members were arrested and disappeared, which was documented by 21 international human rights organizations. The investigations with my father in prison at the time were obviously about myself, my sister, her ex-husband, my wife, and her family in Egypt”.
Sultan said the disappearance of his father for 22 months in prisons, while hearing repeated rumours, was the hardest thing he has gone through. “There is no doubt that he was questioned about me and sentenced to life in prison so that they [the authorities] make sure he is always there as a tool to place pressure on me.”
Sultan confirms that he has been focusing on commercial activities during the last period and he has no human rights activity other than normal follow-up. He just wants to check on his father’s health, hopes for his release from prison, and wants to make sure he receives medical treatment, especially as visits to the prison are irregular and his father is denied medical care. Reports by 51 human rights organizations around the world confirm that Sultan’s father suffered two heart attacks in one month, according to the testimonies of cellmates, and that he has a long medical history.
Dr. Salah Sultan himself told his family that he is subjected to deliberate medical negligence and the prison authorities are trying to kill him slowly, by denying him medical treatment and blood pressure, heart and diabetes medications, depriving him of exercise, and denying him access to paper, pen, and letters. During the last visit, he said a copy of the Quran was taken from him throughout the month of Ramadan, which is a major violation of his rights as a prisoner. He is also monitored via surveillance cameras all the time and the lights in his cell are always on. These violations have become clear to us during the last period.
- Ola al-Qaradawi
On 30 June 2017, security forces arrested Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hossam Khalaf, a leading member of the Wasat Party, while they were spending their vacation in a family chalet in the northern coast. They were initially charged with moving some furniture from the chalet, under the pretext that the chalet was owned by her father, the former head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars Youssef al-Qaradawi, whose name was added to the terror list and the list of seized funds. After Qaradawi proved that the chalet was owned by her mother, the Public Prosecution included the couple in Case No. 316 of 2017 and charged them with joining and financing a group established in violation of the law. Ola and her husband remained in detention for two years. Then, the Public Prosecution detained Ola again in Case No. 800 of 2019 on the same charges in July 2019, which led her to go on hunger strike at the time.
Although the Cairo Criminal Court decided on 19 February 2020 to release Ola, the prosecution appealed against the decision the next day, so she remained in detention until 12 December 2022. It is not clear whether her husband is still detained in connection with the first case or was recycled into a new case.
- Brothers of self-exiled TV anchors arrested
In the same vein, and at almost the same time, Moaz Matar, the brother of self-exiled TV anchor Moataz Matar was arrested on charges of inciting against state institutions and spreading rumours and false news on social media to serve the interests of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group. Moataz considered the arrest of his brother as a price of his opposition to the authorities, and he apologized to his family on air for the pain he caused them.
In February 2018, the brother of self-exiled TV anchor Mohamed Nasser was arrested on charges of mocking state institutions in public. Nasser considered the arrest of his brother as an attempt to discourage him from presenting anti-government content on the pro-Brotherhood Turkey-based Mekameleen TV channel.
- Detainees’ families abused for posting about the conditions of detention of their relatives
The Egyptian authorities do not only target the families of dissidents to put pressure on their relatives and prevent them from exercising their legal and constitutional rights, but they also target the families of political detainees for posting about the violations their detained relatives are subjected to.
In this context, the family of prisoner Abdel-Rahman Gamal al-Shuweikh was subjected to abuse after his mother submitted an official complaint to the Minya Prosecution Office about her son being tortured and sexually assaulted in the maximum-security Minya prison in April 2021. Security forces raided the family’s home in Cairo on 26 April 2021 and arrested Hoda Abdel-Hamid Mohamed, 55, who later appeared before the State Security Prosecution. Meanwhile, Shuweikh’s father, 65, and his daughter Salsabeel, 18, were released days later from the 15th of May Prosecution Office in Helwan, Cairo.
According to Omar al-Shuweikh, the son who emigrated from Egypt at the time, security forces raided the house and photographed Mrs. Hoda and her daughter Salsabeel in household clothes and arrested them without allowing them to wear appropriate clothes. They were taken to the National Security headquarters in the Al-Maasara neighbourhood in Helwan. They appeared before the State Security Prosecution at night on 27 April 2021, and the investigation was resumed the next day.
Mrs. Hoda appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution in Case No. 900 of 2021, and was accused of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. She was interrogated for the videos and publications she posted on social media regarding the torture and sexual assault of her son Abdel-Rahman in the maximum-security Minya prison. These materials were considered evidence against her, and the Public Prosecution remanded her in custody for 15 days pending investigation, in what seemed to be a retaliation against her for reporting the incident.
On 15 April 2021, Shuweikh’s mother submitted a verbal complaint to both the officer present during the visit to the Minya prison and the prison warden; then she went to the Minya Prosecution Office and filed a written complaint bearing No. 545 of 2021 (Administrative – New Minya Police Station), registered with No. 502 of 2021 (Investigation – Minya Prosecution). The complaint included the incident of physical and sexual assault against her son on 6 April 2021, along with the names of the officers accused of the assault.
The Public Prosecution heard the mother’s statements regarding the report she submitted on 19 April 2021, as well as the statements of her son, while the prison administration sent a number of prisoners to act as witnesses claiming that he was mentally ill and undergoing psychological treatment sessions, contrary to what the family confirmed.
The interior ministry adopts this approach to intimidate the families of political prisoners in the event that they disclose the violations that their relatives are subjected to in state detention centres, or after they take an official procedure to request an investigation into these serious human rights violations.
This approach is extremely dangerous because it aims to cause fear of government retaliation among the families of torture victims, undermine their right to pursue legal channels, and rob them of their right to seek redress from the judicial authorities, which undermines the principle of the rule of law.
In a serious escalation to the violations committed against activists and rights activists held in Badr prison, security forces arrested Mrs. Neamatallah Hesham, the wife of human rights lawyer and political prisoner Mohamed al-Baqer from her home and held her in an unknown place for several hours before she was released. This came hours after she wrote on social media seeking help and complaining about the violence that her husband was subjected to in the Badr 1 Prison. During a visit to the prison, she saw her husband injured in the mouth, ribs and wrist as a result of the assault he and his cellmates suffered. She affirmed the right of detainees to be treated with dignity and humanity in accordance with their rights stipulated in international covenants and the Egyptian constitution, including the provision of necessary healthcare and the prevention of abuse and torture.
Notes on the targeting of relatives of dissidents and human rights defenders:
AFTE concluded some points from the testimonies and statements contained in this report. On top of these is the Egyptian authorities’ use of prolonged pretrial detention against the families of Egyptian dissidents for several reasons, after those families sought to expose the continuous human rights violations on social media, act through international and UN mechanisms to stop human rights violations, and participate in calling on citizens inside Egypt to take action against the policies of the current President of the Republic and his security services.
The Egyptian authorities are also targeting the families of political opponents inside Egypt for two main reasons. The first is to punish those opponents for their declared opposition to the current regime and urge them to stop their activities. The second reason has to do with the steps taken by the dissidents’ families to expose the violations committed against their relatives in prison.
Article 95 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates: “Penalties are personal. Crimes and penalties may only be based on the law, and penalties may only be inflicted by a judicial ruling.” Article 99 of the same constitution states: “Any violation of personal freedom, or the sanctity of the private life of citizens, or any other public rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by the constitution and the law is a crime, the criminal or civil lawsuit arising therefrom shall not abate by prescription.”
So, the Egyptian authorities are violating the constitution, the law, and the binding international covenants, by pursuing the families of political opponents and human rights defenders living in Egypt or abroad, whether to pressure the dissidents and force them to remain silent and stop talking about the mounting human rights violations in Egypt over the last years, or to punish them for their political or rights activities, or even to punish the detainees’ families for posting about their relatives.
AFTE affirms that these practices are regular and calls on the Egyptian authorities to stop them.
 Article 95 of the Egyptian constitution, last visited on 5 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/bkqyX  AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit  Darb, The Egyptian Commission: Police arrest young man Mohamed Reo from his house in Ain Shams, and his whereabouts are not known so far; published on 5 November 2022, last visited on 5 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/cDJVY  Darb, Hussein Hassanein, The criminal court considers renewal of Kamal al-Balshy’s detention in the “20 September events” case… Khaled al-Balshy: The session ended and no decision was issued; published on 28 March 2021, last visited on 5 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/gjsDF  The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, The 20 September arrests, published on 1 October 2019, last visited on 1 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/glFGY  Ahmed Salah Salman, Statement from the Freedoms Committee of the Journalists Syndicate on the arrest of Omar Magdy Shendy, Al-Mashhad, 11 September 2019, last visited on 15 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/xIKX7  AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit  Online testimony from activist Mohamed Sultan  Diwan, Egypt: Father of an American activist held incommunicado; published on 16 November 2021, last visited on 5 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/qtDI5  CNN, Egypt.. Detention of Ola al-Qaradawi renewed in a session attended by a representative from the Qatari embassy, 30 June 2021, last visited on 5 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/pSVY1  Masrawy, Fathi Omar, The Ministry of Interior reveals details of the arrest of Moataz Matar’s brother.. He is sentenced to 49 years in prison; published on 14 July 2016, last visited on 5 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/emnDK  A joint statement, after the assault on activists and human rights defenders at the hands of the Badr 1 Prison administration: Security forces arrest Mrs. Neama Hesham from her home at dawn today, published on 17 April 2023, last visited on 1 June 2023, https://shorturl.at/qvFU7  Article 99 of the Egyptian constitution, https://shorturl.at/zBN01