Speech under siege from street to internet Annual Report on the State of Freedom of Expression in Egypt for 2019

Date : Sunday, 23 February, 2020

Academic freedom

AFTE monitored the pre-trial detention of at least five faculty members pending political cases. It also monitored that the administration of two universities referred two professors to investigation because of expressing their opinions. The Cairo University administration was also intransigent again in renewing the study leave of doctoral researcher Kholoud Saber at the Catholic University of Louvain.

Cases of pre-trial detention

In March, the Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to detain a professor at the Faculty of Law at Al-Azhar University -Assiut Branch- Sayed Hassan Abdullah, for 15 days pending investigations into the “rumor of the kidnapping of a girl from Al-Azhar University” case. The prosecution accused him of spreading false news and joining a group that was established in violation of the law. The prosecution also decided, at the time, to detain Aya Hamed, a journalist, on the same charges[27]. Abdullah and Hamid remained in pre-trial detention till the time of writing the report.

Police forces arrested Dr. TarekEl-Sheikh, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Law at Zagazig University, from his home and took him to a headquarters of the National Security Agency on the evening of August 31 of last year without presenting an arrest warrant from the prosecution. El Sheikh disappeared until he appeared in the State Security Prosecution on September 4, which decided to detain him for 15 days pending investigation on charges of creating an electronic account containing false ideas and news that harms public safety, and possession of publications containing false ideas with the aim of disrupting the work.

El Sheikh’s arrest was due to his participation in a campaign entitled “Egyptian scientists are angry”, as he was the admin of the campaign’s page on face book. Other professors were also arrested for participating in the same campaign, but they were later released without being referred to prosecution.

The “Egyptian scientists are angry” campaign demanded to improve the financial conditions of faculty members in Egyptian universities. It should be noted that Dr. Tarek Al-Sheikh was officially assigned by the Supreme Council of Universities with the study of improving the financial conditions of university professors.

The March 9 Movement for the independence of universities sent a letter to the President of Zagazig University, Dr. Osman El-Sayed Shaalan, asking him to interfere in all possible ways and means for the release of Dr. Tarek El-Sheikh as “he is accused of demanding his legitimate rights and the rights of his colleagues to improve their financial conditions inside Egyptian universities”[28].

The assistant law professor remained in custody for around two months until the Zagazig Criminal Court decided to cancel the prosecution’s decision to continue his detention and released him on 13 November, and he was actually released four days later[29].

During a massive and unprecedented security campaign since the summer of 2013, following limited demonstrations, security forces arrested the professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, Hassan Nafaa, after he was stopped on the ring road on the way back from work on September 25. Nafaa appeared before the State Security Prosecution, which accused him of publishing and broadcasting false news, using an account on the social media. The prosecution decided to detain him for 15 days pending investigations in case No. 488 of 2019. Since then, and until the publication of this report, Nafee has been in pre-trial detention.

One day before his arrest, Nafaa tweeted on Twitter saying: “I have no doubt that the continuation of Sisi’s absolute rule will lead to disaster.  It is in Egypt’s best interest that he departs today before tomorrow, but he will leave only with public pressure from the street, and we must at the same time choose the least costly way to ensure the transfer of power to safe hands and to avoid the chaos scenario “.

Some pro-government media broadcasted a voice record of a phone call between journalist Mostafa Al-Aasar -in pre-trail detention since February 15 2018 pending case No. 441 for 2018 for accusations of joining an illegally established group- and Hasan Nafaa, in which Al-Aasar invited Nafaa to participate in a documentary film produced by one company for Al-Jazeera channel. This appears to be the main reason for arresting Al-Aasar at the time; and it seems that the security services have reused this audio recording to arrest Nafia[30].

Dr. Hazem Hosni, a professor of political science at Cairo University, was also arrested on the same day, September 25[31]. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution, which accused him of participating with a terrorist group in achieving its objectives, broadcasting and publishing false rumors inciting disturbing public security, and misuse of a social media to spread false rumors and ordered his detention for 15 days pending investigation of the same case.

Hosni was the spokesperson for Lieutenant General Sami Annan’s campaign, when he was a potential candidate for presidency in the 2018 elections. Hosni was known for his opinions opposing the policies of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

After Hosni’s arrest, his defense team issued a statement[32] demanding his immediate release due to his critical health conditions. Dr. Nour Farhat, a professor of law, stated that pre-trial detention is a precautionary measure that can only be expanded with rules and justifications. The Supreme State Security Prosecution is still renewing Hosni’s detention so far, ignoring his health condition and demands for his release.

Following the same security campaign in which Nafaa and Hosni were arrested, the security services arrested Dr. Magdi Korkor, professor and head of the department of environmental planning and infrastructure at Cairo University’s Urban Planning College and the Secretary-General of the Independence Party, after breaking into his house on September 23[33]. Security forces kept Korkor in an unknown place for 12 days; he appeared on October 5th in the State Security Prosecution that investigated the case 1350 for 2019, in which he was accused of joining a terrorist group.

Korkor was arrested among a group of his party’s leaders. On the same day, Dr. Ahmed El-Khouly, Dr. Naglaa El-Qalioubi, Mohammed al-Amir, Sahar Ali, Mohamed al-Qaddumi, Mohamed Shadi, Ahmed al-Qazzaz, and Mohamed Murad. Korkor is still in pre-trial detention, pending the case.

The security forces also arrested, on September 28th, Ahmed Hamdoun, an assistant teacher at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, after they stormed a café shop in the city of Damanhur where he was sitting with his brother, human rights lawyer Mohamed Hamdoun, and his wife, feminist activist Asmaa Dabis. The three disappeared for several days until they were transferred from Damanhour to Cairo, where they were interrogated in the case 1338 of 2019, on charges of participating with a terrorist group knowing its objectives, spreading false news, misusing social media, and demonstrating without permission.

Ahmed Hamdoun was detained pending the case, until he was released on November 30th, 2019.

Cases of administrative abuse

The Faculty of Law at Zagazig University suspended the salary of Professor Tarek Al-Sheikh from the first month of his imprisonment in violation of the law. Article 64 of the Civil Service Law No. 81 of 2016 stipulated that every employee who is subjected to pre-trial detention or is imprisoned in execution of a final ruling, is suspended from his work by force of law during the duration of his imprisonment and he is deprived of half of his salary if he is in pre-trial detention or in execution of a non-final criminal judgment. In Al-Sheikh’s case the State Security Prosecution sent an official letter to the Faculty of Law stating that he is being held in pretrial detention.

After his release, Al-Sheikh headed to the college to resume his job and submitted an official request to the dean of the college, but the latter told him that he must obtain the approval of the university president. Al-Sheikh went to the university president’s office, who promised him to investigate the matter immediately, but he referred the matter to legal affairs, on November 18. For two weeks the university did not allow him to go back to his work and was unable to meet the university president again. Later he was notified of the university president’s approval, but he was surprised after that that a concurrent decision was issued to refer him to investigation and that a professor at the Faculty of Law was assigned for conducting the investigation.

Legal affairs at Helwan University investigated with the Professor of Geology at the Faculty of Science, Yehya Al-Qazzaz, on July 21, 2019, on the pretext that he was absent from work after being released from prison. In fact, Al-Qazzaz headed to the university to resume work on May 26, 2019, which is the first official working day after his release from prison on the 23rd of the same month[34].

Al-Qazzaz had spent more than 9 months in pre-trial detention pending case 1305 of 2018 State Security on charges of participating with a terrorist group in carrying out its objectives and spreading false news, after he was arrested on August 23, 2018.

The university administration also referred Al-Qazzaz to a disciplinary council on 28 July 2019 regarding the memo submitted by the dean of the College of Science to the university president accusing Al-Qazzaz of insulting the President of the Republic as well as the armed forces, before the arrest of Al-Qazzaz. Al-Qazzaz considered at that time that his referral to investigation was due to pressures from the security authorities and that it is a prelude for his dismissal from the university; he refused to appear for the investigation or receive the investigation letter. He asked the university president and the dean of the faculty of law to refer the memo to the Public Prosecution, as it is the authority entrusted with investigating him.The investigation with Al-Qazzaz is still ongoing.

On September 3, Kholoud Saber, an assistant teacher at the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Literature at Cairo University, applied to the head of the department to extend her sabbatical until July 31, 2020 “to finish writing the thesis and to meet all graduation requirements,” according to the text of the request. The department board approved Saber’s request at its meeting, and sent a copy of its approval to the college dean to approve it in turn and then send it to the university president for approval, but the college dean did not issue a decision regarding it.

Accordingly, on December 9, Saber appealed to the Administrative Court the negative decision of the President of Cairo University to refrain from renewing her sabbatical for the year 2019/2020. The appeal held No. 1531 for the year 67 judicial, and the first hearing was scheduled on February 4, 2020, according to Mohab Said, AFTE’s lawyer and Saber’s legal representative.

Cairo University approved the renewal of Saber’s sabbatical on February 27, 2018 provided that the researcher submits her papers to the scholarships’ department. The researcher received another letter from the university administration in which the scholarships’ department asked her to file a petition to open a file with the department, noting that she should submit all the documents required to open the file, including security approvals, so that the sabbatical could be renewed.

The researcher submitted all the required documents at the time, but she refused to submit security approval forms. In a letter to the university administration, she said:

“After referring to the law regulating universities no 49 for the year 1972, I did not find anything that indicates the necessity of the approval of any security authority as a condition for renewing the sabbatical for faculty members. Believing in the principle of university independence, which recognizes the university’s right to manage its own affairs, without any external party -especially non-academic- having the right to interfere in university affairs, I declare my refusal to submit a survey form to the security authorities, especially after informing me orally that the security authorities had previously informed the University of their opposition to my travel without giving any reasons for that. I also declare my complete readiness to submit any papers or documents related to my academic status required by the university, the Faculty of Arts, or the Scholarships’ Department”.


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