Prepared by: The research unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Material co-collected by: The legal aid unit at AFTE
This paper was published on December 25, 2020, and updated on April 15, 2021
- First: Profile: Gamal Abdel-Hakim, “student activist at Zagazig University”
- Second: On the case: Investigations based on “secret sources”; five years in maximum security prison
- Third: Release from prison: Waiting for a presidential pardon that has not been issued yet
This report is based on the legal analysis of the documents of Case No. 1692 of 2017, in which student activist Gamal Abdel-Hakim received a prison sentence. The report relies on observations by AFTE lawyer in Sharqiya Governorate who attended the court sessions, in addition to some media reports and statements issued by political parties.
Student activist Gamal Abdel-Hakim has been in prison for three and a half years, in what appears to be a punishment for participating in student activities and being interested in political activism. He was sentenced to five years in prison in Case No. 1692 of 2017, such a sentence has become a final one in 2021. According to the case documents, Abdel-Hakim “prepared for promoting the commission of terrorist crimes by writing, by acquiring papers that contained ideas and beliefs calling for violence as stated in the investigations”.
In its first section, this report reviews Abdel-Hakim’s activity at the student and party levels, which is a peaceful activity guaranteed by the constitution and the law as well as international conventions, both in terms of the right to freedom of expression or the right to peaceful assembly.
In the second section, the report reviews the details of the case that led Abdel-Hakim to prison, including a timeline, the accusations levelled against Abdel-Hakim, and the reasons for the ruling issued against him.
The National Security Agency’s investigations relied on “secret sources” which the court could not see. Moreover, the seized items mentioned in the investigations were mere publications, the possession of which is not criminalized. Abdel-Hakim was tried under six articles of the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 94 of 2015, despite being a well-known activist and a co-founder of the Bread and Freedom Party (under establishment).
In its third and final section, the report reviews the current legal status of Abdel-Hakim, and the possibility of his release from prison, by a presidential pardon that could be issued as it usually does on national anniversaries.
First: Profile: Gamal Abdel-Hakim, “student activist at Zagazig University”
Abdel-Hakim has exercised student and political activism until he was arrested in May 2017, despite the restrictions imposed by the authorities since the summer of 2013.
A student at the Faculty of Commerce, Zagazig University, Abdel-Hakim played a key role in student activism, as he worked with activists from student unions and other groups on drafting a proposal to remove the administrative restrictions imposed on student activism.
Indeed, Abdel-Hakim and his colleagues drafted a proposal called “our university’s bylaw”, and they promoted it in other universities. They submitted the proposal to the office of the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in 2017. Moreover, Abdel-Hakim participated in various student activities and discussions to reflect on the continuity of the student movement in light of the increasing restrictions imposed by the authorities.
Abdel-Hakim was also a member of the Bread and Freedom Party (under establishment). He joined the party’s preparatory committee, and was member of the party’s student office. He supported economic and social rights, and was interested in issues of citizenship, confronting religious discrimination, and women’s rights, in addition to developing higher education and protecting students’ rights.
Abdel-Hakim is a model of a young man who is interested in political activism, advocating democracy and human rights inside and outside the university. But the current authorities are disturbed by these models and fear the expansion of political activism, which led Abdel-Hakim to prison – without committing a real crime – more than three and a half years ago.
Second: On the case: Investigations based on “secret sources”; five years in maximum security prison
Abdel-Hakim’s case is one of the first cases in which the Egyptian authorities have brought terror accusations against peaceful opposition activists. In this section, the report reviews the documents and investigations on which the court ruling was based.
On Tuesday, 9 May 2017, at 6 pm, the National Security officer who conducted the case investigations said that he had got reliable information from his confidential sources stating that a group of people incited against the regime, insulted state institutions, and called on citizens to demonstrate and trigger violence during the next stage in order to obstruct the government’s plan for development and economic recovery.
The officer added that those people aimed to portray a false view of the internal situation in Egypt and create a state of discontent among people in order to incite them against the regime and to show that the state is unable to control the situation.
Although the officer referred to “a group of inciters,” only Abdel-Hakim’s name was mentioned in the investigation report, and there was no reference to terrorism at all. There is no explicit provision in the Penal Code or in the Anti-Terrorism Law that stipulates punishment for offences against state institutions. The investigations did not clarify how Abdel-Hakim offended state institutions.
The National Security officer considered the call for demonstrations as a reason for arresting Abdel-Hakim, and he referred to this as an act carried out by “a group of inciters,” ignoring Article 73 of the Egyptian Constitution which states: “Citizens have the right to organize public meetings, marches, demonstrations and all forms of peaceful protest”.
The National Security officer did not specify whether his sources clarified the type of violence that had been called for. Moreover, the investigations did not clarify whether “the next stage” was intended to mean the Tiran and Sanafir agreement which was approved by the Egyptian parliament on 14 June 2017, about a month after Abdel-Hakim’s arrest.
The investigations stated that the aforementioned people – Abdel-Hakim only – possessed some publications that contained incitement against the regime and state institutions, including the armed forces, the police and the judiciary. The investigations also mentioned tools used in acts of violence, without clarifying what these tools were.
On Tuesday, 9 May 2017, at 11:30 pm, the prosecution issued a warrant to arrest Abdel-Hakim and search his home, despite the fact that the investigation report was devoid of explicit and direct information about the charges levelled against him. Moreover, the sources mentioned in the investigation report remained anonymous. The prosecution affirmed that it was reassured of the credibility of these investigations.
On Friday, 12 May 2017, at 4 am, a National Security officer prepared a report to prove the arrest of Abdel-Hakim and the search of his residence. The police force that searched Abdel-Hakim’s house seized the following from his bedroom:
- Five publications captioned “Poverty has come, the revolution of the poor, and the poor are almost dead”.
- Eight publications titled: “Free your voice”.
- Ten publications titled: “Wake up – we are back”, followed by the phrase “Revolutionaries of 25 January”
- Nine publications titled: “25 January again”.
A total of 32 publications, in addition to Karl Marx’s book “Wages, Price and Profit”, were seized from Abdel-Hakim’s house. The investigation report did not mention that electronic devices were also seized, but it referred to three papers that included photocopies of “some projective views against the current regime for a Facebook account carrying the name of Gamal Abdel-Hakim”.
These photocopies were most likely included among the seized items. The aforementioned investigations did not mention the use of social media, but the National Security officer attributed that to the “group of inciters” that consisted of one person. At the end of the investigation report, the National Security officer noted that Abdel-Hakim admitted to possessing the seized publications for the purpose of reprinting them to incite against the regime, which contradicts what was stated in the investigations before the Public Prosecution.
On Friday, 12 May 2017, Abdel-Hakim attended the first investigation session at the Zagazig Prosecution Office where he denied the accusations levelled against him. The prosecutor asked Abdel-Hakim whether he participated in the 25 January or 30 June revolution, and whether he participated in elections or demonstrations in the country. The answer to these questions, whether positive or negative, is not evidence of a conviction or an admission of breaking the law. Abdel-Hakim was also asked whether he had political affiliations, and he explained during the investigation that he had student activity within the framework of his study at the Faculty of Commerce at Zagazig University.
On 20 August 2017, Abdel-Hakim was referred to the criminal court for trial under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 94 of 2015. The trial lasted three months, without hearing the police officer who the prosecution regarded as a witness. The court did not summon any defence witnesses, nor did it examine the seized items.
On 22 November 2017, the Zagazig Criminal Court sentenced Abdel-Hakim to five years in maximum security prison, confiscated the seized publications, and obliged him to pay criminal costs.
On March 8, 2021, the “Monday C” circuit of the Court of Cassation decided at its hearing at the High Judicial House in appeal No. 3594 of the year 88 of the student’s defense “Gamal Abdel-Hakim Farhat” to accept the appeal in form and in the matter, by amending the maximum prison sentence of five years to five years.
Third: Release from prison: Between a presidential pardon that has not been issued and an appeal that is still being examined by the court of appeal
Abdel-Hakim has been serving a five-year jail term as punishment for his peaceful activities in defence of democracy and human rights. The Egyptian authorities did not respond to calls for his release. Nevertheless, it is important to save Abdel-Hakim from staying in prison until the end of his sentence.
When Abdel-Hakim was arrested, other political activists from Sharqiya governorate were arrested on similar charges. They included Andrew Nassef, the first Christian to be tried under the Anti-Terrorism Law, and Islam Marei, the secretary of the Egyptian Democratic Party in Sharqyia. Nassef was sentenced to five years in prison, while Marei was sentenced to 3 years in prison. In May 2018, they were released under a presidential pardon for 332 prisoners. Abdel-Hakim was not among those included in the pardon, although his case is similar to that of many others who were pardoned.
The President of the Republic is entitled to issue pardons for prisoners, usually on the occasion of national holidays. In some cases, the president issued special pardons for young activists in response to domestic and international pressures, as a committee comprising some public figures prepared a list of peaceful activists and sent it to the Presidency of the Republic to be included in the pardon.
The other way for Abdel-Hakim’s release is for the court of appeal was to reduce his sentence or acquit him. Within a period of two months after Abdel-Hakim’s prison sentence was issued in November 2017, his lawyers lodged two appeals against the sentence. The lawyers stated in their appeals that Abdel-Hakim’s conviction was marred by a failure of causation and reasoning and a breach of the right of defence, which would invalidate the ruling.
The lawyers said the conviction was based only on the police investigations which relied on anonymous sources, something which invalidates the prosecutor’s warrant to arrest Abdel-Hakim based on non-serious investigations related to a crime that did not occur. The lawyers also argued that the investigation report did not clarify the content of the seized publications or why they were considered evidence of the commission of a terror crime.
Abdel-Hakim is charged with planning to promote a crime related to terrorism, which means that he is punished for having an intention to commit a crime, according to the case documents. There is only one prosecution witness, a police officer, in the case. The Public Prosecution did not hear any of the defence witnesses, nor did it inspect the location of the seizure. The criminal court that issued the first-degree verdict did not hear any witnesses, nor did it examine the seized items. Nevertheless, it issued a prison sentence based on investigations that relied on anonymous sources.
The court of appeal decided that the appeal ledged by Abdel-Hakim’s lawyers is valid and could be examined, after it found that the prison sentence was based on the seized publications and that the criminal court did not clarify how these publications violated the law.
However, the course of the Court of Cassation supported Gamal Abdel Hakim’s five-year imprisonment, changing it from maximum imprisonment to imprisonment only, so the only path of Gamal Abdel-Hakim’s release remains with the President of the Republic, who can include his name on the amnesty list at the earliest opportunity.
AFTE affirms its rejection of the use by state institutions of the Anti-Terrorism Law as a pretext to punish those interested in public work and peaceful activists. It calls on the President of the Republic to include Abdel-Hakim in the coming pardon which is expected to be issued on the anniversary of the 25 January revolution and the Police Day.
AFTE also hopes that the President of the Republic, with his authority to issue amnesty decisions for prisoners,pardons Gamal Abdel Hakimin order to allow his release and to stop the violations he was subjected to over the years.
Through this report and the legal analysis of Abdel-Hakim’s case, AFTE seeks solidarity with the young activist inside and outside Egypt, with the aim of urging the Egyptian authorities to release him from prison.
 Deutsche Welle, Egyptian parliament approves Tiran and Sanafir agreement in a hurry, 14 June 2017, last visited on 19 December 2020, link: https://bit.ly/34vj3KN  Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a collective position: Who are you trying on terror charges? 15 August 2017, last visited on 20 December 2020, link: https://www.ec-rf.net/?p=2045