Prepared by: The Monitoring and Documentation Unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
First section: Mass violations during the first phase of the 2024 presidential elections
Second section: Continued violation of the right to freedom of expression
- First: Freedom of the press and media
- Second: Freedom of creativity and artistic expression
- Third: Digital rights
- Fourth: Academic freedom and student rights
Conclusion and recommendations
This report reviews and analyzes the general policies of the Egyptian authorities and their various agencies towards the right to freedom of expression in its various forms, specifically freedom of the press and media, freedom of creativity and artistic expression, freedom of digital expression, academic freedoms, and student rights. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) monitors and documents violations in these domains. It also provides legal aid to the victims of these violations through its lawyers at the legal aid unit. The report also reviews and analyzes the patterns of violations that were monitored and documented during the period from 1 July to 30 September 2023, according to AFTE’s monitoring and documentation methodology.
In a press conference on 25 September 2023, the National Election Authority (NEA) announced the organizational procedures and official dates of the presidential elections. It set the period 5-14 October for receiving candidacy applications. The elections will take place at home on 10-12 December, with Egyptians abroad casting their votes on 1-3 December. The final result will be announced on 18 December in case of no run-offs.
A day after the NEA made the announcement, the phase of gathering public endorsements for potential candidates started. The NEA allocated 217 notary offices nationwide for citizens to fill in endorsement forms. The number of notary offices allocated for the same purpose in the 2018 elections was 389.
During that phase, campaigners documented serious violations of the citizens’ right to exercise their political right to fill in endorsement forms. On top of these violations was the mobilization of thugs in front of notary offices with the aim of denying citizens access. In some cases, physical assaults and threats against citizens willing to fill in endorsement forms were reported. Many citizens were unable to fill in endorsement forms despite their success in entering the notary offices due to the intransigence of officials there, under the pretext that the electronic registration system was down. Moreover, political money was used to mobilize citizens through in-kind aid, exploiting the economic hardships the poorest citizens have been facing.
Some campaigners were summoned by the National Security Agency with the aim of terrorizing them. Moreover, members of the former presidential hopeful Ahmed al-Tantawy’s campaign were arrested. At least 140 of them had been arrested since he announced his presidential bid in April, according to AFTE.
Tantawy’s supporters were subjected to more violations than others, especially as he was the first potential candidate to announce his intention to run for president. He was also the first to call on his supporters to fill in the endorsement forms needed for a candidate to submit his candidacy papers.
Meanwhile, violations of the right to freedom of expression continued – in a more serious manner – during the third quarter of this year. These mainly included the Economic Misdemeanour Court of Appeal’s ruling that upheld a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 20,000 pounds against publisher and liberal politician Hisham Kassem, after he was accused by the former Minister of Manpower and leader of the Karama Party, Kamal Abu Eita, of insulting and defaming him on Facebook. This was preceded by a decision by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court to sentence the human rights activist and researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Patrick George Zaki, to three years in prison over an opinion article he published in 2019. Zaki was released upon a presidential pardon two days after he received the sentence.
Karim Asaad, a journalist and member of the editorial team of the “Matsaddaash” (Don’t believe) platform, was released after a security force arrested him on 19 August from his home, assaulted him and his wife, accessed the platform’s accounts and deleted two posts that contained the identity of Egyptians on board the plane that left Egypt and was stopped in Zambia.
Mass violations during the first phase of the 2024 presidential elections
The presidential elections were expected to be held during the first quarter of 2024, but reports in July and August said the election dates might be brought forward. Indeed, the NEA announced that the elections would be held during the last quarter of 2023. Official circles said the reason behind the move was to hold the vote before the judicial supervision term ends in January. Various opposition groups criticized the move, saying the judicial supervision term could be extended. They argued that the Egyptian authorities brought the elections forward in order to restrict the time available for the opposition to get prepared for the polls. Others attributed the authorities’ move to the need to take difficult economic decisions, most notably the devaluation of the local currency, which could have an impact on the electoral process.
The decision to bring the voting dates forward raised doubts about the authorities’ seriousness in holding fair elections where all citizens are allowed to compete in a safe environment. However, once the NEA announced the election dates on 25 September, strong signals began to suggest the Egyptian authorities’ desire to allow the security services to control the electoral process by setting restrictions that help determine the results of the first phase of the elections. During this phase, a presidential candidate must secure endorsements from 20 MPs or 25,000 registered voters from at least 15 out of 27 governorates, with a minimum of 1,000 endorsements from each governorate. Restrictions in this regard included:
- The NEA allocated 217 notary offices nationwide for citizens to fill in endorsement forms, compared to 389 offices during the 2018 elections, giving no reason for this significant reduction. This made it difficult for presidential hopefuls to collect the required endorsements. The geographical distribution of these offices indicated that many of them were not commensurate with the population of the governorates they are located in, something which added more difficulty to the process.
- Supporters of opposition candidates, especially those of former MP Ahmed al-Tantawy, were prevented from filling in endorsement forms. AFTE documented different ways of prevention, including mobilization of citizens in front of notary offices from the early minutes of opening the offices until the end of the day. A number of Tantawy’s supporters were also physically assaulted by unknown persons in civilian clothes, sometimes in front of the eyes of the police forces which did not intervene to prevent the assault nor did they respond to calls for help. Hundreds of Tantawy’s supporters had to wait in front of notary offices for hours every day without managing to fill in endorsement forms, as the notary officials claimed that the electronic registration system was down. The massive crowds in front of the notary offices – whether being mannered or natural – were noticeable to everyone, including the NEA, which did not respond to many complaints nor did it resolve the crisis by increasing the number of notary offices. The NEA asked the notary offices to continue working as long as there were citizens waiting to fill in endorsement forms. But this was not implemented, according to AFTE researchers who were present at several notary offices in Cairo and Giza, including the offices of Al-Khalifa, Qasr Al-Nil, Al-Sayeda Zeinab, the Ministry of Justice, the Murad Street, and Al-Misaha.
- Security targeting of members of Tantawy’s campaign: AFTE documented raging security campaigns targeting members of Tantawy’s campaign and his friends, as at least 140 of them were arrested. These campaigns began when Tantawy announced his presidential bid and criticized President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi harshly, blaming him for the deteriorating economic, political and social conditions in Egypt. Police forces arrested 12 relatives and friends of Tantawy in May, including his paternal uncle and maternal uncle. The prosecution charged them with possessing inflammatory leaflets, fireworks, and explosives. Security targeting increased as Tantawy began to form his election campaign and the NEA opened the door for potential candidates to collect endorsements. The State Security Prosecution levelled the usual charges against Tantawy’s supporters and campaign members. These charges included joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.
- The NEA committed several violations during the first phase, as it refused to acknowledge violations or irregularities during the process of collecting endorsements, without conducting any investigation or listening to the testimonies of those who were prevented in various ways from filling in endorsement forms. It described the candidates’ complaints as false allegations. It, moreover, prevented some leading members of Tantawy’s campaign from entering its headquarters to submit complaints and videos stating that citizens were assaulted and prevented from filling in endorsement forms, thus breaching the rules of its work.
- Sisi supporters began to be present outside notary offices as of the noon of 25 September, although the NEA held its press conference at 3 pm that day. This indicates that they had prior knowledge of the election dates, something that violates the standards of fair competition and questions the independence of the NEA.
“Citizen Lab” announces the hacking of Tantawy’s phone
On the other hand, the crackdown on Tantawy did not only begin with the stage of collecting popular endorsement forms, but it had begun since he announced his intention to run for the presidential elections months earlier. On the same day that the NEA announced the official dates for the elections, the Canada-based Citizen Lab, which is concerned with digital rights and cybersecurity, announced that Tantawy’s phone was targeted with Predator spyware.
According to The Washington Post, Tantawy was targeted with a previously unknown method called “zero-day”. “Zero-day exploits are particularly dangerous and valuable because they take advantage of as-yet-undiscovered security gaps,” the paper said. “In this case, Tantawy would not have had to click on anything to be infected,” it added.
The Predator spyware was developed by a Macedonian startup called Cytrox, operating mainly in Israel and Hungary. It is believed to be used by customers in different countries such as Armenia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Serbia.
Predator, said Citizen Lab, is a surveillance tool providing its operator “complete and persistent access to a target’s mobile” and allowing the extraction of “passwords, files, photos, web history, contacts, as well as identity data (such as information about the mobile device)”.
Predator can also take screengrabs and monitor user input, as well as activate a mobile’s microphone and camera, allowing hackers to monitor all activity on and in the vicinity of the device, such as conversations conducted in real life. Virtual chat messages can be recorded as they are sent and received, even if sent via encrypted or disappearing-message-enabled apps like WhatsApp or Telegram, as can phone and VoIP calls, including calls through “encrypted” calling apps.
Like other high-end spyware sellers, Cytrox says it sells its products to government agencies only. Given that Egypt is a known Predator client, and because one of the hacking attempts was made by a device physically located inside Egypt, Citizen Lab said it had “high confidence” that the Egyptian government was responsible for the attack on Tantawy’s phone.
Commenting on the incident, Tantawy issued a statement saying: “The spying operation allowed the theft of all files and data stored on my phone, recording calls, including calls from applications that use the internet, and turning the device’s microphone and camera on to allow recording conversations that take place nearby even when it is switched off.”
Continued violation of the right to freedom of expression
In terms of violations of freedom of expression, the Egyptian authorities continued to place restrictions on freedom of expression, especially in the media and online, during the third quarter of this year. These violations mainly included the Economic Misdemeanour Court of Appeal’s ruling that upheld a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 20,000 pounds against publisher and liberal politician Hisham Kassem, after he was accused by the former Minister of Manpower and leader of the Karama Party, Kamal Abu Eita, of insulting and defaming him on Facebook. This was preceded by a decision by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court to sentence the human rights activist and researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Patrick George Zaki, to three years in prison over an opinion article he published in 2019. Zaki was released upon a presidential pardon two days after he received the sentence.
The Egyptian authorities also continued to target independent news websites. They targeted the Zat Misr website, which was disrupted as a result of pressures from unnamed parties after it published several interviews criticizing the authorities.
Meanwhile, Karim Asaad, a journalist and member of the editorial team of the “Matsaddaash” platform, was released after a security force arrested him on 19 August from his home, assaulted him and his wife, accessed the platform’s accounts and deleted two posts that contained the identity of Egyptians on board the plane that left Egypt and was stopped in Zambia.
First: Freedom of the press and media
Violation of freedom of the press and media continued during the third quarter of 2023, as AFTE reported 7 incidents containing 8 violations during that period. These included arrest of journalists, removal of opinion articles, and deletion of content from an interview with a presidential candidate in the state-owned United Media Services.
The presidential candidate and head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Farid Zahran, announced on his Facebook page that a recorded interview he gave to TV host Osama Kamal of the privately owned DMC channel would be broadcast on 23 September 2023, during which he presented – for the first time – his electoral program and the party’s comprehensive vision. However, the interview was not broadcast on time. Kamal said later that the interview was not broadcast due to technical reasons related to sound. The interview was later broadcast, but not in full. Zahran then issued a clarification confirming that only part of the interview was broadcast, thus affecting the messages he aimed to deliver.
Meanwhile, journalist Karim Asaad of the “Matsaddaash” platform was arrested during the third quarter of this year. Matsaddaash, an independent press platform founded by late journalist Mohamed Aboul Gheit while he was in London in 2018, said in a statement that Asaad was arrested at 1 am on 19 August after plain-clothes police raided his house, beat his wife, threatened their child, scattered the house’s contents, and then took him to an unknown place.
According to the statement, Asaad was only asked during his detention about the coverage of the plane heading from Egypt to Zambia. At the time, the authorities in Zambia announced the seizure of a plane coming from Cairo to Lusaka and carrying $5.7 million in cash, 602 metal bars suspected of being gold, five pistols and 126 bullets. Meanwhile, the head of the Journalists Syndicate, Khaled al-Balshy, later confirmed Asaad’s release after communicating with the bodies concerned. Asaad remained in detention for nearly 48 hours.
In the same incident, Matsaddaash said in a Facebook statement on 19 August that it had been hacked and two reports posted on its Facebook page had been removed. The two reports tackled the involvement of a number of Egyptian officials in the Zambian plane case. The platform said in its statement that its journalists were also subjected to security crackdown parallel to the cyber-attack.
The Egyptian authorities continued to target news websites during the third quarter of this year. The “Zat Misr” website was subjected to “severe pressures” that forced it to shut down for 24 hours on 27 August, according to an official at the site who spoke to AFTE. The audience could not access the website, which featured a white page with a caption reading “closed for maintenance”.
This came days after the website published an interview with former Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour. The interview was conducted by the site’s chairman Salah al-Din Hassan. In the interview, Abdel Nour talked about the economic crisis and the presidential elections, saying “agencies” interfered in the elections. The site was back to normal 24 hours later, but Abdel Nour’s interview was deleted. A source at the site said this happened after Abdel Nour’s interview caused major troubles and anger, prompting the site to shut down for 24 hours in an attempt to absorb the anger.
Abdel Nour’s interview was the third in a series of controversial interviews that Zat Misr made with public figures to comment on the current situation in Egypt. The first interview was made with the vice president of the Future of Homeland Party, Hossam al-Khouli, who decided to withdraw from the interview after the site’s editor-in-chief, Moawad Gouda, asked him about the party’s relationship with the security services.
The source attributed the site’s crises to its second launch, as it began to clash politically more than before, given the nature of the stage.
In the same context, the leading member of the Civil Democratic Movement, Engineer Yehya Hussein Abdel Hadi, said on his Facebook page on 21 July that “those in charge of the Zat Misr website had to remove my article ‘Who speaks for Egypt?’ hours after it was published” . “I apologize for the embarrassment the article caused to them,” he said. He later refused to comment on the matter further. The article, according to Abdel Hadi, drew a comparison between the 2018 presidential elections and the current ones.
In this regard, a source at Zat Misr said after Abdel Hadi’s article was published “we received a notice saying that the article will cause us legal troubles and therefore we deleted it so as not to face legal accountability”. The source did not mention the body that sent the notice.
Abdel Hadi appeared more than once before the Nasr City Misdemeanor Court, after the prosecution charged him with spreading false news abroad and at home through the publication of a number of articles that would disturb security and public peace and terrorize citizens, under Articles 80 D and 102 bis of the Penal Code. The accusation had to do with opinion articles titled “When do they speak”, “Shame and dialogue”, and “Everyone must be released, including the [Muslim] Brotherhood members”. This came despite the protection the Egyptian constitution gives to the right of all citizens to freedom of opinion and expression, and the prohibition of imprisonment in publishing cases.
The court adjourned its verdict to next November. On 31 May 2022, Abdel Hadi received a presidential pardon for a four-year prison sentence in Case No. 558 of 2021 (Emergency State Security Felonies – Nasr City Second), in which he was accused of spreading false news.
Meanwhile, the privately owned CBC TV on 2 July referred its presenter Radwa al-Sherbiny to investigation over a Facebook post that the channel said “offended” its name.
Sherbiny said in her post: “I do not understand why girls do not like to eat the meat of sheep, but they like to get in a relationship with one.” The post sparked widespread criticism against her.
CBC TV said on X (formerly Twitter) that it had decided to refer Sherbiny to investigation over “a post on her [Facebook] page which offends the name of the corporation, although it was not shared on any platform of the channel”.
Although the TV channel said Sherbiny’s post was not shared on any of its platforms, it saw that it was necessary to impose societal guardianship, monitor the presenter’s Facebook page, and refer her to investigation. This practice has been repeatedly adopted by the channels owned by the United Media Services, without announcing any results of these investigations, in what seems to be an attempt to absorb the public anger on social media.
Second: Freedom of creativity and artistic expression
The Egyptian authorities continued to impose further restrictions on the citizens’ right to creativity during the third quarter of this year. AFTE recorded 4 incidents that contained 7 violations, all of which were committed by the Syndicate of Musical Professions through arbitrary decisions against a number of mahraganat singers.
Moreover, the syndicate continued to exercise guardianship over Egyptian artists inside and outside the country. It also continued to issue intimidating statements regarding the artists’ appearances during concerts, interviews, etc.
In this regard, the key patterns of violations reported during the third quarter came as follows:
- Concert cancelled
The Syndicate of Musical Professions revoked permits it had earlier granted to Live Nation to hold a concert for American rapper Travis Scott at the Giza pyramids area on 28 July.
The syndicate’s decision came after the announcement of the concert’s date stirred controversy, as some shared negative opinions about Scott’s concerts, arguing that his concerts turn into events for drug-taking and immoral acts. The syndicate, therefore, responded to these concerns and cancelled the concert. Some criticized the syndicate’s decision saying that it did not only impose guardianship on freedom of creativity, but also had a negative impact on tourism in general and artistic tourism in particular.
Although the syndicate retracted its decision and allowed the production company to hold the concert if it obtains the necessary security approvals, the company said the concert would not be held for logistical reasons.
- Mahraganat singers referred to investigation and suspended
On 26 August, head of the Syndicate of Musical Professions Mustafa Kamel decided to refer mahraganat singers Omar Kamal and Hamo Beka to investigation. Kamel wrote on his Facebook page: “In response to what I saw and what was broadcast by the two colleagues Ahmed Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Moussa, I decided to assign Dr. Mohamed Abdullah, chairman of the investigation and dispute resolution committee, to ask the legal affairs department to summon Omar Kamal and Hamo Beka for investigation immediately.”
The two singers were referred to investigation over their song “You’re nasty”. They were fined 50,000 pounds each and suspended from singing and performing at concerts for a week, according to Kamel. The syndicate decided in September to lift the suspension after its term expired.
- Mahraganat singer Kusbara suspended for offending Zewail
In a separate context, the Syndicate of Musical Professions said in a statement released in August that it had decided to suspend mahraganat singer Ahmed Khaled, known as “Kusbara”, and withdraw his singing license. This came after the singer released a video clip that contained what the syndicate called indecent words. A picture of late Egyptian chemist Ahmed Zewail featured in the background of the video, something which the syndicate considered an unacceptable offense to one of the Egyptian national symbols. The syndicate, moreover, filed a complaint at the Public Prosecution against the singer.
The syndicate’s legal affairs department interrogated the singer and when it asked him about Zewail’s picture in the video, he apologized for using it and deleted it from the clip, saying that he never intended to offend the late chemist and that it was the vision of the director of the work. He said that he respects the Egyptian scientists including Dr. Ahmed Zewail and promised not to repeat the act again. He then signed the investigation report. But the investigation process included violations, as Kusbara was forced to modify a protected creative content and was also forced to sign an illegal pledge agreement.
- Singer Sara Al Zakaria banned from singing in Egypt for moral reasons
On 3 September, the Syndicate of Musical Professions decided to permanently ban Lebanese singer Sarah Al Zakaria from performing in Egypt, and withdrew her license after investigating her over what the syndicate considered unacceptable sexual overtones that are inconsistent with Egyptian and Arab traditions and values, during a concert she performed in the North Coast.
The syndicate also fined the concert’s organizer Yasser Hariri 100,000 pounds for signing a contract with Zakaria although “he knew she has a history of breaking stage traditions”.
The decision came after Zakaria jokily asked the audience during the concert: “Are they all on pills or what?” She interspersed her songs with such sentences as “He’s a dog, the son of 600 dogs” and “I’ll totally expose him on stage,” which the syndicate considered obscene, insulting, and corrupting to the public.
Third: Digital rights
The Egyptian authorities continue to restrict the citizens’ right to use the internet to express their opinions. They crack down on content creators on various digital platforms, such as Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. In this regard, AFTE documented 13 incidents during the third quarter of this year. These included judicial violations over a Facebook post, and arrests over videos criticizing the local economic situation or exposing security violations.
Most of the violations reported during the third quarter of the year are based on political grounds, which we will discuss in detail in the next section.
Key patterns of violations:
- Prisoners’ relatives arrested for sharing posts and videos on social media
On 9 August 2023, security forces arrested Mohamed Hussein (Rami Hussein’s brother) in front of the Maadi prosecution office. Rami had been tortured to death at Dar al-Salam police station. Mohamed published a number of posts and a video on Facebook showing a thread of blood streaming from Rami’s nose, confirming that he was killed, not because of tuberculosis as claimed by the Ministry of Interior. Mohamed accused those in charge of the Dar al-Salam police station of causing the death of his brother. The Ministry of Interior confirmed that Rami’s death was natural as a result of a cardiac arrest. Rami’s brothers face pressures from the police station’s officers to refrain from accusing them of torturing and killing their brother. A force from the police station had deployed near the Maadi prosecution office in conjunction with a hearing dedicated to listening to Rami’s brothers. The police prevented Rami’s relatives from being present around the police station and forced the surrounding cafes to close.
- Politician and publisher Hisham Kassem targeted over Facebook posts
On 20 August 2023, the Sayeda Zeinab Prosecution began investigating politician and publisher Hisham Kassem based on complaint No. 5007 of 2023 submitted by former Minister of Manpower Kamal Abu Eita accusing Kassem of slander and defamation.
The crisis began after the establishment of a liberal political alliance, known as the “Free Current”, which includes a number of liberal parties and opposition figures, most notably Kassem, who headed the alliance’s board of trustees.
A number of media outlets relayed statements attributed to public figures with different political affiliations, some of whom accused Kassem of working according to a foreign agenda. Abu Eita, also a member of the Karama Party and the presidential pardon committee, was among those who leveled accusations at Kassem. Commenting on the establishment of the Free Current, Abu Eita said in press statements that he smells “a foreign agenda for the current because of the presence of Hisham Kassem on top of it”. Kassem replied in a Facebook post on 29 July 2023 in which he reminded Abu Eita of being previously accused of corruption and embezzling public funds, before reconciling with the authorities by returning those funds. In his post, Kassem attached photos and links to news articles about the corruption case and the investigation of Abu Eita.
The prosecution decided to release Kassem on bail of 5,000 pounds, but he refused to pay the bail. He published a post on Facebook criticizing President Sisi and various state agencies.
At the same time, a police officer from the Sayeda Zeinab police station filed a complaint accusing Kassem of insulting, slandering and assaulting him while performing his work. The prosecution remanded Kassem in custody based on the complaints filed against him No. 5007 of 2023 and No. 5284 of 2023 (Sayeda Zeinab – Administrative). The case was referred to the Economic Misdemeanor Court, which on 16 September sentenced Kassem to 6 months in prison on charges of insulting Abu Eita and verbally assaulting a public servant.
Kassem’s case shows that the authorities use multiple tools to silence, restrict, and imprison dissent, including fabricating charges at police stations and exploiting the charge of insult and slander. This is totally incompatible with the right to freedom of expression and the right of the opposition to express its opinion and criticize state policies. AFTE issued a position paper entitled “Point of order.. speech doesn’t go to court”, in which it condemned the violations committed against Kassem and called for stopping these violations and releasing Kassem.
- Arrests for criticizing Sisi’s candidacy or supporting a presidential candidate on Facebook
Security forces arrested police officer Amr Ali Attia from his home on 31 August 2023 after he commented on a post on presidential hopeful Ahmed al-Tantawy’s Facebook page. “I am with you and I want to work with you when you become president”, Attia said in his comment, attaching his own picture in military uniform. The State Security Prosecution investigated Attia in Case No. 2023 of 2023 (Supreme State Security) and charged him with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. On 11 September, the prosecution renewed Attia’s detention for 15 days.
On 13 September 2023, security forces arrested Haitham Khalifa from inside a café in Zagazig, Sharqiya governorate. He was taken to the National Security Office in Zagazig and then transferred to Cairo. This came after he posted a video on Facebook criticizing President Sisi’s candidacy for a third term. The prosecution remanded Khalifa in custody for 15 days and he was transferred to the 10th of Ramadan Prison.
Fourth: Academic freedom and student rights
The Egyptian authorities continued to place restrictions on academic freedom during the third quarter of this year. AFTE documented two incidents, where master’s researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy was banned for the third time from travelling, and researcher Patrick George was sentenced to three years in prison before a presidential pardon was issued for him.
Key patterns of violations:
- Master’s researcher at the University of Bologna Patrick Zaki receives prison sentence
On 18 July 2023, the Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court in Mansoura sentenced Patrick George Zaki, a master’s researcher at the University of Bologna in Italy, to three years in prison in Case No. 1086 of 2021 on charges of spreading false news after he published an article about Copts in Egypt in 2019. Zaki was arrested in the courtroom after the court ordered his transfer to the Gamasa police station to enforce the sentence, which cannot be appealed according to the emergency law.
Zaki was arrested in February 2020 upon his return from Italy to spend a vacation in Egypt. He remained in pretrial detention for 22 months in connection with Case No. 1766 of 2019 (Supreme State Security), registered under No. 1089 of 2021 (Emergency State Security Misdemeanors). He was released on 7 December 2021, but was added to the travel ban list upon a request from the Public Prosecutor, thus preventing him from travelling to resume his studies.
The day after the verdict, the President of the Republic pardoned Zaki, thus dropping the prison sentence against him.
- Master’s researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy still banned from travelling
On 14 August 2023, Ahmed Samir Santawy went to Cairo Airport to travel to the Austrian capital, Vienna, where he was studying for a master’s degree at the Central European University, but was banned from travelling. He was taken to the National Security office at the airport where an officer checked his papers and told him that he was banned from travelling. Then, Santawy left the airport accompanied by a non-commissioned officer, according to Santawy’s testimony to AFTE. This was not the first time Santawy had been banned from travelling, as he had been banned twice since his release from detention. The first time was on 27 August 2022 and the second in June 2023.
The targeting of Santawy started on 1 February 2021, when he was arrested and interrogated in connection with Case No. 65 of 2021 (Supreme State Security). On 22 May 2021, he was investigated in connection with Case No. 877 of 2021 (Supreme State Security). On 29 May 2021, the Supreme State Security Prosecution referred him to an urgent trial before the Emergency Supreme State Security Court in connection with the new case.
On 4 July 2022, the Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court issued a new verdict in Case No. 774 of 2021 (Emergency State Security Misdemeanor), registered with No. 877 of 2021 (Supreme State Security Prosecution), sentencing Santawy to three years in prison on charges of spreading false news. The verdict came after a previous verdict was overturned on 22 June 2021 in the same case that sentenced him to four years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 500 pounds. On 29 July 2022, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi pardoned seven prisoners of conscience, including Santawy.
Santawy is a master’s researcher at the Central European University in Vienna, where he began his studies in anthropology and social sciences in September 2019. He was subjected to several violations, including ill-treatment and torture during interrogation by National Security officers, and physical assault by the deputy warden of Tora Prison on 22 February 2021.
Conclusion and recommendations
AFTE seeks through the report to review and analyze the mass violations committed during the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections. The report highlights the key patterns of violations against freedom of expression, and analyzes the context in which these violations occurred in order to analyze the state policies towards freedom of expression and freedom of information.
AFTE recommends the following:
- The NEA should oversee all stages of the electoral process and respond seriously to all the complaints it receives.
- The NEA should conduct a serious investigation into the violations that marred the first phase of the presidential elections.
- The Public Prosecution should immediately release supporters and members of the presidential campaign of former MP Ahmed al-Tantawy.
- The Egyptian security services should stop targeting citizens for expressing their opinions on social media.
- The charges against all those convicted in publishing cases, most notably Hisham Kassem, should be dropped.
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