Egypt yesterday handed its former anti-graft chief, Hisham Geneina, a five-year prison term after finding him guilty of “publishing false information” that could “harm national security”.
Geneina, who had run the short-lived election campaign of former military chief of staff Sami Anan, was sentenced after threatening to release documents evidencing high-level corruption in the army and government. He has been in detention since 13 February when he first made his claims in an interview with HuffPost Arabi.
Geneina previously claimed he would release the documents if Anan, a key opposition figure who intended to run against current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in the Egyptian elections in March, was harmed in detention. He warned that Anan may be assassinated in an effort to silence him over his possession of the documents, which implicate current Egyptian leaders in crimes committed by the military regime since the January 25 revolution.
Human rights groups and political observers have condemned Geneina’s arrest, with Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director, Najia Bounaim, labelling the move “another example of the shameless silencing of anyone who is critical of the Egyptian authorities.” Amnesty called for Geneina’s immediate and unconditional release and condemned his sentence as a “reprehensible violation of his right to freedom of expression”.
Geneina’s lawyers have contested the ruling, arguing the case did not fall under the military court’s jurisdiction. Egypt’s use of the military courts “as a tool to round up members of the opposition on trumped up charges” has come under heavy criticism from Amnesty after a series of Al-Sisi’s opponents were prevented from standing for election. Al-Sisi was re-elected as president for a second term in early this month after securing 97 per cent of the vote in a virtually uncontested election.
This is not the first time Geneina has been handed a prison sentence. In July 2016, he was sentenced to one year in prison after accusing the Egyptian government of rampant corruption that he claimed had cost the country $68 billion over four years. The fact-finding commission that followed to investigate the claims, appointed by Al-Sisi, quickly concluded that Geneina had misled the public by overestimating the scale of corruption. In December 2016, the sentence was suspended for three years by the Egyptian appeals court to be put into effect if Geneina was convicted of another crime within that period, according to Ahram Online.
Al-Sisi told French news channel France24 that “we have imprisoned no political activists”, stressing that “everything has been done according to the law, within its jurisdiction. Our friends can come and confirm this themselves.”
However, Geneina and Anan are believed to be just two of the estimated 60,000 political prisoners being held in Egyptian prisons, with a further 15,000 civilians thought to have been subject to military trial since 2014. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2014-2015 alone an estimated 41,000 were arrested or faced criminal charges, according to figures from the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights which independently monitors political arrests.