Egypt is misusing counter-terror legislation to prosecute critics of the regime, according to a 60-page report released by Amnesty International.
“In Egypt today the Supreme State Security Prosecution [SSSP] has stretched the definition of ‘terrorism’ to encompass peaceful protests, social media posts and legitimate political activities resulting in peaceful government critics being treated as enemies of the state,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther.
The SSSP is special branch of the Public Prosecution ostensibly investigating national security threats that routinely abuses the special powers it is afforded under Egyptian law and is complicit in enforced disappearances, torture and the deprivation of liberty.
The SSSP played a key role in arresting thousands of people after the 20 September protests – over 4,000, the majority on terror charges. The SSSP then ignores and hides evidence of police abuse and uses confessions extracted using torture, according to the publication which is based on interviews and reviews of official court and police documents, medical records and NGO and UN reports.
Since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2013 there has been a “meteoric rise” – a threefold increase – in SSSP prosecutions, from around 529 that year to 1,739 in 2018.
“The SSSP has become a tool of repression whose primary goal appears to be arbitrarily detaining and intimidating critics, all in the name of counter-terrorism,” added Luther. “Many of those arrested by the SSSP were detained for peacefully expressing their opinions or defending human rights and should never have been arrested in the first place.”
The report comes as human rights organisations continue to put forward evidence that Egypt is living through an unprecedented human right crisis over the past six years in which thousands have been arrested, systematically tortured and denied medical care.
Luther describes how the SSSP and the National Security Agency (NSA) have emerged as a parallel justice system for dealing with peaceful dissidents.
“Our goal with this report is to make it very clear that when someone is accused of terrorism in Egypt, the international community cannot take it at face value,” Baoumi told the Associated Press. “More likely, that person was arrested for peacefully expressing an opinion.”
In the report Luther warned that “Egypt’s international allies must not sacrifice their human rights principles for the sake of business and security ties. They must press the Egyptian authorities to reform the SSSP and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions or defending human rights.”