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Twitter ignites as Egypt ‘terror’ court hands 15-year term to human rights defender 

President of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, Bahey El-Din Hassan, 26 August 2020 [thenewkhalij/Twitter]
President of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, Bahey El-Din Hassan, 26 August 2020 [thenewkhalij/Twitter]

A so-called terrorism court in Egypt has sentenced the President of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, Bahey El-Din Hassan, to 15 years in prison in absentia.

The charges levelled against Bahey Hassan, who has been described as the spiritual father of the human rights movement, are familiar. They have been issued, in one form or another, against Egypt’s 60,000 political prisoners, multiple times: spreading false news and insulting the judiciary.

Bahey Hassan left Egypt in 2014 after receiving death threats for his work. Two years later a travel ban was issued against him and his assets were frozen after he and his organisation were targeted by what Amnesty terms a “politically motivated investigation into the work of human rights organisations in case 173”, or the foreign funding case.

In 2019 Hassan was sentenced to three years in prison, again in absentia, and fined 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,259) for allegedly insulting the judiciary.

Amr Magdi, Egypt’s researcher for Human Rights Watch, has drawn comparisons with Bahey Hassan’s treatment by the Sisi government to how his organisation was allowed to operate under ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling has ignited a wave of criticism by prominent figures and underscored the brutal tactics used by Egypt’s government to silence dissenting voices.

The evidence used against Bahey Hassan was his tweets, in which he criticised the spiralling human rights situation in Egypt, and the fact that he called for justice for the murdered student Giulio Regeni at the UN Human Rights Council.

According to Amnesty, Hassan was investigated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution and the National Security Agency, which is responsible for the enforced disappearance and torture of detainees.

Rights experts have called Egypt’s judicial system a farce and said that it does not practice due process but instead uses kangaroo courts. Egypt for rights defenders is as an “open-air prison”, Amnesty has said.

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“A 15-year prison sentence against Bahey Hassan proves: no independence of the judiciary in the Sisi era. Repression and abuse is for people of all sects. The current system does not fix matter nor can it be reformed. The continued division of the national forces is the biggest motive for the regime’s oppression. All solidarity with the spiritual father of the human rights movement,” Leader of Ghad El Thawra Liberal Party wrote on Twitter.

One blogger pointed out the contradictions inherent in Egypt’s justice system and the impunity with which the authorities operate.

Others described the ruling as state thuggery and state terrorism.

Human rights activist Osama Rushdi took to Twitter to say: “The unfair and shocking ruling issued against the Egyptian human rights defender Bahey Hassan, president of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, by one of the anti-terrorism bodies, of 15 years imprisonment, is one of the methods of state terrorism practiced by Al-Sisi against all human rights defenders. These rulings are unfair, nihilistic, and we reject them and they only support Al-Sisi himself.”

According to the journalist Mohannad Sabry, Hassan’s case is the first of several against human rights defenders living abroad.

Ironically, a free and fair judicial system is one of the goals which Hassan dedicated his life to.

Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy said that Hassan represents the integrity and courage of human rights defenders.

Whilst Sabry said Hassan makes he and others hopeful that after decades of lethal oppression there will be a free and democratic Egypt.

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