At midnight on 24 September 2019 plainclothes police officers broke into Ahmed Al-Kholy's apartment in the Haram district of Cairo and took him to the National Security building in Abbasya, without showing a warrant for his arrest.
Across the streets of Egypt, a widespread crackdown was underway as calls to demand President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi stand down gained momentum. Roughly 2,000 politicians, journalists and activists were arrested and accused under state security cases as the first major demonstrations since the 2013 military coup shook the country's security apparatus.
For ten days Ahmed's family requested that the public prosecutor and the minister of justice reveal where he was being held but received no response. They now know that during that time Ahmed, an environmental expert, was being interrogated about his position as leader of the Independence Party.
"The main reason for his detention is his political activity in the Independence Party and the fact that he was one of the leaders," one of Ahmed's legal representatives, Mahmoud Adel, told MEMO, adding that during Ahmed's interrogations, which he attended, authorities focused on the party.
Almost three years on, the Czech-based Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR) are calling on the Egyptian government to release Ahmed from Tora's Mazraa Prison where he is still being held on pretrial detention, even though under Egyptian law prisoners can only be held on remand for two years.
Ahmed is accused of "leading a terrorist group called the independence party" and of signing a solidarity statement supporting the September demonstrations. His official arrest record has been doctored to state he was arrested on 3 October 2019 rather than 24 September 2019.
"The main problem, or legal violation, is the prolonged pretrial detention on fabricated charges," Mahmoud says. "Because Ahmed's been accused of leading a party which published a statement [urging demonstrators to take part in the protests] in 2019, but no one has seen the statement."
In 2014 the Cairo Urgent Matters Court prohibited the Independence Party after the former head of the State Security Court filed a lawsuit against it for inciting acts of violence and financing criminal groups to organise demonstrations to call for the return of former President Mohamed Morsi.
Even though 23 members of the party were arrested in dawn raids at the same time as Ahmed, several defendants, including the wife of the party's president, Naglaa Al-Qalyubi, and Secretary-General Magdy Qarqar, have been released whilst Ahmed remains trapped in what has become known as the "revolving door policy" where prisoners remain endlessly inside the system.
Ahmed has been questioned by the Supreme Security Prosecution, a special branch of the prosecution with extra powers, and which is infamous for denying defendants' due process. The details surrounding Ahmed's case are unclear.
"I don't know which law Ahmed is being charged under since I haven't seen any official papers or investigations from the National Security or from the Supreme State Security Prosecution," says Mahmoud, who represents political prisoners and others who have been arrested for practising their rights, including freedom of assembly.
"But what we do know is that when somebody is interrogated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, normally they will be charged under the terror law that was issued in 2015. Whilst most political prisoners are never referred to trial – they either stay in pretrial detention or are released – if Ahmed is, it will be under this terror law."
Human rights groups have slammed Egypt's counterterror legislation not only for being ambiguous but being inaccurate with a wide definition of terrorism which covers most types of civil disobedience.
At 68, Ahmed suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes. Though his medicine is allowed in, and he has not been prevented from visiting the prison hospital, EFHR have said they are concerned about the deterioration of his health.
As a former professor at the environmental planning department at Cairo University and the Vice President of Desert Research Centre, Ahmed's ongoing detention comes against the backdrop of preparations for the climate change conflict which will be held in Egypt in November.
It is the UN who will host the summit, yet during the 2019 protests the United Nations Human Rights Office joined the chorus of voices calling on the Egyptian government to release Egyptians arrested during this crackdown.
Ahmed is not the only one. Environmental activist Ahmed Amasha has been detained since the summer of 2020, forcibly disappeared and tortured. Tens of human rights organisations have slammed the decision to hold the conference in Egypt where protests are effectively banned and where there are roughly 60,000 political prisoners, including lawyers, behind bars.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.