Rasha Mohye El-Din is a teacher in her thirties who lives in the city of Kafr El-Sheikh in the extreme northern corner of Egypt. On the morning of 7 October, 2020, she received a phone call from a lawyer informing her that her brother Mahmoud had reappeared thirty days after vanishing, commonly referred to in Egypt as "enforced disappearance", appearing before the Public Prosecution for a new legal case against him. Rasha rushed to the Public Prosecution office, found her brother, patted him on the shoulder and told him: "Don't worry! God willing, the Lord is on our side."
Meanwhile, the prosecutor summoned Mahmoud to the investigation room while Rasha waited. The lawyer came out and told her that this time the case involved "seized items" in the form of a booklet entitled, The Fitna of Takfir Wa Al-Hukm, translated as "apostatising and governance". He added that whoever gave him the booklet did not read the pages that focused on apostatising the ruler. Rasha quoted the lawyer, saying that he told her: "The title of the booklet has nothing to do with the content."
Mahmoud Mohye El-Din, a retired military officer, had been quickly promoted to the rank of colonel after training in the US and China. He retired from military service in 2010 and, despite twice being asked to reverse his decision, had no judicial precedents and was not summoned by any military authority before his series of detentions beginning in 2019, according to his sister.
Rasha went on to explain that this was his supposed fourth arrest, as Mahmoud faced similar accusations when he was first detained after socialising with: "Six people, one of whom was a friend. He was among a group socialising where they all expressed their opinions on public affairs. Later, they were arrested for four months, as one recorded the session and reported them to the security department. The man in question had already been arrested for only four days."
Forty-nine-year-old Mahmoud spent more than two and a half years behind bars on four charges, including joining a "takfiri" or apostatising group. He received a release order from Kafr El-Sheikh Criminal Court, but this did not guarantee his freedom. Moreover, a fifth charge of joining Daesh was added, complicating his release. The director of the Judicial and Legislative Reform Project at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, Mohammad Obeid, considered this a clear denial of justice.
After the decision to release Mahmoud was issued, police forces came to his prison cell and transferred him to the security forces camp in the city, where he was detained. After several weeks, the security forces returned him to the Public Prosecution office, where he was charged again, and his case was given a new reference number. Meanwhile, Mahmoud's family and his defence team were unable to communicate with him to find out where he was being held.
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After the issue of the second release, Rasha went to the police station, finished the administrative procedures and waited for Mahmoud to appear. Later, she was asked to leave and return the next day, but that same evening, National Security moved Mahmoud to another location. Rasha says that this recurred in the third and fourth cases.
Audio text: Rasha Mohye El-Din tells Mahmoud's story
Mahmoud is one of 1,764 Egyptians currently detained whom the authorities have refused to release, despite release orders obtained by some, and the innocence of many detainees between 2018-2021. This investigation focuses on five stories that reveal the Public Prosecution office and its special branch, the State Security Prosecution department, sought to secure a conviction instead of revealing the truth. This has come to be known as "rotating prisoners" or "recycled detention orders" issued by the State Security apparatus, which violate the Constitution and the law.
The five cases show that the security department follows two main patterns of procedural legalisation in the act of rotating prisoners or the issuing of recycled detention orders. The first method is to hide the person for a while after their release from previous cases and issue a new arrest order with a new date, as though the arrestee had already been released and re-arrested.
The second method entails charging the person with holding meetings, forming organisations with other detainees and communicating with parties outside the state from inside their prison cell to commit a terrorist crime.
Timeline: Mahmoud's Journey
Rotating prisoners, or the issuing of recycled detention orders, is a system applied by the Egyptian authorities not to release political prisoners whom the state wishes to detain, despite the end of their imprisonment period. Decisions to release are obtained in courts, but detainees remain in custody for a while at one of the security headquarters, to re-appear pending a new case that contains the same accusations with little modification. However, it usually frames the detainees in the same language.
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This system leads to many rights violations, such as the right to liberty, fair trial standards, the presumption of innocence and the prohibition of charging someone more than once for the same alleged crime.
Rotating or recycled charges and imprisonments, as told by those who experienced it
Mahmoud's case is one of five documented in this investigation through the testimonies of the families of three detainees and the testimonies of two who were released. They were all accused of joining and forming a terrorist group, inside or outside prison, and of seeking to destabilise the state. When they were sent back to prison, the same charges were used. The documented cases show that many of these accusations were manufactured and unrelated to specific incidents, and the charges were unrelated to any specific acts.
Suspicions of forged detention warrants
Examining the documents of the five cases reveals a discrepancy between the actual detention dates and those recorded by the police and National Security. For example, Mahmoud was detained on 7 October, 2019, while the police report shows a different detention date of 20 November. This pattern is repeated in the other cases. Additionally, the testimonies of detainees and lawyers assert that the details of detention records fail to show how this was implemented on the ground.
Amnesty International has accused the representatives of the State Security prosecution of: "Systematically failing to tackle the falsification of arrest dates by the police, especially by the National Security."
Audio recording: Rasha Mohye El-Din narrates the details of the night her brother Mahmoud was detained
Mahmoud was surprised that the security services incarcerated him at a location unknown to his family and lawyer for forty-four days. Rasha clarified: "After those days had passed, we learned that he was held at the National Security headquarters."
On the afternoon of 20 November, Captain Ahmad Ali, an officer at the National Security Department, opened an arrest file after the prosecution issued a warrant to arrest Mahmoud and search his home. The same officer led a security unit that knocked on Mahmoud's door. When the door opened, he identified himself and the mission he had been assigned to fulfil, so Mahmoud allowed him to inspect the house. Even though the officer found nothing that broke the law, he arrested Mahmoud and took him to the prosecution's office.
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Document: Mahmoud Mohye El-Din's arrest warrant issued by Ahmad Ali, an officer of the National Security department
At noon the next day, Public Prosecutor Amr Al-Taweet called Mahmoud to the investigation room and read him the investigating officer's report. Mahmoud denied the National Security narrative and revealed to the prosecution that his arrest had actually occurred forty-five days earlier when the security unit broke down his door.
Video recording: An excerpt from the minutes of the Public Prosecution's investigation session with Mahmoud Mohye El-Din on 21 November, 2019.
Al-Taweet did not attempt to verify Mahmoud's answers about having been forcibly disappeared for forty-five days and had his statement recorded and submitted to his superior, Mutaz Al-Awadi, head of the Public Prosecution office, to take necessary action. Al-Awadi did not take notice of Mahmoud's statement and decided instead to imprison him for fifteen days, renewable, and returned the file to Al-Taweet to complete the investigation.
Minutes later, a new case file was opened that showed only Al-Taweet's decision to summon case officer Ali to the next investigation session.
According to Ahmad Mufreh, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, the role of the Public Prosecution office is to cross-examine the acts that have been reportedly perpetrated by the accused and it should not have merely relied on the investigation reports.
Video recording: Ahmad Mufreh, the executive director of the Committee for Justice
The status of the Public Prosecution office in Egypt and its competencies is unmatched worldwide, as the integrity, purity and independence of its judiciary rank among the top ten countries in the world. Moreover, Egypt has pioneered the setting of judicial values and traditions. – Excerpts from Egyptian Public Prosecutor Hamada El-Sawy from an oath ceremony for new assistant prosecutor graduates held in January/December 2021.
The next interrogation sessions of Mahmoud show that security officer Captain Ali failed to attend. But Mufreh claimed: "Captain Ali does not take the summons seriously at all because he knows that these documents were of no value."
As a result, the heads of the Public Prosecution office, Ahmad Al-Menoufy and Mohammad Fayid, simply extended Mahmoud's detention, which left his family no option but to appeal the decision. On 1 February, the appeal was accepted, and an order to release Mahmoud on bail for 5,000 Egyptian pounds was issued. But that order was not implemented, contrary to Article (421) of the general instructions of the Public Prosecution offices that require it to: "Supervise the execution of the release orders, and if the police or prison services do not send notifications to implement the order within ten days of its issuance, inquiries must be made immediately."
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Infographic: A series of rotating imprisonments of 1,764 cases between 2018-2021
Source: Transparency Centre for Research, Documentation and Data Management
Ali Al-Saeed, an officer in the National Security department, claimed that Mahmoud: "Called for apostasy after his release." This was why the prosecution issued a warrant to search his home and detain him again, even though he was never released in the first place.
Document: A warrant for the arrest and summons of Mahmoud Mohye El-Din, issued by Ali Al-Saeed, officer of the National Security department
The next day, Mahmoud denied the charges levelled against him during the interrogation session and denied the claims that his home had been searched since he had already been in detention.
At this point, the representative of the Public Prosecution office merely noted Mahmoud's statements and submitted the papers to the head of the Public Prosecution office, who decided to extend his imprisonment for an additional fifteen days, "with the possibility of renewal."
Video recording: An extract from the minutes of the Public Prosecution's investigation session with Mahmoud Mohye El-Din on 7 October, 2020. (insert from ARIJ)
Video recording: Ahmad Mufreh, executive director of the Committee for Justice
Human rights lawyer Halim Huneish agrees with Mufreh and believes: "The Public Prosecution office has been complicit and covering up for the Interior Ministry."
Voice recording of human rights lawyer Halim Huneish
When Mahmoud's family renewed its appeal against his imprisonment, the family was surprised to find that his lawyer had been arrested, too, so they sought the assistance of the lawyer's wife, also a legal practitioner.
The "consultation room" at the Criminal Court refused the appeal. At that point, the lawyer was released, and he re-submitted the appeal on behalf of Mahmoud. His request was accepted, and Mahmoud was released on bail for 1,000 Egyptian pounds. The bail was paid, but the release order was not implemented, and Mahmoud disappeared again, this time from the State Security Prosecution office in Cairo until noon on 3 June. In this instance, he was charged with joining Daesh, according to his sister.
The discrepancies in the dates filed in Mahmoud's case are not uncommon, as per Amnesty International's claim: "The State Security prosecutors have failed systematically in tackling the falsification of arrest dates in 87 out of a total of 112 cases." A report for the organisation, entitled "The State Security Prosecution, an Evil Tool," stated: "The prosecution detained thousands of people for long periods for made-up reasons and went overboard in violating their rights to access a fair trial."
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Interactive design showing the map of Egypt: The cases of rotating imprisonments in the governorates of Egypt
A surreal investigation process
Requesting an arrest or detention order against someone from the prosecution office to search their house and later arrest them must be preceded by the preparation of an investigation memorandum. This is considered the first step in carrying out enquiries about the crime, its place, date and basis.
Professor of criminal law Ahmad Fathi Surour explains that the purpose of any investigation, in the strict sense, is: "To call upon the agents of the law each in their respective jurisdiction to conduct the necessary enquiries about the facts in hand dutifully. This must include all the evidence useful in leading to the truth by proving or denying that a particular incident took place."
An examination of Mahmoud's initial investigation in the first case recorded against him shows that Officer Mahmoud Taher attributed to Mahmoud his belief in takfiri. This includes the permissibility of carrying out hostile acts against those serving in the armed forces, the police, the judiciary, the targeting of members of the Christian faith and their places of worship, taking over their property, killing them and targeting vital and key government installations.
Taher's case against Mahmoud refers to a cluster cell, without identifying its members, their plans and where and when they convened. His investigation report states that the members of the cell planned to commit a series of hostile acts targeting officers and members of the armed forces, the police, the judiciary, key security and critical facilities. The intention was to create a state of lawlessness and incite panic and terror among citizens to disrupt the work of the Constitution to topple the state. The report also states that they: "Held organisational meetings at their residences to avoid being monitored by security forces." The investigations, however, did not name a single facility, security installation or checkpoint.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information points out: "The narrative used in security enquiries of the majority of political cases are closer to fantastical narratives that turn into a dark comedy that destroys the assumed basis of justice which respects common sense and reason. The investigations of some cases discuss the goals of a terrorist group without specifying the group. They reference communications without documenting such communication, and they mention meetings without showing evidence of their occurrence." According to the network, what is worse is that these accusations are usually repeated in the investigations that lead to recycled detention orders.
When Mahmoud was subjected to rotating imprisonment in the fourth case, the investigator in the Public Prosecution office, Officer Ali Al-Saeed, repeated the charges of the first investigation and simply added the phrase, "Mahmoud repeated the offence after his release," to highlight that he: "Repeated all the acts alleged in the first set of charges."
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The documents of Case No. One and Four
Despite the repeated accusations and the lack of sufficient information, some Public Prosecutors or their agents in Kafr El-Sheikh relied to the "investigations" of the first and fourth cases and decided to resubmit Mahmoud's charges and ask him if he had witnesses who would testify that he did not commit the listed offence.
A justice system usually operates by assuming the innocence of the person while the burden of proof falls on the prosecution to prove the accused has committed the crime in question. The accused person is not obliged to provide evidence to prove his innocence. According to the book Protecting Human Rights in Criminal Procedures by Albert Chavan, violating this principle results in unfairness in applying the principles of judicial dispute.
Video recording: Mohammad Obeid, director of the Legislative and Judicial Reform Project at the Egyptian Commission
A fake interrogation
Just like his predecessors, Public Prosecutor Ahmad Abu Sabee's first question to Mahmoud was taken directly from the documents of the previous cases, with a change from "apostatising group" to "a group that operates against the provisions of the law" in the fourth case. Abu Sabee re-stated the group's purpose of "disrupting the provisions of the Constitution and the law and preventing state institutions from carrying out their work," and described Mahmoud as an "apostatising leader." Rasha saw this as an excuse to keep him in prison.
The documents of the first and fourth cases reveal that both interrogation sessions were missing two key elements: the detailed discussion of the case against the accused and the presentation of the evidence held against the accused. Former judge Abdel Hamid Al-Shawarbi believes it was clear that the accusations levelled against Mahmoud were prepared in advance. The retired judge asserts that the absence of those two elements indicates the collapse of an integral part of the interrogation.
For example, during the interrogation sessions of both the first and the fourth cases, the prosecution would merely ask Mahmoud orally about the charges levelled against him, and he would deny them. Therefore, the trial went ahead and concluded that he must remain in detention pending further investigation, and so on.
Ahmad Mufreh, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, says: "The fact that there are many of these rotating or recycled detention order cases reflects a dark phase in the history of the Public Prosecution office in Egypt that it has ever experienced since its inception."
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Video recording: Ahmad Mufreh, executive director of the Committee for Justice
These rotating or recycled detention order cases can never attain fair trials that could end the detention of the accused or grant them a verdict that secures their release after serving time. Some people, like Alaa Abdelfattah, resorted to hunger strikes that lasted 178 days when this article went to press, and many others died while waiting. Between 2020 and 2021, four people died in detention facilities. One succumbed to lung cancer and the second caught COVID, then died due to a stroke. The third person suffered a severe heart attack, and the health status of the fourth was unknown before his death.
As for Mahmoud, he is now dealing with diseases that he contracted during his detention, and Rasha can do nothing but attempt to bring him medicine and pray for his release.
Timeline: Mahmoud's journey in the series of rotating imprisonments
- 7 October, 2019: A raid on Mahmoud's house and his ensuing arrest
- 20 November, 2019, 10 a.m.: The National Security department asks for the prosecution's permission to arrest Mahmoud.
- 20 November, 2019, 3 p.m.: The National Security department issues a summon for his arrest.
- 21 November, 2019: In the morning, his sister Rasha receives a call informing her of Mahmoud's appearance before the Public Prosecution office in Kafr El-Sheikh.
- 21 November, 2019, 12 p.m.: The prosecution accuses Mahmoud of establishing an apostatising group.
- 21 November, 2019, 3 p.m.: The Public Prosecution summons Captain Ali, the National Security officer and the writer of the arrest report for the 4 December, 2019 hearing session
- 18 December, 2019: Captain Ali is absent, and the Public Prosecution office urges him to attend the 1 January, 2020 session
- 31 December, 2019: The Public Prosecution office hastened the attendance of the investigator Mahmoud Taher for the 1 January, 2020 hearing session.
- 1 January, 2020: The Public Prosecution office rushes to implement its previous decision for the 14 January, 2020 session.
- 1 February, 2020: Mahmoud obtained a release order with his place of residence as a guarantee.
- 20 February, 2020: The Public Prosecution accuses Mahmoud of joining Daesh.
- 4 June, 2020: Mahmoud obtained a release order with his place of residence as a guarantee.
- 1 July, 2020: The Public Prosecution accuses Mahmoud of joining Daesh.
- 6 September, 2020: Mahmoud obtained a release order with his place of residence as a guarantee.
- 7 October, 2020, 10 a.m.: The prosecution accuses Mahmoud of being a leader of an apostatising group.
- 7 October, 2020, 1:15 pm: The Public Prosecution summons Ali Al-Saeed, the National Security officer and the writer of the arrest report, for an urgent investigation session.
- 21 October, 2020: Ali Al-Saeed is absent, and the prosecution urges him to attend the session.
- 28 October, 2020: The Public Prosecution office urges Al-Saeed's attendance.
- 28 April, 2021: Mahmoud obtained a release order conditional on a 5,000 Egyptian pounds bail.
- 3 June, 2021: The State Security Prosecution accuses Mahmoud of being a Daesh leader (621/2021), for which he remains in detention.
The voice of Rasha Mohye El-Din as she tells the story of Mahmoud
The detention period of 1,764 rotating imprisonment cases between 2018-2021
Source: Transparency Centre for Research, Documentation and Data Management
Jihad Al-Haddad: Audio recording with his brother Abdullah
A previously detained person recounts his experience with rotating imprisonment: Audio recording, published anonymously:
Sulafa Majdi recounts her experience with rotating imprisonment: Video interview:
The judgements and documents of Jamal Hassan
- Jamal Ahmad Mohammad El-Sayyid Hassan.
- 55 years old.
- An engineer by profession.
- The city of Tenth of Ramadan in Sharqia Governorate.
- He was subjected to rotating imprisonment after being proven innocent and serving time in prison.
- He was previously the director of the office of the former speaker of the Shura Council.
- Hassan was arrested on 24 October, 2013, on charges of joining the Muslim Brotherhood. The Court of Cassation acquitted him on 24 June, 2020.
On 10 December, 2013, the Public Prosecution charged Hassan in a new case registered under No. 8168/2014 for joining a group that violated the provisions of the law. The Zagazig First Criminal Court sentenced him to three years in prison, which ended on 9 December, 2016.
Hassan remained in detention and reappeared in front of the State Security Prosecution in September 2020 and was accused of holding meetings that could harm the country and violate the law. The court of Twelfth Ramadan Emergency State Security Misdemeanours acquitted him on 29 November, 2020.
On 4 January, 2021, the State Security Prosecution charged him again with holding meetings that could harm the country and unsettle the law. The case was registered as No. 18 / 2021, and the same court acquitted him again on 19 August, 2021.
On 10 April, 2021, the State Security Prosecution accused him of "holding meetings that would harm the country" for the third time. Less than two months later, on 13 June, 2021, the court of Higher Emergency State Security Misdemeanours acquitted him.
On 12 July, 2021, State Security accused Hassan again of holding meetings. After three months, the court acquitted him again for the same reasons as in the two previous cases, 116 and 381.
Like hundreds of families of detainees who experienced rotating imprisonment, fifty-one-year-old Shahira Al-Sayyid appealed to Attorney General Hamada Al-Sawy by sending him a telegram on 4 November, 2021. She informed him: "My husband was acquitted on 1 October but was not released. He is detained in the Thirteenth of Ramadan police department, and I am afraid he may be falsely accused in another case. I hope that you will kindly take the necessary action."
Only seven days passed before Shahira's worst fears happened. Her husband appeared before the State Security Prosecution and was accused of joining a group in violation of the provisions of the law. The case was registered under No. (5397 / 2021), and the court acquitted him after forty days.
A month later, Jamal had a heart attack, and his wife submitted a request to the head prosecutor asking him to kindly allow her husband to be transferred to the nearest government hospital due to his weak medical condition. The prison doctor recommended an echocardiogram and the installation of cardiac catheterisation, and the request was referred to the police department warden to take the necessary action.
Jamal remained imprisoned in his cell and did not undergo any medical examinations. He is still in prison on charges of belonging to and financing a terrorist group.
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Audio recording: Rasha Mahmoud Mohye El-Din narrates the details of the night her brother Mahmoud was detained
Video recording: An excerpt from the minutes of the Public Prosecution's investigation session with Mahmoud Mohye El-Din on 21 November, 2019
Video recording: Ahmad Mufreh, Executive Director of the Committee for Justice
Audio recording transcription of Rasha Mohye El-Din telling the story of her brother Mahmoud
It is as if the release did not happen. Even at the time of the second release, I took Mahmoud's clothes and went to the police station, completed the necessary paperwork for his release and waited. They asked me to go back home and told me that Mahmoud would be released later. I waited in front of the Police station until I saw the deputy warden Ashraf Lashin cuffing him to a military officer and had him put into a security vehicle heading to the security forces camp. At that point, they told me to go home and that Mahmoud would be released in the evening.
I returned in the evening, and they said Mahmoud would be out the next day. The next day, I went to the police station, but they told me Mahmoud was not there. I asked about his whereabouts, and they told me that the National Security department had taken him at 2:00 a.m. The same thing happened in the third and fourth cases, and every time he won a release order, we were extremely frustrated about whether he would be set free or be rotated back into prison.
Audio recording transcription of Jihad's brother Abdullah Al-Haddad
Unfortunately, we are completely cut off from visits and any kind of communication, so we cannot directly understand what really happened. As far as we know, after Jihad was acquitted, he was transferred to Al-Aqrab Prison and kept there. Nothing like a natural rotation took place; he was not taken to the police station and then to prison; he was taken to prison immediately after his acquittal.
Weeks later, we were told that Jihad was charged in a new case, and the lawyer started his attempts to communicate with the prosecution office to find out the details of the case. After 45 days, the lawyer obtained a release order from the prosecution guaranteed by a fifty thousand Egyptian pounds bail.
We paid the bail in full directly and without hesitation, hoping this would be an opportunity to see Jihad. After paying the bail, Jihad did not leave prison and was charged in case No. (1400) of 2019 for threatening the security of the state.
So far, no clear accusations have been brought against him. He was asked some questions and was just left alone. Currently, he goes to the sessions and returns without any details about the case against him. It is clear that this case is being developed with other specific details so that the prosecution can keep the detainees in prison for as long as possible.
Now, Jihad has completed almost eight years between obtaining an acquittal ruling in all the cases in which he was accused and the two years after his acquittal.
We are living difficult moments and try as much as possible to hold on to the hope that he will come out. We strive to improve his situation and obtain his legal right to come out innocent of all the charges.
What I want to say to the Public Prosecution office is as follows: "Jihad has lost more than forty kilograms since entering the Al-Aqrab Prison. Honestly, any day now, we are expecting a call from inside the prison or from the lawyer telling us that Jihad has passed away. One or two detainees die in Egyptian prisons every month. Jihad has lost weight and turned into skin and bones; he suffers from anaemia, severe vitamin deficiency and obvious physical frailty. He has lost the ability to walk properly and always walks with a cane now and can only walk with the help of people around him. For a while in 2020, he was being carried by two people when he needed to go from one place to another due to his inability to walk well, even with a cane. When he was shown to the prison doctor, he was told that he was showing signs of a hepatitis C infection and very high liver enzymes."
Therefore, his family is worried since they cannot see Jihad and cannot obtain any medical details about him. Jihad is facing death and may, at any point, fall unconscious inside his cell and die. The request to the Public Prosecution is to consider the health aspect of his case. This person was innocent of all charges levelled against him and has been acquitted, and he has already spent more than eight years in prison. It is very important for him to be released to go home to his family, who has missed him for eight years. He should go to see his child, whom he only saw for one month after his birth and his daughter, who has missed him for more than eight years. We will be able to provide him with the healthcare he needs. There is no legal reason or rationale for him to remain in prison.
Abdul Malik (pseudonym): A former prisoner who experienced rotating imprisonment
When I was arrested, the initial investigations were a farce. Unfortunately, I was accused of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. I have no idea which terrorist group they meant. The accusation was put to me in that way.
What terrorist group do they mean? I want to know the name of the terrorist group.
The enquiries of the security services do not confront people with these accusations; rather, they surprise you with these claims on paper. You have no idea who committed the act or which security authority is involved. No one confronts you with the accusations, even while accusing you of the act; the investigations say simply that you are accused of joining a terrorist group.
Once, the prosecutor told me: "Ask me to do anything for you but don't ask to go home." It was like a dark comedy sometimes, and that makes you laugh at the horrific situation.
My mother and sister died, and my children experienced serious problems while I was in prison, and I wished I could have been by their side. I was depressed because of this issue, and I would ask the prosecutors to grant me permission to be interrogated, to be transferred to the court, to do anything and to provide an opportunity for discussion, which would allow me to prove my innocence or to be convicted.
When I looked into the eyes of the prosecutors, I could sometimes feel their sadness for themselves and their profession.
I recall another confusing situation I went through when I was surprised that the lawyer had obtained a release order for me. He quickly paid my bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds out of his pocket to complete the procedures. Of course, all my prison mates congratulated me.
When the warden called me saying: "Come over here!" I thought it was time for me to leave prison. I went and asked him if I should get my things ready to leave prison. He said: "No, don't do that. Come over here because you are wanted on new charges."
The deputy director of the National Security department and the deputy head of the Prisons Authority took me to the Higher State Security Prosecution headquarters in a private car. I got in the car and wondered if they would take me there along with those who were forcibly disappeared or if they would interrogate me and later let me go home.
I was very calm and prayed to God and cried, so the guard looked at me and said: "Try to calm yourself down." I asked him if I was going home, and he said no.
I expected to be interrogated over a new accusation, but I was surprised that the prosecutor did not know anything about the case, and he did not have any information about it. The lawyer Ziad Al-Alaymi asked him what the accusation was, but he excused himself and said we would wait for a while. He went to the office of the public lawyer, who is his immediate superior, and returned with a copy of the documents of the previous case. The first page showed the accusation of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group, and he asked me what I thought about the issue.
I told him this was the same as the previous accusation from which I had been acquitted. I asked if he had a new accusation. He said it was indeed the same accusation, but this is the Higher State Security Prosecution office, and we have nothing to do with the previous case. I told him it was the same old accusation, and he started asking the same questions about my name and details as if he was beginning to file a case from scratch.
At first, we get an extension every fifteen days for ten times, which adds up to 150 days. Then it is an extension every 45 days before the counselling chamber judge. We then are kept in a detention cell, and later we leave this only to go to prison and then to court. More often than not, we do not meet the judge, nor does he see us, and the news of our detention renewal decision reaches us through the guards.
What terrorist groups did I join? When I got the opportunity, I would confront the judge. He would interrupt me and say: "Stop, stop! Don't talk! Stop! I have your file here!"
For two and a half years, no head prosecutor or judge had told me the name of the terrorist group to which I belonged.
The release decision was issued by the Public Prosecutor, and the officers and the inmates in prison congratulated me. I was apprehensive and told them I would not be happy until after I made sure that I would not be subjected to rotating imprisonment until I went home and stayed there for a while. Some inmates were released and remained in their homes for fifteen days, and then they were subjected to recycled detention orders or rotating imprisonment and were returned to prison.
They wanted to send me back to prison and subject me to rotating imprisonment, but there was a conflict between two state entities about whether to release me or send me to prison again. Some important political figures intervened, and the release side won.
Sulafa Majdi recounts her experience with rotating imprisonment: Video interview: Time code
I was blindfolded and cuffed from behind. My husband and I were tied up, and then we were taken outside the police station. I knew that because we went down some stairs and the weather was different and because of the noise of cars. We were in one of the illegal detention facilities in Al-Abbasiya.
We were blindfolded and cuffed there until the next day. We went through more than one illegal investigation. I was asked about the people I communicated with, my work, my recent travels and especially my travels to obtain a fellowship from the United Nations.
The next morning, the phone calls started, and I started hearing the sound of the walkie-talkie. The signal was saying that we must move because orders were given for us to appear, and we should not disappear for a longer period of time.
During this period, we were blindfolded, cuffed from behind, and had no water or food, and we were not allowed to use the bathroom or move around. They put me directly on the floor of the room, and I did not know where my husband was.
When we first entered the National Security headquarters, I heard them talking about my husband and saying: "Take him to the cemetery until I finish with his wife and then bring him to me."
The next day, we appeared before the State Security Prosecution in the Tajamo'o area in Cairo, but we were blindfolded and cuffed from behind all the way.
Rasha Mahmoud Mohye El-Din narrates the details of the night her brother Mahmoud was detained
They took Mahmoud at one after midnight in three large vehicles. An officer entered and started punching Mahmoud's chest. The officer who arrested Mahmoud did not have a single human bone in him. He kept punching him in front of my mother and everyone else, and they took him away barefoot and in a summer jalabia. My mother ran after him with his slippers, but they did not take them from her. That day she did not stop crying or going to the bathroom since she could not control her bladder anymore. Her health started to deteriorate bit by bit.
An excerpt from the minutes of the Public Prosecution's investigation session with Mahmoud Mohye El-Din on 21 November, 2019.
Q: What do you have to say about the minutes written by Captain Ahmad Ali on 20 November, 2019, which we read to you?
A: I have been detained since 7 October, 2019, 12:30 p.m., after they broke the door of my apartment.
Q: When did that happen?
A: Forty-five days ago, in the village of Sidi Ghazi in Kafr El-Sheikh.
Q: What is your comment about the reports of the aforementioned person?
A: I don't know.
Q: Are there any clashes between you and the aforementioned person?
Q: Do you have anything else to say?
The record was closed and the following was decided: "The documents will be submitted to the head of the comprehensive Public Prosecution to consider the detention order of the accused."
Ahmad Mufreh, the executive director of The Committee for Justice
Yes, he must tell him, and he must investigate. In law, the representative of the prosecution is called an investigator, and he conducts the investigation process and indictment, and the law grants him both powers.
If you are investigating the accused, he should at least ask him where he went. Were you released or not? Shall I release you or not? Who is responsible for you? If a person is forcibly disappeared, he should ask who did that to him. These are necessary elements, but the representative of the prosecution cannot do anything or say a word. He seems to just act like a tool for the disappearances and the repression operations that are taking place in Egypt.
An excerpt from the minutes of the Public Prosecution's investigation session with Mahmoud Abdel Fattah on 7 October, 2020.
Q: Were you or your home inspected?
Q: What made them arrest you?
A: I have been in prison since I was acquitted a month ago.
Q: Who arrested you specifically?
A: The person who took me out of the regular prison.
Q: What happened then, and what are the circumstances of your arrest and your appearance before us?
A: What happened is that they had fabricated a file about me, and I was released on 7 September, 2020. Since then, I have been in the prison of the security forces. I went out today and came to the prosecution.
Q: What do you say about your arrest report dated 6 October, 2020, written by the aforementioned officer, which we read to you?
A: It did not happen.
Q: Why is he fabricating these statements about you?
A: I don't know. I have been in prison for a year.
Video recording: Ahmad Mufreh, the executive director of the Committee for Justice
Therefore, we are dealing with actual manipulation of the arrest documents, including forging the records submitted to the Public Prosecution. This entity is also covering up such a crime and manipulation.
The Public Prosecutor and the lawyer all know Mahmoud and who Mahmoud is. The prosecutor who investigated him the first time is the one who interrogated him the second and third times and in other cases.
If he should be charged in a fourth or fifth case, he will also investigate him.
The prosecutor knows that he is part of a play spun about Mahmoud, the law and society in presenting such a young man once, twice and three times with the same charges, the same arrest reports and summons by the same officer.
The prosecutor knows that Mahmoud did not leave prison from the moment of his arrest until his appearance before him.
Audio recording with human rights lawyer Halim Hanish
This issue raises questions, as a Public Prosecutor, you have investigated this person for the fourth time for the same accusations, and he has been released by a judge or a prosecutor every time. This counts as a flagrant violation of the law.
There are officers who abuse citizens. In truth, in our situation, the prosecution unfortunately always covers up for the Ministry of Interior and its personnel and polishes off all the legal disasters and violations of the rights of the accused or the victims.
Video recording: Mohammad Obeid, director of the Legislative and Judicial Reform Project at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom
What is the logic behind this? What is the reason for the Public Prosecution office when it sees accused people with very clear evidence of their innocence and that the reports are just malicious investigations that merely reflect the opinion of the person who conducted them? Despite that, the accused person was imprisoned. These practices have nothing to do with the law and fundamentally unsettle the role of the prosecution.
The Public Prosecution is an integral part of the judiciary, and its role does not stop at indictment; rather, the prosecution moves the criminal case towards restoring the public's rights. When the prosecution is 100 per cent sure that these investigations are not genuine, its natural role is to issue a release decision.
I cannot find an explanation for why it does not release the accused people.
According to the law and Constitution, the role of the prosecution is not to commit a crime such as the crime of denial of justice or obstruction of judicial rulings. Now, the Public Prosecution is a judicial body that violates the role of the judiciary itself.
When the Public Prosecution office is an integral component of the judicial system and behaves in this way, it violates the independence of the judiciary in itself.
When you receive an order or a decision over the phone, how is this reflective of the independence of the judiciary?
Video recording: Ahmad Mufreh, executive director of the Committee for Justice
The fact that there are thousands of these cases reflects a dark phase in the history of the Public Prosecution office in Egypt, which is in the worst phase it has gone through since its establishment.
At no stage has the Public Prosecution in Egypt been so low in dealing with this number of cases or in committing these types of violations.
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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.