Call for Egyptian teen’s freedom grows as hearing nears

Rights groups seek unconditional release of boy arrested in 2014 while protesting wearing T-shirt decrying torture.

A protester chants slogans during a protest in support of imprisoned activists who are in a hunger strike at prison, in front of the Press Syndicate, in Cairo
Many have been arrested under Egypt's Protest Law which says that demonstrations cannot take place without government authorisation [Asmaa Waguih/Reuters]

Human rights groups have called for the immediate and unconditional release of an Egyptian teenager who has been in jail for almost two years and was reportedly beaten and forced to confess under torture, as he was due to appear in court once again.

Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein – whose detention renewal hearing is scheduled on Monday – was 18 years old when he was arrested on January 25, 2014.

Back then, he was walking home from a peaceful demonstration to commemorate the third anniversary of the January 25 revolution, and was detained while wearing a protest scarf and a T-shirt which read, “A nation without torture” at el-Marg checkpoint, Cairo.

Since Hussein’s detention, the 19-year-old has faced near-automatic detention renewals, at least 22 of which were decided in his absence from the courtroom.

Rights groups say he was sub jected to at least four hours of beatings, received electric shocks to the back, hands, and testicles, and was forced to falsely confess.

Police accused Hussein of illegal protesting, getting paid to protest, possessing Molotov cocktails, and belonging to a “terrorist” organisation. 

But in the 22 months that Hussein has been in detention, he has not been formally charged or tried for any crimes.

“The best-case scenario would be that the judge orders Mahmoud’s release. It’s not just the best-case scenario. It is the right thing to do, in order to respect the most basic rights of any individual,” Santiago Canton, executive director of the US-based Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, told Al Jazeera.

“The worst-case scenario will be to keep him in jail and extend his pretrial detention another 45 days without charge, during which he may be subject to beatings, possible torture, and horrendous prison conditions. It will show to the international community that Egypt is in absolute disregard for the rule of law and human rights standards.”

Among thousands

Hussein has been detained for 666 days.

“This case is one among thousands of pretrial detentions in Egypt, but it is also an emblematic case,” added Canton. “Mahmoud is one of the youngest detainees. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information refers to him as ‘the youngest Arab prisoner of conscience.’

“He was arbitrarily arrested for absolutely no reason, and despite the absolute lack of evidence, the government continues to keep him in jail against not only international human rights law, but Egypt’s as well.”

The judge has renewed Hussein’s detention order every 45 days. Under Egyptian law, a person can be held in pre-trial detention for up to two years for charges that could lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Meanwhile, a petition by Amnesty International demanding Hussein’s immediate and unconditional release has gathered 145,000 signatures from 138 countries.

“The irony is that while calling for a nation without torture, Mahmoud Hussein has himself been tortured and ill-treated by security officers during his arrest and in detention,” the rights group said in a statement.

Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power after the 2013 ouster of democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian authorities have cracked down on freedom of expression.

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Egypt’s imprisonment of journalists is at an all-time high, the Committee to Protect Journalists has said. 

‘Tried for an idea?’

In a letter Hussein wrote to Amnesty International dated September 25, the teenager asked: “Will I be tried for the sake of a goal, or an idea, or a dream that so many of us have dreamed since the 25 January Revolution?”

Hussein’s imprisonment has raised concern that the younger generation is not protected under Egyptian law.

Canton said: “We have to remember that Mahmoud was only 18 when he was detained. With actions like this, Sisi’s government is affecting the future of Egypt and preventing its most promising youth from working for a better Egypt.”

Official Egyptian Prison Authority figures announced in December 2014 showed that out of 12,800 people detained since June 2013, 7,389 were still being held in pretrial detention. There are also at least 700 detainees who remain in pretrial detention, even beyond the two-year maximum allowed by domestic law, in cases that carry possible death or life imprisonment charges.

Social media users have raised the call for Hussein to be released on Monday, using the #FreeMahmoud and #MahmoudHussein hashtags.

Hermes, a Egyptian poet, told Al Jazeera: “Mahmoud is one of tens of thousands of detainees and disappeared Egyptian citizens since 2011.

“I think the immediate release of such cases of unjustified imprisonment would be the first step towards ending a long feudal regime that cuts Egypt between few of the richest families in the country, while the rest of the population is subject to arbitrary imprisonment for reasons like wearing an ‘offensive’ T-shirt, or even looking in a policeman’s eyes.”

Source: Al Jazeera


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