Arbitrary Arrests and Detention of Women Human Rights Defenders

On 21 June 2014, nine women human rights defenders were arrested for protesting peacefully against the Protest and Public Assembly Law in Heliopolis, Cairo, after being dispersed by the police using tear gas and bird shots. 

During a peaceful protest headed for the Heliopolis presidential Palace calling for the release of all detainees and imprisoned human rights defenders in Egypt, the following nine women human rights defenders were arrested along with several other human rights defenders and are being held at Heliopolis police station: Yara Sallam, Sanaa Seif, Hanan Mustafa Mohamed, Salwa Mihriz, Samar Ibrahim, Rania El-Sheikh, Nahid Sherif (known as Nahid Bebo) and Fikreya Mohamed. Moreover, prior to being arrested, unknown actors threw stones and glass at the peaceful human rights defenders, which was followed by the use of tear gas and bird shots by the police to disperse them.

The prosecution office issued an order on 22 June 2014 to extend their detention until 23 June 2014 pending further investigation. The women human rights defenders along with other defender have been charged with the following: (1) Participating in an unauthorized demonstration whose aim was to stop the implementation of the law and influence the effectiveness of the public authorities during the carrying out of their work. The possession of safeguards and tools that could cause death if they had been used as weapons; (2) Organizing a demonstration without prior notice as stipulated by the law and the participation in a demonstration that breached and threatened public security and the interests of citizens and disrupted transportation and transgressed public and private property; (3) The possession of incendiary materials and fireworks during the participation in the demonstration; (4) The use of force and violence to terrorize and intimidate citizens; (5) The deliberate destruction of public property; (6) The deliberate destruction of property owned by the aggrieved party as proven through investigations; (7) The possession of fireworks without a license; (8) The possession of tools used to assault persons without a legal justification. 

Egyptian human rights defenders have been facing mounting acts of intimidation and judicial harassment in the recent months, arbitrary arrest, harsh sentences and imprisonment. The aforementioned women human rights defenders along with other human rights defenders are only a few of several Egyptian human rights defenders who have been targeted through the Protest and Public Assembly Law (Law no 107 of 2013 on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations). On 22 May 2014, the Sidi Gaber Misdemeanor Court in Alexandria upheld the sentence of prominent women human rights defender Mahienour El-Massry and several human rights defenders and detained her on charges of unauthorized protest and attacking police officers during the Khaled Said murder retrial on 2 December 2014. The next hearing for this case has been scheduled for the 28 June 2014. 

Moreover, El-Massry is also facing trial on separate charges for an incident that occurred in March 2013. On 16 July 2014, the aforementioned second case was adjourned to 21 July 2014. In the second case, El-Massry is charged with allegedly “assaulting security forces”, after she and a group of lawyers went to Raml police station to provide legal assistance to activists who had been arrested and handed in to the police by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Nazra for Feminist Studies condemns the arrest and detention of the aforementioned women human rights defenders and believes that it is directly related to their legitimate activities in the defense of human rights. 

Nazra for Feminist Studies calls on the Egyptian authorities to:  
1. Drop all charges directed at the women human rights defenders and effectuate their immediate and unconditional release; 

2. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all the aforementioned women human rights defenders;

3. Cease the harassment and persecution of human rights defenders and ensure that all human rights defenders in Egypt are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities free from persecution, arbitrary arrest, judicial harassment and physical violence; 

4. Ensure that the Protest and Public Assembly Law is revised to be fully compliant with relevant international standards and the newly passed Egyptian constitution; 

5. Guarantee the right of women human rights defenders to engage in human rights work and take measures to ensure their protection before the law and in society;

6. Quash the convictions of other human rights defenders that are based on a Protest and Public Assembly Law and drop all charges stemming from the legitimate exercise of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.