Gasser Abdel Razek, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who was arrested on Thursday evening, told his lawyers that he is being held in harsh detention conditions, according to Hossam Bahgat, the founder and president of EIPR, who described the treatment as “inhumane and degrading.”
Abdel Razek said he is being held in solitary confinement and has not been let out of his cell since Friday morning when he arrived at Tora prison after being questioned by prosecutors overnight. Authorities shaved his head and confiscated all his belongings. He has been sleeping on a metal bed with no mattress, does not have winter clothes and is cold all the time, according to Bahgat.
Abdel Razek was able to speak with his lawyers during a second interrogation session that was held on Monday afternoon at the State Security Prosecution in New Cairo.
“What was most shocking and infuriating was to learn of Gasser’s prison conditions, which seem intended to single him out for punishment compared to other political prisoners,” Bahgat told Mada Masr (full disclosure: Hossam Bahgat is also a journalist on leave from Mada Masr). “Gasser has basically been hungry and cold and sleepless and in solitary confinement since Friday morning,” he said. “I am not faking alarm — Gasser’s health and well being are in danger.”
An escalated crackdown on EIPR began last week with the arrest of its administrative manager, Mohamed Basheer, from his home on Sunday, November 15. This was followed by the arrest of the group’s criminal justice director, Karim Ennarah, on Wednesday while on vacation in South Sinai and the arrest of the group’s executive director, Gasser Abdel Razek, from his home on Thursday evening. The State Security Prosecution ordered all three to be held in remand detention for 15 days on a number of charges, including belonging to a terrorist organization and spreading false news.
Ennarah is also imprisoned in Liman Tora, while Basheer is imprisoned in Tora Investigations, both part of the Tora Prison Complex, according to Ragia Omran, who is part of Abdel Razek’s legal defense team. Also imprisoned in Tora Investigations is Patrick George Zaki, EIPR’s gender rights researcher, who was arrested upon his return to Cairo in February from studying abroad in Bologna and had been held in remand detention ever since.
“We are extremely concerned about Karim and Basheer because we have not heard from them about their prison conditions and they have not been allowed any visitors,” Bahgat said.
On Monday, Abdel Razek was brought before the State Security Prosecution for a second round of questioning. There was a heavy security presence outside the prosecution office and police prevented Abdel Razek’s family members, lawyers and EIPR staff from waiting outside of the courtroom, forcing them to move to a nearby area.
During the session, Abdel Razek and his lawyers requested that the prosecution register his harsh conditions of detention in the official record. They also requested that the Public Prosecution immediately dispatch a judicial inspection team to examine prison conditions and launch a criminal investigation into the violations of prison regulations and Abdel Razek’s constitutional rights.
During the session, the State Security Prosecution presented Abdel Razek with 18 different public statements and reports by EIPR over the past several years, especially since 2015, when Abdel Razek took over the organization, according to Bahgat. The EIPR statements and reports the prosecution presented were almost exclusively focused on criminal justice issues, mostly concerning Egypt’s use of the death penalty following “unfair trials based on evidence obtained through torture or special courts.” The rest of the EIPR statements were focused on issues of police brutality and other violations by the Interior Ministry, Bahgat added.
The prosecution asked Abdel Razek who was responsible for compiling the statements and reports, what their intent was, where EIPR had gathered the information and what the group’s methods of disseminating information are. “This was clearly part of their so-called evidence for the charges of spreading false news, undermining public security and misuse of the internet,” Bahgat said.
EIPR’s team reported through their Facebook page that some of them saw Abdel Razek on his way out of the prosecution office and into a van, with a smile on his face. Though he couldn’t see his wife, Mariam, through the narrow, barred van window, he shouted “‘Mariam! Say hello to the boys. I love you!’,” the team wrote.
The arrests of the three EIPR staffers have sparked international condemnation with rights organizations, international bodies and governments around the world, who criticized the crackdown in no uncertain terms.
After Basheer was arrested on Sunday, Abdel Razek told Mada Masr at the time that the move was a direct response by authorities to a meeting held at the group’s office earlier this month with 13 European diplomats and ambassadors to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt. The meeting was attended by ambassadors from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland as well as other diplomats from Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and representatives from the European Commission in Cairo.
The representatives of 12 foreign embassies came to the courthouse on Monday afternoon and stood with EIPR staff and family members of those detained in a nearby area, including diplomats from Germany, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Finland.
The State Security Prosecution informed the defense team that Abdel Razek will undergo a third round of interrogation at some later date and that he will continue to serve his 15 days of remand detention until then, according to Bahgat.
All three detained EIPR members have been added to Case 855/2020, which includes other defendants such as lawyers Mahienour al-Massry, Amr Imam and Mohamed al-Baqer, as well as journalists Solafa Magdy and Islam al-Koulhy, blogger Mohamed Oxygen and political science professor Hazem Hosny.
Founded in 2002, EIPR uses research, documentation, legal aid, strategic litigation and advocacy in its work on civil liberties, economic and social rights and criminal justice. Over the past several years they have worked on a number of issues in Egypt, including the prison conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing use of the death penalty, crackdowns on the LGBTQ community, foreign debt and sectarian violence.