Yesterday, an Egyptian “terrorism” court sentenced in absentia Bahey eldin Hassan—one of Egypt’s foremost human rights defenders—to 15 years in prison on ridiculous, fabulist charges including “publishing false news,” “incitement against the state,” and “insulting the judiciary.” POMED strongly condemns this outrageous action and calls on the Egyptian authorities to overturn the sentence and drop all charges immediately.
Mr. Hassan is the director and co-founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). He has long been one of the most important voices on behalf of human rights in Egypt, having played a leading role in establishing the human rights movement in Egypt and in the Arab region. Mr. Hassan has been a strong, principled advocate of human rights since at least the time of President Hosni Mubarak, and has consistently criticized the human rights violations of all Egyptian governments.
In 2014, Mr. Hassan fled Egypt after receiving death threats. In 2016, a judge froze his assets and placed him under a travel ban as part of the notorious Case 173 targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society activists. In 2019, a court sentenced Mr. Hassan in absentia to three years in prison and a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds for “insulting the judiciary.”
Yesterday’s judgment marks an alarming escalation in the Egyptian state’s campaign against human rights advocates. The verdict in Mr. Hassan’s sham trial was handed down by Cairo’s Fifth Circuit Terrorism Court, marking the first time that the leader of a major human rights organization has been tried in a “terrorism” court and the first time that Egypt’s cybercrime law has been applied to the social media activity of a human rights advocate. In addition, Mr. Hassan’s 15-year sentence is the longest ever given to a human rights defender in Egypt and the longest handed down for charges related to defaming the judiciary.
We are concerned that the Egyptian authorities’ use of a “terrorism” court to try Mr. Hassan is part of an insidious campaign to classify him as a terrorist in order to disrupt the important work of CIHRS.
POMED calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately overturn the ludicrous sentence given to Mr. Hassan and to drop all charges against him in this case and any others. The Egyptian government must stop using its judicial system to repress, silence, and harass the human rights movement in Egypt. In addition, we call on the Trump administration and members of Congress to publicly denounce these actions by Egyptian authorities. The willingness of U.S. officials to overlook such abuses has only emboldened President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to escalate his campaign against rights advocates. We call on U.S. officials to hold al-Sisi accountable by imposing material consequences, including with regard to the $1.3 billion in military assistance provided to Egypt annually.