August 28, 2020
The Working Group on Egypt* calls on U.S. officials to condemn the August 25 ruling by a terrorism circuit court in Egypt against Bahey Eldin Hassan, one of the founders of Egypt’s human rights movement.
Hassan, in exile since 2014 following death threats, was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. He was convicted based on his Tweets and public statements, including at the UN Human Rights Council, criticizing the failure of the Egyptian judiciary to hold accountable those responsible for egregious rights violations. The court deemed these statements false news and insulting to the judiciary.
The ruling and harsh sentence are a gross misuse of a special court designed to prosecute terrorists to instead punish a prominent human rights defender, a first for Egypt. Rather than an isolated incident, the case constitutes a precedent-setting escalation that—if met with silence internationally—is likely to lead to further repression, not only in Egypt but in other countries as well.
While the United States treats Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a partner against terrorism, in fact he abuses terrorism courts to target a prominent Egyptian who has advocated peacefully for rights and democracy since the 1980s—a true partner in the fight against extremism. Hassan has met repeatedly with U.S. political leaders from both parties and participated in major U.S. government human rights initiatives, including the 2018 Ministerial Summit on Religious Freedom.
U.S. officials have recently condemned unjust actions against human rights defenders and other peaceful critics by other governments such as Iran, China, and Venezuela—including imposing sanctions in some cases—and have correctly noted that persistent abuses ultimately fuel instability. Yet the U.S. government has failed to use the tools provided by Congress to signal to Egypt’s government, recipient of billions of taxpayer dollars in military and economic assistance, that such abuses are unacceptable and dangerous.
It is past time to make clear that the United States will not be complicit in efforts to silence voices in the global struggle to advance freedom, human rights, and democracy.
Michele Dunne (co-chair)
Robert Kagan (co-chair)
*The Working Group on Egypt is a bipartisan group of foreign affairs experts formed in 2010.