By Mada Masr –
A number of human rights organizations launched the new Voices Behind Bars campaign on Wednesday in support of Egypt’s political prisoners.
The campaign coincides with the second anniversary of the start of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s presidency. It claims that during Sisi’s period in office, there has been a notable increase in the number of people jailed for expressing their opinions, as well as a crackdown on civil liberties that has included restrictions on civil society organizations, independent syndicates, political parties and media institutions.
“This period, which would have never started without the mass protests that led to the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, has witnessed unprecedented restrictions on all peaceful protests and assemblies through a pack of legislation that imposed restrictions on rights and freedoms. Among those are the protest law and the use of terrorism laws to press arbitrary charges against the youth for merely practicing their right of free speech,” the campaign’s statement asserts.
The campaign aims to defend detainees that it claims have been jailed due to politicized verdicts, and will document on its website the cases of hundreds of prisoners, the circumstances of their detention and their conditions in jail. It also plans to conduct legal analysis of the cases.
Thousands of people have been detained on charges linked to illegal protesting, violence, terrorism and spreading false information. An initial wave of arrests followed the issuing of Egypt’s contentious protest law in 2013, when prominent activists like Alaa Abd El Fattah, Ahmed Douma, Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and others were detained and later sentenced to prison. Since then, thousands more people have been arrested, the latest wave amid protests against the handover of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in April.
The organizations working on the campaign include the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the National Committee for Human Rights and Law, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Al-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture and Violence Victims, the Center for Egyptian Womens Legal Assistance, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms and Nazra for Feminist Studies.
A number of these organizations are already undergoing legal battles of their own, as many of their founding members and staff are facing accusations of receiving illegal foreign funding, a charge that could lead to heavy sentences.
Ongoing investigations are being conducted into Mozn Hassan of Nazra and prominent rights activists Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid. The Andalus Institute for Tolerance was the latest organization to be included in the reopened 2011 case against nongovernmental organizations, after a request to freeze its assets was approved this week.