Press Release — Egypt: HRF & American University Washington College of Law Submit Petition to UN

GENEVA - Human Rights Foundation (HRF) filed an individual complaint with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to take action in the case of Mahmoud Abdel Shakour Abou Zeid Attitallah, an Egyptian photojournalist who has been arbitrarily detained since 2013.

Yesterday, HRF handed the petition to representatives of the WGAD requesting that the group issue an opinion declaring Mr. Zeid’s detention to be arbitrary. The petition was submitted jointly with the Impact Litigation Project at the American University Washington College of Law (ILP).

“Independent journalists are always a serious threat to authoritarian regimes. Sisi’s government is making an example of Mr. Zeid and has been treating him brutally in prison, in retaliation for his work as a journalist,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “We ask the Working Group to determine Mr. Zeid’s detention to be arbitrary and call on the Egyptian regime to immediately release him,” said Halvorssen.

Mr. Zeid, best known as “Shawkan,” was arrested on August 14, 2013 while covering the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Rab’a al-Adaweya Square in Cairo. He is being charged with several counts including “illegal gathering,” “committing acts of terrorism,” and “harming national unity.” His lawyers were not immediately able to obtain key documents related to the case, making it difficult for them to prepare a defense.

Mr. Zeid has been held in pre-trial detention for more than two and a half years. He is being subjected to treatment that is physically and psychologically inhuman and degrading. Despite his poor health, the government has repeatedly limited his access to necessary medications. In February, Mr. Zeid was placed in solitary confinement for four days, which aggravated his condition. On February 5, his first trial hearing was postponed to March 26.

“The continued detention of Mr. Zeid is arbitrary under Categories I, II, and III as established by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” states the petition submitted jointly by HRF and the ILP. “[First], Mr. Zeid’s detention has outlived the maximum amount of time Egyptian law allows for pre-trial detention. [Second,] the detention resulted from Mr. Zeid’s peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. Finally, Mr. Zeid’s detention […] has failed to meet minimum international due process standards,” states the petition.

The Impact Litigation Project (ILP) is a project of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law that promotes the rule of law and democracy through impact litigation and advocacy.

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact: Noemi Gonzalo-Bilbao, (212) 246-8486, noemi@hrf.org

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