Civil society organizations call on Egyptian authorities to drop the case of researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and release him immediately
14 March 2022
Today, the Egyptian Emergency State Security Court (ESSC) will hold a second session in the retrial of researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy.* The undersigned organizations call on Egyptian authorities to drop this case and release Santawy immediately.
In June 2021, the ESSC sentenced Santawy to a four year prison sentence on unfounded charges, including “spreading false news.” After Santawy’s lawyer submitted a petition to cancel the prison sentence issued against him, the office for the ratification of verdicts accepted the petition, cancelling the prison sentence and ordering the retrial that began in February 2022 and is currently ongoing.
Santawy, a researcher and an anthropology master's student at the Central European University (CEU) in Vienna, has been arbitrarily detained since February 1, 2021, while on vacation in Egypt. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for five days before appearing before the Supreme State Security Prosecution. The authorities renewed Santawy’s detention ten times, included him in two cases, denied his lawyers access to the case files until June 1, 2021, and hurriedly convicted him only a month after his referral to trial. He faced baseless charges including spreading false news from outside the country about the domestic situation that may harm security and public order, and joining a terrorist group while being aware of its purposes. Santawy was subjected to torture and physical assault, and went on a hunger strike for 40 days in June 2021 in protest against his quick conviction without a legal basis. On January 28, 2022, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) found that the Egyptian government had arbitrarily detained Santawy in violation of international human rights law.
The retrial before the ESSC disregards due process and the guarantees of a fair trial, as it is an exceptional court established and operated under Egypt’s emergency law. ESSC rulings cannot be appealed and despite the end of the state of emergency in Egypt, Santawy’s retrial continues before this court.
Santawy’s case is emblematic of the severe repressive environment that Egyptian researchers and academics abroad face. In July 2021, two days after the minister of immigration warned that Egyptian students abroad pose a threat to national security as they return “with misconceptions,” Egyptian authorities briefly detained Alia Musallam, doctoral student and researcher specializing in oral history, upon her arrival to Cairo from Berlin. She was questioned about her study abroad and the reason for her return, but was later released on a 10,000 (EGP) bail. Walid Salem, a doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, was arbitrarily banned from travel after the Public Prosecutor added his name to the travel ban list. Patrick George Zaki, an Egyptian researcher and master’s student, was arrested on vague charges of “publishing false news.” On December 9, 2021, Zaki was released from detention; however, his charges have not been dropped and his trial before ESSC is set to resume on April 6, 2022. Authorities’ crackdown, harassment, interrogation, and imprisonment of Egyptian researchers is one of the most prominent patterns of human rights violations that are repeatedly practiced against the academic community in Egypt and their fundamental right to freedom of expression.
The undersigned organizations believe that such practices violate and harm the state of academic freedom and scientific research in Egypt. These practices will make Egypt a country repellent to and dangerous for researchers because of the severe limitations and security restrictions imposed on researchers. This, accordingly, will affect knowledge production and global cultural and scientific exchange.
Egyptian authorities must stop targeting Egyptian researchers and regarding them as “dangerous” because of their work and their exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Authorities should stop all forms of travel bans imposed on Egyptian researchers and drop all cases where researchers are charged with vague accusations like “spreading false news,” including the cases of Santawy, Salem, and Zaki. Authorities should allow researchers to travel freely to complete their studies abroad, and investigate the human rights violations they were subjected to during their detention.
We renew our call for authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Santawy in Case No. 744; drop all baseless charges against him, including in his first Case No. 65 of 2021; and investigate the violations he was subjected to during his detention.
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Scholars at Risk
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
* The retrial was adjourned to May 9, 2022.