Punitive Pretrial Detention in Egypt


Since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in June 2013, the Egyptian authorities have increasingly sought to punish journalists and others who dare to speak freely, criticize the government, and publish views that differ from the regime’s narrative. In 2018 well over 100 people were arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression. They face unfounded accusations of “joining banned groups”, “spreading false news”, and “insulting the president” and often languish in prison for months or even years without being formally charged or given the chance to defend themselves at trial.

Pretrial detention is favored by the Egyptian authorities as a tool to eliminate perceived opposition, as it serves both to silence criticism and to intimidate other would-be dissidents into self-censorship. Rather than abiding by its obligations under international law to employ pretrial detention only as strictly necessary and as a last resort – particularly in the absence of well-founded charges – Egypt uses pretrial detention as a form of punishment and retaliation. The indefinite nature of Egypt’s pretrial detention in practice can amount to a form of psychological torture designed to leave detainees and their families without clarity about their situation or hope for the future.

Egyptian journalists are at high risk of pretrial detention, with Egypt ranking as “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists”. Such detentions form part of a broader crackdown on free expression in Egypt. The government has blocked hundreds of websites, thereby preventing Egyptians from accessing information from independent news sources and rights organizations. Last year, the authorities claimed even greater powers to curb free expression by passing new legislation to tightly regulate media outlets, treat legitimate online expression as “cybercrime”, and arbitrarily block social media profiles with more than 5,000 followers.

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