Our Voices

Egypt: RFK Human Rights Calls for the Immediate Release of Mahmoud Hussein

Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights strongly condemns the re-arrest and arbitrary detention of Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, who already spent over two years in pretrial detention for wearing an anti-torture t-shirt. We are deeply concerned by reports of Mahmoud’s deteriorating health and demand his immediate and unconditional release. We also call upon the Egyptian authorities to quash his conviction and sentence and to drop all charges against him.

“As a young hopeful Egyptian student expressing his support for universally accepted human rights, Mahmoud never should have spent one day in jail the first time, let alone a second,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Re-arresting Mahmoud nearly ten years after his first arbitrary arrest only highlights the extent to which the Egyptian government criminalizes civic engagement. Mahmoud’s resilience inspires us in the face of unending repression, and we urge the government of Egypt to cease its flagrant violations of domestic and international law,” she added.

Mahmoud had just turned 18 years old when he was first arbitrarily arrested by Egyptian authorities. On January 25, 2014, Mahmoud was on his way home from a peaceful demonstration commemorating the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution when security forces stopped him at a Cairo checkpoint because he was wearing a January 25 protest scarf and a t-shirt with the slogan, “a nation without torture.” For this harmless expression of hope, the authorities proceeded to subject Mahmoud to over 4 hours of beatings and electric shocks to his back, hands, and testicles and forced Mahmoud to falsely confess to various fabricated charges under the duress of torture.

For 789 days, Egyptian authorities held the young Mahmoud in pretrial detention at the notoriously brutal Tora Prison without any formal charges being filed against him. During this period, RFK Human Rights submitted an urgent action and petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, establishing the illegality of his detention and highlighting the harrowing conditions he was forced to endure. In response to domestic and international pressure, Mahmoud was finally released on bail in March 2016.

Seven years later, Mahmoud has yet to experience complete freedom as an adult in Egypt. The days since his detention were marred by threatening phone calls and harassment from police. Although he had been physically released, the case against him was never dropped, and the risk of being re-arrested loomed large. That risk has now materialized.

On August 30, 2023, Mahmoud was arbitrarily arrested and detained for a second time on the basis of a judgment delivered against him in absentia. In February 2018 – in his absence and without input from his lawyers – the authorities held a sham trial against him on bogus terrorism-related charges. Without producing any evidence to substantiate the charges and in violation of due process, the Emergency State Security Court convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Mahmoud is currently detained in Badr 1 Prison, under constant surveillance, and held in inhumane conditions. Mahmoud’s mental and physical health is precarious because of the abuse and medical neglect he experienced during his first detention at the Tora Prison. Prior to his second arrest, he had two hip-replacement surgeries and needs regular monitoring by medical professionals for his recovery. He also suffers from a fistula issue, for which he was advised he needs urgent surgery. In addition, Mahmoud requires medical treatment for panic attacks resulting from his previous detention.

“Mahmoud’s imprisonment for over two years was a nightmare for the family, as prison is a place that kills dreams,” Mahmoud’s family said. “Mahmoud’s release from prison was like an attempt to escape for us and for Mahmoud, but the difficult effects of imprisonment still linger. Now, after more than seven years, we find ourselves living in the same nightmare again, under even harder circumstances due to Mahmoud’s difficult health condition. However, the family will try to support him in every way because he deserves a better life. Demanding a country without torture is not a crime that deserves imprisonment, and he should not be spending the best days of his life behind bars.”

For the past decade, Egyptian authorities have enacted a sustained campaign against Mahmoud, simply because he wore a t-shirt that expressed his hope for an Egypt free from torture. In fact, Mahmoud is just one of thousands who are victims of Egypt’s practice of abusing domestic pretrial detention procedures to disproportionately punish anyone perceived as critical of the Government. Despite calls from civil society and members of the international community, Egypt’s repression of peaceful protestors has only escalated in recent years. A New York Times investigation last year revealed that some 4,500 people were held in pretrial detention during a single six-month period, many of them also on unsubstantiated terrorism-related charges. Further data from the last five years indicates that 4,773 individuals have been held in pretrial detention for longer than two years. Of those 4,773 individuals, 1,418 were held for longer than four years.

Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are the cornerstones of a thriving democracy. Egypt has a binding obligation to respect, promote, and protect these rights. We strongly urge the Egyptian government to release Mahmoud and to amend the criminal procedure provisions which enable it to continue its gross violations of the rights of thousands of people held in pretrial detention without charge.