Our Voices

RFK Human Rights Welcomes Release of Mahmoud Hussein

(March 28, 2016 | Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights welcomes the physical release of its client 20-year old student Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein—who the organization represents before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention—and calls upon the Egyptian authorities to drop its case against Mahmoud in its entirety. Mahmoud was released on bail early morning on Friday by authorities in Cairo after being arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and unlawfully detained for 789 days.

Mahmoud’s case is also representative of the lengths to which the Egyptian government is willing to go to silence any form of dissent. Since 2013, the number of pretrial detainees in Egypt has exponentially increased. As per the most recent official Egyptian Prison Authority count announced in December 2014, out of 12,800 persons detained since June 2013, 7,389 were still being held in pretrial detention. The United States Department of State reports that this number alone reflects a 360% increase over the prior year’s estimate of pretrial detainees. Meanwhile, Egyptian organizations are estimating that the total number of political prisoners in Egypt totals closer to 40,000.

In recent weeks the Egyptian government has also escalated its broader crackdown against civil society, as it seeks to shut down some of the country’s most prominent rights groups. Mahmoud’s release serves as a stark reminder of the need for a strong and independent Egyptian civil society to advocate on behalf of victims of human rights violations in Egypt.

Detailed History of the Case

Just days after his 18th birthday, on January 25, 2014, Mahmoud was returning home from a peaceful demonstration commemorating the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution when he was stopped by police at a Cairo checkpoint for wearing a January 25 protest scarf and a t-shirt with the slogan “a nation without torture.” After his arbitrary arrest, Mahmoud was subjected to over 4 hours of beatings and electric shocks to his back, hands, and testicles. Egyptian authorities then forced Mahmoud to falsely confess under the duress of torture to outlandish accusations such as possessing Molotov cocktails and hand grenades, belonging to a “terrorist” group, protesting without authorization, and receiving money to protest, though formal charges have never been filed.

Mahmoud’s health deteriorated significantly while he was held at the Tora Investigations Prison. He lost a significant amount of weight and is in need of immediate joint replacement surgery in his right leg. At his most recent court hearing, Mahmoud was carried into the courtroom due to his inability to walk.

While in pretrial detention, Mahmoud faced near-automatic detention renewals by the Cairo Criminal Court—at least 22 of which were decided in his absence due to the failure of the prison authorities to transport him to the courtroom. Despite repeated requests, his lawyers were not granted access to any documentation regarding the case or potential charges against Mahmoud. While the length of Mahmoud’s detention already violated Egypt’s international human rights legal obligations, on January 25, 2016, Mahmoud completed two years in pretrial detention in violation of the two-year maximum set forth for pretrial detention even under Egyptian law.

On February 17, 2016, the East Cairo Prosecution decided to refer Mahmoud’s case to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, the branch of the prosecution charged with investigating terrorism and matters of national security and which is known for sham trials and refusing to provide lawyers with official charge sheets and makes it extremely difficult for representatives to meet with their clients.

On March 22, 2016, a presiding judge ordered Mahmoud’s release upon a bail payment of 1,000 Egyptian Pounds (~US$113). On March 23, 2016, the East Cairo Prosecution appealed the release decision; the Prosecution’s motion was ultimately unsuccessful and the release order was upheld on March 24, 2016.

While Mahmoud was physically released on bail on March 25, 2016, the Egyptian government’s case against Mahmoud remains ongoing, and Mahmoud could still face potential charges of protesting illegally and belonging to a terrorist organization. Under international human rights law, Egypt has an obligation to investigate all allegations of torture and hold those responsible accountable.