Our Voices

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Submits Petition on Behalf of Mahmoud Hussein – “The T-Shirt Detainee”

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has submitted a communication to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) on behalf of Mahmoud Hussein, often referred to as the “T-Shirt Detainee.” Mahmoud is presently held at the notorious Badr Prison in Cairo, Egypt and requires urgent medical care.

Mahmoud is a young Egyptian student and artist who was first arrested in 2014 as he returned home from the January 25 Revolution anniversary demonstration. Egyptian authorities detained Mahmoud for wearing a January 25 protest scarf and a t-shirt with the slogan “a nation without torture.” Following his arrest, the authorities tortured Mahmoud for hours. The Government never filed formal charges or presented evidence against Mahmoud.

After over two years of pre-trial detention, Mahmoud was released on bail in March 2016, and he began the process of rehabilitation. He returned to school and established a small business producing T-shirts and artwork. However, during a job application process in 2019, Mahmoud was informed that his background check results detected a verdict had been entered against him by the Emergency State Security Court (ESSC). The ESSC adopted a two-page judgment and subsequently sentenced him to life imprisonment. Mahmoud and his lawyers were not informed about the trial and, as such, did not have an opportunity to present his defense. Nearly a decade after his first arrest, Mahmoud was arrested for a second time on August 30, 2023, supposedly in execution of the verdict entered in absentia.

The communication to the UNWGAD establishes how Egypt has repeatedly violated Mahmoud’s fundamental rights and ignored international law standards. This communication serves as an update to an urgent action and petition filed in November 2015 following Mahmoud’s first detention. The present communication highlights that both the earlier and ongoing detentions constitute arbitrary detention and deprivation of liberty contrary to international law. It establishes that Mahmoud’s arrest was in direct reprisal for the exercise of his fundamental right to freedom of expression and opinion.

The Hussein family released the following statement following the submission of the communication: “We are very proud of Mahmoud. Demanding a nation without torture is not a crime, but it is unfortunate that he [Mahmoud] spends the best days of his life in prison. Please do not forget Mahmoud and continue to keep his story alive domestically and internationally.”

“Mahmoud’s case is emblematic of the closed civic space in Egypt and the government’s intolerance for civic engagement and participation,” said Ikechukwu Uzoma, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “We urge the UNWGAD to urgently determine the Mahmoud Hussein petition and strongly call on Egypt to bring Mahmoud’s situation in conformity with international human rights law,” he added.