RED CARD! Egypt uses Africa Cup of Nations as cover for abuses.

We undersigned organizations and individuals draw your attention to continuing, grave human rights violations in Egypt, including the arbitrary detention of labor rights lawyer, Haytham Mohamadein, and Mostafa Maher, a former peaceful political activist and brother of April 6 Movement co-founder Ahmed Maher. Both Mostafa and Haytham were arrested in May 2019, secretly detained for a long period of time and denied due process guarantees. They were charged in a State security case on the basis of “suspicion of intent” to publicly criticize the Egyptian government’s human rights record during the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.


These are only two cases of many. According to Human Rights Watch, Egypt currently holds an estimated 60 000 political prisoners. Hundreds of people, including children and human rights defenders, have been forcibly disappeared, and civilians are routinely given unfair trials in military and state security courts. Egypt is the world’s fourth biggest prison for media personnel, according to Reporters without Borders. Human rights non-governmental organizations have been shut down. Activists are targeted, banned from leaving the country, or jailed.


Many charges are based on an overly broad anti-terrorism law which equates peaceful human rights advocacy and civil and political dissent with terrorism. Mostafa’s brother Ahmed, Alaa Abd El Fattah and photographer Mahmoud “Shawkan” Abou Zied and many others are required to serve a secondary ‘dual-punishment’ sentence where they are in police custody each evening from 6pm-6am. Prolonged pretrial detention affects hundreds including activist Mohamed Adel, dentist Walid Shawky and lawyer Mohamed Ramadan who has been in pretrial detention for 204 days after he was arrested for wearing a yellow vest. Ramy el Sayed, a member of the April 6th movement, was arrested for attending the funeral of Ahmed El-Masry, who died after having been shot by Egyptian police services in August 2013,he was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. These are a few of the people whose lives are being taken away from them.


The most recent waves of arrests and undue restrictions on rights should be understood in the context of the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament is of crucial importance for the Egyptian government’s public image and diplomacy. However, large football games have traditionally provided a forum for Egyptian youth to express their political dissent through chants and banners in the stadiums. Because of this, football fans have been one of the main targets of the current crackdown. In May 2019, members of a football fan group (the Ultras White Knights) were arrested and secretly detained. In June 2019 Algerian football fans were arrested over protest slogans. Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a housing rights lawyer was forcibly disappeared in June 2019. We fear that the arrests of Maher and Mohamadein’s marked the beginning of a new crackdown against individuals known to peacefully criticize the government in the run-up to, and during, the Africa Cup of Nations.

The circumstances of their arrests constitute “precautionary measures” taken by the authorities to prevent peaceful activists and lawyers from using the Africa Cup of Nations to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

This letter calls on the Organizing Committee for Africa Cup of Nations, the Sponsors of the Africa Cup as well as the Egyptian authorities to take all appropriate and necessary measures to ensure the immediate release of Maher and Mohamadein as well as all other peaceful activists and supporters who have been arrested in the context of the sporting event. The CAF and sponsors of the tournament should insist that the Egyptian government respect the rights of football supporters to the peaceful expression of their views. Continue

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