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After one-year of unwarranted arrest and solitary confinement, Ramy Kamel must be freed

22 December 2020

As November 23, 2020 marked one year of solitary confinement for Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Egyptian human rights defender, 15 organizations urge American and European leaders to pressure Egyptian authorities to immediately release Ramy, lift all charges against him, and conduct effective investigations on allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against him.

On November 23, 2019, Ramy Kamel was arrested by Egyptian security forces and has been in pre-trial detention since, serving a full year in solitary confinement, in direct contravention of Egypt’s laws, which, in itself, is a form of punishment that could amount to torture or ill-treatment. Without credible evidence, Ramy was accused by the State Security Prosecutor General (SSSP), upon his arrest, of “disturbing the public peace through the misuse of social media and spreading false news, and with joining and financing a terrorist group” and is still waiting to be referred to court for trial.

Ramy’s arrest is part of a broader campaign by the Egyptian government to restrict freedom of expression and to repress and imprison those who defend human rights and minorities. Ramy is a human rights defender dedicating his work to the protection of the rights of individuals from the Coptic minority, through documenting and raising awareness on discrimination and violations committed against them. In April 2019, seven months before his arrest, Ramy had written a report on the discrimination suffered by Copts since President Al-Sisi came to power.

At the end of November 2020, he was also due to participate in the Forum on Minority Issues organized by the United Nations in Geneva, but was prevented to participate following his arrest. Rights groups and United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups, which compose the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, recognized that Ramy’s arrest is a direct effort by the Egyptian government to punish and silence him for documenting and publicizing human rights abuses against Coptic Christians, and that he must be released immediately. Ramy’s case was also mentioned in the last annual report on reprisals for cooperation with the UN, presented by Ilze Brands Kehris, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights. In December 2019, she already addressed patterns of intimidation and reprisals in writing to the Egyptian government.

Over his one-year long detention, Ramy’s rights have been violated on multiple occasions. He was allegedly tortured several times by national security officers on November 5, 2019, and November 23, 2019 without any investigation ever being opened into his allegations. He has been held since his arrest in solitary confinement for a full year without access to the Egyptian prison regulation guarantees for those held in solitary, which include a) two hours exercise per day – one in the morning and one in the evening –; b) access to receive books and newspapers; c) the right to access and use pen and paper to send and receive correspondence; and d) a daily doctor check-up. According to UN experts, this lengthy time in solitary amounts to torture, and further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of his detention. The Committee against torture also concluded that “that torture was a systematic practice in Egypt".

The right to a fair trial, including the right to defense, has been repeatedly breached, beginning with his arrest on November 23, when the SSSP interrogated Ramy without his lawyers being present, after which a 15-days pre-trial detention order was issued. His lawyers were able to attend the hearing on November 24, during which they attempted to file a complaint with the SSSP in the Fifth District demanding the right to attend Ramy’s hearings. However, the SSSP did not register the attorneys’ complaint. Other irregularities include his pre-trial renewal session being delayed from March 18 to May 3. On May 3, Ramy’s detention was renewed for an additional 45 days. Neither he nor his attorneys were present at this hearing. On June 4, Ramy’s detention was again renewed for 45 days, without his presence. His July 1 session was postponed to July 12, at which time he again received a 45-day extension of his detention.

Ramy’s attorneys have been denied documentation from these sessions which is contrary to the Criminal Procedures Code, the right to legal defense, and to a fair trial. To date, they still have not received the official documentation of the case against Ramy, including any evidence held against him, preventing his attorney’s from preparing a proper defense, in violation to article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party.

Egyptian National Security have claimed that Ramy Kamel received money from international transactions, without providing any evidence of these transactions. His attorneys submitted a verified document from the Postal Office, showing only two transactions in Ramy’s name during the alleged period, and both were local transactions, with one of him sending money, and the other receiving it. Egyptian authorities also launched a smear campaign to tarnish his reputation in the media and through these false allegations, made without presenting any evidence, in violation to article 17 of the ICCPR. To date, no official investigation has been undertaken by the Egyptian government into these financial allegations or to deal with his attorneys’ claims that the SSSP documentation was forged. His last official hearing was held on 2 December 2019 demonstrating the lack of legal basis of his continued detention in violation of articles 9(3) and 14(3)(c) ICCPR.

On August 23, Ramy Kamel’s sister was able to visit him for 20 minutes during which an officer was in the room writing down their entire conversation. During this meeting, his sister noted that Ramy has lost about one third of his weight and he confirmed that he was in a very poor state of mental health, due to prolonged solitary confinement, and conveyed that he was suffering repeated asthma attacks and has not received proper medical care, despite serious risks due to the Covid-19 spread in Egyptian prisons.

Reportedly, three prisoners and a staff member of Tora Prison died of Covid-19.

His one-year detention anniversary happened just after three members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a prominent Egyptian human rights NGO, were arrested by Egyptian authorities, a clear and worrying signal from the Egyptian authorities to the international community. The arrests were allegedly made in direct reprisal for a meeting in early November between the EIPR and 14 foreign diplomats, including British, Canadian, French, German, and European union diplomatic representations in Cairo.

However, human rights organizations and advocates stood up everywhere to protest against this blatant attack against the Egyptian civil society, requesting their government to pressure Egyptian authorities to release the EIPR staff. This also happened a couple of weeks before a state visit by President al-Sisi to France, where demands from human rights activists and organizations insisted on their liberation before the visit took place, with media coverage on this visit was primarily focused on the human rights situation in Egypt. Eventually, the three staff members were freed just prior to al-Sisi’s visit to France, but the staffers remain under criminal investigation.

We believe these liberations, despite the continuity of criminal investigations, are a positive and encouraging step to continue mounting the pressure on Egyptian authorities to free Ramy Kamel and other prisoners of conscience that are arbitrarily detained.

We, the undersigned organizations, join our voices to urge American and European leaders to pressure the Egyptian government to immediately release Mr. Ramy Kamel, lift all charges against him in Case no. 1475 of 2019, and conduct effective investigations to ensure that those responsible for the violations, including all acts of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are prosecuted and punished.

A copy of this letter will be sent to:

- Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights;

- Ilze Brands Kehris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights;

- The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;

- Joseph Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy;

- Fernand De Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues;

- Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;

- Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;

- Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

- Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism;

- Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;

- Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Signing organizations:

- ACAT-France

- Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies

- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

- Coptic Solidarity

- The Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF)

- Euromed Rights

- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

- The Freedom Initiative

- International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

- Initiative franco-égyptienne pour les droits et les libertés (IFEDL)

- International Christian Concern (ICC)

- Jubilee Campaign

- MENA Rights Group

- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

- 21Wilberforce

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