Egypt: Arbitrary Detention and Ill-Treatment of Women’s Rights Student Ahmed Samir Santawy

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Egypt.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Ahmed Samir Santawy, a master’s student in Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University (CEU) of Austria, in Vienna, whose academic work focuses on women’s rights in Egypt, particularly on the history of reproductive rights. His main concern is the protection of women’s reproductive rights and their access to legal and safe treatments in order to preserve their lives.

On December 15, 2020, Ahmed Samir Santawy was briefly interrogated(1) at Sharm Elsheikh International Airport in Cairo upon his arrival to Egypt on a study holiday to visit his family, before being allowed to leave the airport.

On January 23, 2021, at 2:00 am, heavily armed and masked officials from the Central Security Forces broke into Ahmed Samir Santawy’s house in Cairo, conducted a search without presenting any warrant, and seized CCTV video footage.

On February 1, 2021, Ahmed Samir Santawy was detained by the Egyptian Security Forces after he was called into the Fifth Settlement Section Police Headquarters, and was held incommunicado for the following five days. On February 6, a hearing took place before the State Security Prosecutor, during which he was allowed access to his lawyers, but was not able to talk to them privately.

On that day, the State Security Prosecutor formally charged Ahmed Samir Santawy with “joining a terrorist organization”, “deliberately spreading false news and data”, and “use of a private account on the Internet to spread false news or data”. These charges are based on screenshots from a Facebook account which allegedly belongs to Ahmed Samir Santawy. The prosecution has remanded Mr. Santawy to pretrial detention in Case 65 of 2021 at the Liman Tora prison, south of Cairo. Since then, he has had no access to his lawyers or relatives.

During the February-6 hearing, Ahmed Samir Santawy reported that he had been subjected to beating, and ill-treatment by the National Security Agency during his interrogation on February 1, 2021. He was reportedly slapped on the face and severely beaten during the three-hour interrogation, in order to force him to confess crimes he did not commit. He was blindfolded and handcuffed for prolonged periods of time in the days following the interrogation. His lawyers requested the referral of Mr. Samir to the forensics in order to verify the allegations of ill-treatment, but the prosecution did not order it and no investigation has been opened into these allegations.

On February 17, 2021, the Supreme State Security Prosecution renewed Ahmed Samir Santawy’s detention for 15 days pending investigations. Mr. Santawy and his lawyers were not allowed to attend the prosecution’s hearing, in violation of the right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Observatory recalls that Ahmed Samir Santawy is not the first international student who has been targeted by the Egyptian authorities. On February 7, 2020, postgraduate student at Bologna University (Italy) and Gender and Human Rights researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Patrick George Zaki was arrested at Cairo airport upon his arrival from Italy and allegedly subjected to torture during his interrogations. He has been charged with “publishing rumours and false news that aim to disturb social peace and sow chaos”, “incitement to protest without permission from the relevant authorities with the aim of undermining state authority”, “calling for the overthrow of the state”, “managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety” and “incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes”, and has remained in detention in Tora prison ever since.

The Observatory further recalls that Egyptian authorities have increasingly employed repressive tactics such as the arbitrary revival of cases, prolonged pre-trial detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and judicial harassment to silence all critical voices, including through unfounded investigations for national security and counter-terrorism related charges.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the arbitrary detention and alleged ill-treatment of Ahmed Samir Santawy and Patrick George Zaki and calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them and to carry out an investigation into these acts.