72 NGOs urge Egyptian authorities to release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy

72 NGOs urge Egyptian authorities to release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy

Apr 13, 2021

We, the undersigned 72 organizations, call upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release 29-year-old student and researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy, who has been arbitrarily detained since 1 February 2021 on bogus terrorism-related charges. The undersigned organizations further call on the authorities to ensure prompt, independent, impartial, transparent, and effective investigations into Ahmed Samir Santawy’s allegations of being subjected to enforced disappearance and ill-treatment by security forces following his arrest. 

The undersigned organizations consider that Ahmed Samir Santawy, a researcher and master’s student of anthropology at the Vienna-based Central European University (CEU), is arbitrarily detained solely because of his academic work focusing on women's rights, including the history of reproductive rights in Egypt.

The prosecutors based their accusations upon a NSA investigations file, which neither Ahmed Samir Santawy nor his lawyers were permitted to examine, as well as social media posts he denied authoring.

On 23 January 2021, seven masked and armed policemen raided Ahmed Samir Santawy's family home when he was not there, and instructed for Ahmed Samir Santawy to present himself to the National Security Agency (NSA), a specialized police force, without providing any reasons. When he did as instructed on 1 February, security forces arrested him and subjected him to an enforced disappearance until 6 February. He said that during this period NSA officials beat him, including by slapping him on the face and punching him in the stomach, while handcuffed and blindfolded, at the Fifth Settlement Police Station. 

On 6 February 2021, Ahmed Samir Santawy was brought for questioning before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) , a special branch of the Public Prosecution responsible for prosecuting crimes that relate to “state security”. The prosecutor accused Ahmed Samir Santawy of "membership in a terrorist group," "spreading false news," and "using a social media account to spread false news" in Supreme State Security case no.65/2021. On 23 February, at a separate hearing, another prosecutor said he was also being investigated for “funding a terrorist organization”. The prosecutors based their accusations upon a NSA investigations file, which neither Ahmed Samir Santawy nor his lawyers were permitted to examine, as well as social media posts he denied authoring.

Ahmed Samir Santawy told the SSSP that during his initial detention, NSA officers questioned him about his research work and involvement in a Facebook page critical of the authorities, which he denied. Ahmed Samir Santawy further told the SSSP that he has been held in solitary confinement, in a cold cell without access to adequate clothing and bedding.

The prosecutors questioned Ahmed Samir Santawy about his academic work and studies, including his work on Islam and abortion, and about anti-government posts from a Facebook account that he denied authoring. Ahmed Samir Santawy told the SSSP that during his initial detention, NSA officers also questioned him about his research work and involvement in a Facebook page critical of the authorities, which he denied as well. Ahmed Samir Santawy further told the SSSP during a hearing on 23 February that he has been held in solitary confinement, in a cold cell without access to adequate clothing and bedding. The SSSP failed to order an investigation into his allegations of being forcibly disappeared and beaten by the NSA, and did not respond to requests by Ahmed Samir Santawy’s lawyers to refer him to the Forensic Medical Authority for examination.

Ahmed Samir Santawy was moved out of solitary confinement and is now held in pre-trial detention at Liman Tora Prison. His pre-trial detention was renewed in his and his lawyers’ absence four times, denying him the right to challenge the legality of his detention.

The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that, pending his release, Ahmed Samir Santawy is granted immediate and regular access to his family and lawyers, provided with adequate healthcare, and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.


Background:

Ahmed Samir Santawy's arrest comes against the backdrop of an unprecedented crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Egypt. In recent years, security forces have rounded up hundreds of human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, politicians, peaceful protesters, journalists, medical workers, as well as researchers and academics, and subjected them to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, and prolonged pre-trial detention pending investigations into unfounded terrorism-related charges. In February 2020, security forces arrested Patrick George Zaki, a gender rights researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and master’s student at the University of Bologna in Italy, upon his arrival to Egypt. He has been held in pre-trial detention over baseless terrorism-related charges since then. In May 2018, Walid Salem, a PhD researcher at the University of Washington was arrested after returning to Egypt for his field work. Walid Salem was provisionally released pending investigations in December 2018, after spending seven months in pre-trial detention, but the authorities ban him from travelling outside Egypt. These attacks against academics and researchers further undermine the already limited academic freedom in the country. 

Signatories:

1. Amnesty International

2. Human Rights Watch

3. Scholars at Risk

4. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

6. EuroMed Rights Network

7. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

8. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

9. International Service for Human Rights

10. Egyptian Front for Human Rights

11. Initiative franco-égyptienne pour les droits les libertés

12. Committee for Justice

13. The Freedom Initiative

14. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

15. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

16. People In Need

17. MENA Rights Group

18. Middle East Studies Association of North America

19. PEN International

20. Center for Reproductive Rights

21. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (AfricanDefenders)

22. Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms

23. Regional Center for Rights and Liberties

24. Human Rights First

25. Hungarian Europe Society

26. Clean Air Action Group (Environmental Association)

27. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)

28. El Nadim Center

29. Ankh (Arab Network for Knowledge about Human Rights)

30. Cairo 52 Legal Research Institute

31. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement (HUMENA Regional)

32. Háttér Society

33. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

34. Ökotárs - Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation

35. Kenya Human Rights Commission

36. Сenter for Civil Liberties

37. humanrights.ch

38. Tunisian Human Rights League

39. CIVICUS

40. Comité de Vigilance pour la Démocratie en Tunisie - Belgique

41. Mwatana for Human Rights

42. Egyptian Human Rights Forum

43. Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Freedoms

44. CALAM

45. DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION AND HUMAN Rights Support Center "DAAM"

46. Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty

47. Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development-AFTUDR

48. Nachaz Association

49. Utcáról Lakásba! Egyesület

50. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State

51. Comisiones Obreras

52. Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

53. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l'Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée (ROSE)

54. Tunisian Association of the Democratic Women (ATFD)

55. Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES)

56. Organisation du martyr de la liberté Nabil Barkati : Mémoire et fidelité

57. MEDITERRANEAN CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY FOUNDATION (FACM)

58. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

59. CEAR PV

60. Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens-SNJT

61. Aufstehn

62. Caminando Fronteras

63. Reprieve

64. Robert F Kennedy Human Rights

65. ARCI

66. Reporter ohne Grenzen Österreich (RSF)

67. ICID (Iniciativas de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo)

68. Österreichische Liga für Menschenrechte

69. Kvinna till Kvinna

70. Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights

71. ZARA (Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit)

72. European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC Graz) – Host of the International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights at the Local and Regional Levels under the auspices of UNESCO

Author: PIN