A letter signed by civil society figures calls on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and United States President Barack Obama to raise the issue of grave human rights violations in Egypt with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, as the latter appears at UN meetings in New York City.
In particular, the letter calls on Ban and Obama to raise the case of imprisoned founder of the 6 April Youth Movement Ahmed Maher, currently incarcerated in Egypt, with Al-Sisi. Obama and Ban are understood to have both previously called for the release of Maher, who has been in prison for 22 months for violating the Protest law.
The letter carries the signatures of around 50 academics, politicians, religious figures and friends, including prominent thinker Noam Chomsky, recently released Egyptian activist Mohamed Soltan, and European Parliament Vice President Dimitrios Papadimoulis.
“The case of Maher and his co-defendants – Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel – in which they received a three years prison sentence in December 2013 is indicative of the politicization of the judiciary and a wider campaign to crack down on peaceful political opposition to the regime,” the letter reads.
The 6 April Movement, which Maher and Adel helped establish, is widely credited for being a key actor in the pro-democratic protests that led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The letter lists various international rights conventions which it holds Egypt to have violated, including the UN Convention on Torture, saying Maher “has been subjected to torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, his right to a fair trial violated along with his security and freedom”.
“While lauded as a beacon of hope by world leaders after the ousting of Mubarak, Ahmed considers one of his proudest moments to be taking the stage at the U.N. Human Rights Day in 2012 and being introduced by you, Mr. Secretary General,” the letter says, addressing Ban.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is currently in New York, taking part in the UN General Assembly meetings. On Wednesday, a day before Al-Sisi departed for New York, his office granted presidential pardons to 100 activists and journalists detained in Egyptian prisons.
The pardons included many high-profile figures, including Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, and activists Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam. However, critics said that the pardons were a publicity stunt, with many unjustly held individuals remaining behind bars.
The letter states that the detention “of non-violent activists is part of a pattern and policy that continues today, Amr Ali the General Coordinator of April 6th was arrested by State Security this week and detained without a lawyer present for 15 days in Tora Prison”.
“Currently there are over 41,000 people arrested since June 30, 2013, according to Egyptian human rights groups. Hundreds have been forcibly disappeared (including minors). Many of these civilians are now appearing for the first time on trial in Military Courts. Repression of human rights and violations of the rule of law will not result in positive outcomes for security,” the letter continues.
Egypt maintains that it has no political prisoners and that detainees’ rights are respected in places of imprisonment.