During the National Youth Conference on 25-27 October in Sharm El-Sheikh, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decision to form the Detained Youth Committee in order to reconsider the situation of some prisoners, as the forum witnessed demands to reconsider the cases of many young detainees.
Member of parliament Tarek El-Khouly is a member of the committee, as well as part of the parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs, and a member the pro-government parliamentary coalition ‘’Egypt’s Support’’.
Lawyer El-Khouly also used to be a member of the 6 April Youth Movement, and another youth coalition that was supporting the 25 January Revolution and opposed the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak. Following the revolution, El-Khouly ran as a candidate in the parliamentary elections of 2011, to no avail.
The Detained Youth Committee is mainly concerned with pretrial detainees and prisoners who obtained initial verdicts. As for prisoners who were handed final court verdicts, their cases fall under the authority of the president who can pardon them.
Human rights groups, lawyers, and some political parties sent lists of detainees’ names and complaints, amid some scepticism regarding the committee’s potential achievements.
Daily News Egypt spoke to El-Khouly, a supporter of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime, about how the committee should work on the detainees’ cases, and other local and foreign affairs.
This interview was conducted prior to Al-Sisi’s decision on Saturday to extend the committee’s work, appointing it to also look into cases of prisoners who faced final verdicts instead of just pre-trail detentions, pending trials, or preliminary rulings.
Which categories of detainees will the committee be reviewing?
We have prioritised students and female detainees, as well as detainees imprisoned in cases related to freedom of expression, including journalists and writers such as Ahmed Nagy.
Based on which criteria will the committee decide which detainees deserve to be released?
We decided on three essential standards or eligibility criteria during the committee’s first organisational meeting on 2 November, based on requirements of the Egyptian presidency.
Firstly, prisoners must be pending trials and investigations. Secondly, they can’t be involved in any cases of violence. Thirdly, they cannot belong to a terrorist group. If the detainee’s situation matches these conditions, his situation will be fixed.
Some cases have become popular locally and internationally, but you previously said that the committee “is not designed for famous detainees”. Does this imply that they will be excluded from your list?
Definitely not. Yes, I said that but I meant that justice is for everyone, because some people believe that we created the committee to release some famous prisoners for the sake of media propaganda and this is not true. We are investigating all cases.
We don’t care if the prisoners are well-known or not, because we are in a situation that requires justice, and we will be accountable if we violate that.
We always remember that there are mothers who will pray for us, and that our conscience is the one that should govern. We will fix all cases, whether famous or not famous, if they are eligible.
Among challenges facing political detainees are arbitrary detentions and vague charges. How will the committee deal with these cases, given that in the end most political detainees are given similar charges despite the differences in their cases?
Yes, it is true. A number of cases are confusing and we are studying them. We understand that there are some prisoners who are facing unclear charges, that cannot even be considered crimes, and we have the ability to tackle these vague accusations. Some accusations are also arbitrarily attributed to people.
We are keen to examine all cases, especially those for which we suspect injustice and in which the prisoners’ families complain that their imprisoned relatives do not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, were randomly arrested, and then involved in cases related to the outlawed group.
Can you clarify how the committee studies the cases? Do you refer to the prosecution documents?
As I said previously, we receive copies of some documents regarding the investigations and charges. When we read the charges and find ambiguous terms, we deepen our own examination.
We try to clarify whether they were really misjudged or not by contacting concerned institutions, such as the security apparatuses, to provide information that can help.
Noticeably, most complaints that were received about prisoners arrested in cases related to the Brotherhood said their sons were falsely arrested and that they do not belong to the outlawed group.
In some cases, the remand period exceeded the legal two-year duration of pretrial detention. Several prisoners were held in remand for more than 1,000 days. How will the committee deal with this?
Pretrial detention was amended during the era of former interim president Adly Mansour for the purpose of not allowing Brotherhood members to get out of prison and commit more violent crimes.
But when the pretrial detention lasts for long periods, it turns into punishment. This requires re-enactment, and this will be one of our committee’s recommendations.
I believe there should be a differentiation between defendants based on the types of crimes they are accused of committing. A publishing crime is different than a terrorist crime, and therefore would not require a severe precaution measure, such as a long pretrial detention.
When can we see prisoners walking free?
I still do not know. The committee’s time schedule is 15 days since it started its work at the beginning of November, after which it will submit the list of names. After that, the matter will be in the hands of law enforcers.
Every prisoner’s condition has different legal procedures, as those who are imprisoned pending investigation will not be released until approved by the general prosecutor. The detainees referred to court and registered in cases will be released after comprehensive pardon which has to be decided by the parliament.
Our job is to say who deserves to be released, but the actual implementation will be in the hands of the judiciary.
Some political parties are talking about a possible draft law for general amnesty?
This law is important for detainees who have been referred to court and registered in cases, but still did not face sentences. They can be released through general amnesty but that law requires the approval of the parliament according to Article 155. The Ministry of Justice has started to study its legalisation before it is sent to the parliament.
What are your comments regarding the criticism surrounding the presence of journalist Nashwa Al-Houfy, who previously opposed the idea of pardoning political detainees, as some saw that this would impact the committee’s credibility?
The only one who can answer this is Al-Houfy, as she is the only one who can clarify the reasons behind her statements. However, I will say that I see her performance in the committee as very neutral and to the committee’s standards. I believe the doubts that surround Al-Houfy and even other members in the committee were created by the Muslim Brotherhood, because we previously announced that they would be excluded from our work.
How do you evaluate the situation of human rights in Egypt and the continued security crackdown on civil society?
We have several issues that require legal regulation, including the work of civil society. Such work requires disciplined legislation to grant the freedom to work on issues that related to civil society so long as violations are not committed. There is law currently being prepared and I think it will organise the work of civil society NGOs and their relations with the state.
Regarding travel bans, if they were decided upon by the prosecution then they would be considered legal, but if they are decided upon by the National Security apparatus then they would be considered not legal.
Relations between freedom and security are by nature very complicated and require democracy and social maturity in order for both sides to be respectable and understanding of each other. Creating a balanced relationship between both sides will take time.
Regarding international reports of documented human rights violations, there are violations against human rights but still these reports and their observations are mistaken, as these violations occurred under the Mubarak era as well. No one talked about them then, so why is everyone talking about them now.
As a member of the tripartite fact-finding parliamentary committee, what is the latest update regarding the investigations into the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni?
First of all, let us agree that when Egypt witnesses strong relations with any country they are also subject to interruption. This has not only happened with Italy, but also with France and Russia.
Regeni’s murder has certainly impacted relations between both countries. We have followed the case and passed several recommendations to the head of the parliament.
The recommendation included the necessity to politically and diplomatically address the issue, and more importantly we recommended that Regeni’s family visit Cairo to understand what the parliament has reached so far in the investigations. We have also recommended that delegations from both countries be exchanged in order to follow the case.
Regarding the general prosecutor’s visits, we succeeded in arranging for an Egyptian judicial figure to meet with Regeni’s mother and this was a great step forward in the investigation.
What are your expectations for the final results and whether it will prove the Egyptian authorities involvement?
We still don’t have information proving the involvement of Egypt’s National Security apparatus. As the Egyptian parliament, we only have interest in the truth and have no interest in hiding anything.
But the Egyptian general prosecution released a report questioning the narrative of the Ministry of Interior regarding the five suspects that were killed in relation to the Regeni case?
The investigation has not yet concluded and we are still waiting for the final results of the judicial system’s investigations. As of now, these are all suspicions.
How do you view Egypt’s progress in this case?
In the beginning, things proceeded very slowly and that resulted in tension growing between both countries, but I believe that things have improved.
Do you think that Egypt’s support of the US will impact relations with Saudi Arabia, particularly following the election of Donald Trump as the next US president and Saudi reluctance to support him?
We should separate the relationship between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Countries should separate their relations between each country from the other. This works the same for Saudi Arabia, as it should separate its relationship with us from our reaction to the US presidential elections.
For instance, when Saudi Arabia rejected Egypt’s voting for the Russian resolution in the UN security council, Egypt responded to this by saying that there should be a separation between their relationship with Saudi Arabia and the voting issue.
Saudi Arabia should not impose policies on us, as we should also not do the same to them.
One of the advantages that Egypt achieved after the 30 June uprising is the independence of its national decisions from external forces.
I think that Egypt can play a good role in protecting Saudi-US relations, especially given that this has usually been the role Egypt has played by reducing tension between its Arab neighbours and other countries.
Do you see any relation between Saudi Aramco’s decision to suspend the provision of petroleum products to Egypt with Egypt’s vote for the Russian resolution in the UN security council?
It is unclear whether Aramco’s decision to suspend petroleum shipments is due to the complications they said they are facing, as they announced, or if it is because of other reasons. Over time, I think the real reason will present itself.
On 8 November, the Egyptian judiciary rejected a request by the state to halt the implementation of nullifying the Red Sea islands agreement that was decided by the State council. The agreement was signed to transfer sovereignty of the islands to Saudi Arabia. What are your comments about this and will this impact relations with Saudi Arabia? What is the parliament’s role in this regard?
The decision only rejected the government’s request to halt the annulment verdict, and we are still awaiting the administrative court’s final verdict. Saudi Arabia should understand any decision made by the court system, because Egypt is a state of institutions and this is a judicial decision. The court will only decide on the validity of the agreement and will not focus on the ownership of the islands.
If the court confirms that the annulment will not be implemented and rules on the validity of the agreement, the issue will be forwarded to parliament, which will release a final decision on the matter after all documents are studied. If it is proved that the islands belong to Egypt, we will not give away our right to them, but if it is agreed that they belong to Saudi Arabia we will refer the issue to public opinion.
Do you believe parliament is performing well in accomplishing the people’s needs?
During the first legislative stage, parliament was not successful in understanding people’s needs, as it was overloaded with discussing and concluding certain laws and other constitutional and legal issues. In general, parliament achieved during its first legislative stage what the parliament of 2005 has approached during all of its stages. During this second stage, I believe parliament will perform better and will try to connect with more people. We are also supposed to approve a transitional phase law that was postponed during the first stage. Parliament is still working to meet the people’s expectations.