Pre-trial detention used as 'systematic punishment' in Egypt – lawyer

Wednesday 02-03-2016 10:18 PM

Taher Mokhtar, law student Ahmed Hassan 'Estakoza' and engineering student Hossam al-Din Hammad 'Sam' have been detained since Jan, 2016 - Photo from solidarity campaign on Facebook. Hashtag reads 'release us' in Arabic.

CAIRO, Mar 2 (Aswat Masriya) – The detention of Taher Mokhtar and two of his flatmates arrested from their home in central Cairo was renewed on Wednesday for the fifth time.

Mokhtar, as well as law student Ahmed Hassan who goes by Estakoza and engineering student Hossam al-Din Hammad also known as Sam had their preventive detention extended by 45 days, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

Their defence lawyer Mokhtar Mounir told Aswat Masriya that over the past two years "an increasing number of people have faced prolonged pre-trial detention." Mounir said detention was being used more as a "means of punishment" rather than a precautionary measure as had been intended by the law.

The trio he is defending has been behind bars since Jan. 14 and are accused of possessing leaflets calling for the overthrow of the regime.

According to AFTE, the leaflets purportedly featured content criminalising medical negligence in prisons coupled with calls to reform the health sector and demands to overthrow the current government.

Homeland security claimed that their investigation indicated that the detained individuals were attempting to incite citizens to join protests on Jan. 25, which marked the fifth anniversary of the 2011 Uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Mounir told Aswat Masriya that he will appeal today's decision to renew their detention. He described the use of prolonged pre-trial detention "without justification" as an "ailment" of the Egyptian judicial system.

The defence team had previously filed requests to the state's top prosecutor and to the head of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for their release, but have yet to receive a response.

Mokhtar is a member of the freedoms committee of the Doctors' Syndicate. The assistant secretary-general of the syndicate, Rashwan Shaaban told Aswat Masriya that whenever a doctor is detained, the syndicate writes a letter to the interior minister and to the public prosecution calling for the fair and humane treatment of the detainee.

"The syndicate cannot demand the release of someone, all we can do is demand the rule of law and offer legal assistance when needed," Shaaban said.

Mokhtar had been entrusted by the syndicate to follow up on the health conditions of prisoners, the syndicate said in a statement on its website.

The syndicate requested a visit to Mokhtar last week, but the request was denied by prosecutors.

But Shaaban believes it unlikely that Mokhtar was arrested because of his work in the syndicate's freedoms committee.

Mokhtar was also a member of a campaign titled "Medical Neglect in Places of Detention is a Crime", which advocated for the right to health and the provision of medical care for Egyptian prisoners.

Several local rights group condemned the arrests of the three flatmates. In a joint statement on Jan. 17, over a dozen human rights groups including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information demanded their immediate release.

"Statements demanding a reform of health conditions and describing medical neglect in prisons as a crime are not a criminal breach," the rights groups said. They added that "Egyptian law describes medical neglect as a crime" and that the constitution in Article 18 "establishes health as a right for all citizens."

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