Public figures, organisations call for release of Egyptian writer Hesham Gaafar

Saturday 30-01-2016 09:45 PM
Public figures, organisations call for release of Egyptian writer Hesham Gaafar

CAIRO, Jan 30 (Aswat Masriya) - Marking the passing of 100 days since Hesham Gaafar's arrest, dozens of public figures and organisations called for his "immediate release" on Saturday.

Gaafar, a member of the press syndicate and the chairman of Mada Foundation NGO, was arrested on Oct. 21 when security forces raided the NGO's premises. He was then led to his home which was searched. His arrest was condemned by many organisations including Amnesty International, which described it as "unlawful". 

In a joint statement emailed to Aswat Masriya, public figures and organisations said they are "gravely concerned" by his "ongoing detention".   

They also condemned investigators' refusal " to provide defense lawyers with the case files, instead choosing to inform lawyers of developments in the case orally," in violation of the law and Gaafar's right to defence.  

According to the signatories, Gaafar was also repeatedly denied access to the prison hospital but has been allowed medication after his health deteriorated as a result of chronic illness.

The statement is signed by 16 human rights organisations including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights as well as a list of over 40 public fugures, featuring renowned satirist Bassem Youssef and journalist Hossam Bahgat.

Gaafar is facing charges of receiving "international" funds in the form of bribes in exchange for information, "harming Egypt's national security" and of belonging to a banned organisation, lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer who is involved in the case previously told Aswat Masriya.

His whereabouts and the charges he faced were unknown for a few days following his arrest "until lawyers found him by coincidence" at the State Security prosecution, where he "was without a lawyer in the preliminary interrogation," the organisations said in their joint statement. 

Afterwards, Gaafar was "held in solitary confinement for 50 days, with no reason given, and denied outdoor exercise breaks for 70 days."

The Mada Foundation which Gaafar chaired carried out research in numerous fields including dialogue and women and family issues. According to the joint statement, "it was suggested" that the charges Gaafar is facing are based on Article 78 of the Egyptian penal code, a controversial article which stipulates the penalty for those found to receive foreign funding.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi amended this article in September 2014, in a manner which makes defendants accused of receiving foreign funds with the purpose of "harming the state" subject to being sentenced to life in prison or death.

The signatories to the joint statement said they were "extremely troubled by the use of this article, which has been described by legal and rights experts as [being] characterized by vague and sweeping language."

They additionally expressed concerns on how they fear that the use of the article for the first time may set a trend by which it is used in other cases against " academics, journalists, rights workers, researchers, and students."

The public figures and organisations said what happened to Gaafar is a "clear assault on freedom of academic research", adding that considering training and research such as the one provided by Mada to "be information gathering" aimed at harming national interests, "clearly jeopardises" researchers in various fields.  

The statement also addressed how Gaafar's case poses a "threat to civil society organisations’ freedom to operate," and how they are "constantly under threat regardless of their legal status."

Top Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied that journalists in the country are being targeted because of their work. 

In August, Sisi denied that any journalists are detained in cases related to publishing or press freedom and in September, he told a CNN interview that "we have unprecedented freedom of expression in Egypt. No one in Egypt can bar anyone working in media or journalism or on TV from expressing their views."

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