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  • Middle East and North Africa

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Last updated: 2 Jul

Human rights defender's story: Mohamed El-Baqer

Story behind

Mohamed El-Baqer is director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms. The Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms is a non-governmental organisation established in 2014 to uphold and promote the rights of students, refugees, and migrants.

In Egypt, the work of NGOs and human rights defenders is tightly restricted by a law passed in 2019, which comes as a continuation of an already widely criticised law passed in 2017.

Though the 2019 law has swapped planned prison sentences for breaches with hefty fines, it maintains draconian restrictions on NGOs. This law requires that organisations abide by vaguely worded and sweeping concerns of "national security" and "public morality" in order to gain legal recognition in a state registry.

It also limits the activities of registered organisations to serving what authorities call "the State’s development plans and the needs of the society", requiring all registered entities to seek yearly approval for their work and strictly limiting their access to foreign funding.

Both iterations of the law on NGOs have severely curtailed the ability of Egyptian NGOs to engage with the UN, which is considered a reprisal for some organisations’ previous engagement in the country’s Universal Public Review in 2014.

What happened

In October 2019, Special Procedure mandate holders and the Spokesperson for the High Commissioner addressed the arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment and charges against Mohamed El-Baqer, director of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, for his engagement during the UPR process.

The Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms is a non-governmental organisation established in 2014 to uphold and promote the rights of students, refugees, and migrants.

El-Baqer was arrested on 29 September 2019 in Cairo while exercising his profession as a lawyer and human rights defender: he was detained at the premises of Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP), in Cairo, where he attended the interrogation of his client, Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist and blogger. El-Baqer was charged with joining a terrorist group and disseminating false news.

In October 2019, multiple UN experts and mandate holders expressed concern that El-Baqer was specifically targeted in reprisal for his organisation's submissions to Egypt's then-forthcoming UPR process, which was to take place in November 2019.

On 23 November 2020, the Criminal Court of Cairo added El-Baqer be to a 'terror list' for five years, a move with severe legal consequences, including a travel ban, the freezing of his assets, confiscation of his passport and the loss of his right to seek public employment.

On 20 December 2021, after over two years spent in pre-trial detention, El-Baqer was sentenced to four years of imprisonment on charges of "spreading false news undermining national security".

He remains detained in the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo, where he has been denied the right to go outside, to reading material, a watch, a mirror, a mattress, adequate clothing and hot running water.

What do we want

ISHR calls on the government of Egypt to take specific actions to resolve both of these cases, to publicly commit to protecting human rights defenders and condemn any intimidation or reprisals against them.

What do we want

ISHR calls on the government of Egypt to take specific actions to resolve both of these cases, to publicly commit to protecting human rights defenders and condemn any intimidation or reprisals against them.

How you can take action

Look through our 2021 campaign to learn more about ISHR's work to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders and how you can help us ensure they are able to work safely and effectively wherever they are, including unhindered engagement with the UN and other major international human rights bodies.