Recently, an international report stated that Egypt’s National Security Services (NSS), a body specialized in controlling political and terrorism-related cases, has been increasingly using an unlawful summons and coercive interrogations, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as excessive follow-up or monitoring measures against human rights defenders and political activists, in an attempt to harass and intimidate them, with the aim of silencing them, destroying their lives.
The report documents these measures used by NSS to control the lives of 21 men and 9 women between 2020 and 2021. Activists and human rights defenders said that in every summons, NSS officers threatened to arrest them and bring them to trial unless they attended interrogation sessions, and that officers raided the homes of those who did not attend.
At least 20 of the victims described how they live in constant fear of detention by the NSS which leaves them in a state of anxiety and depression, deprives them of their basic rights, and severely hampers their ability to lead a normal life. As a result, many of them feel too afraid to express their opinions or engage in political activities, while some have had to leave the country.
NSS officers interrogate those summoned about their human rights activities or their political activities and opinions, including those expressed through social media, as well as about the activities and plans of opposition groups, political movements, or human rights organizations as NSS suspected the affiliation of those summoned to it, and ordered them to report it.
Those summoned were not allowed to have lawyers with them during these interrogations, in which officers used intrusive interrogation of the summoned persons about their personal lives and political activities, and used physical and psychological abuse that may amount to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,”. They also checked the content of their phones and social media accounts without a judicial warranty.
In most cases, NSS officers threatened those summoned with imprisonment, torture, and other forms of physical harm to them and their families, if they refused to disclose the requested information. They were also warned against exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association or association, or freedom of peaceful assembly after interrogation.
These extrajudicial police surveillance measures, referred to as “follow-up” by NSS officers, amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and differ from judicial control measures, as they are not limited in time and are subject only to the whims of officers.” In many cases, detainees were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, and their rights to work and family life were severely affected.
It is difficult to determine the number of people subjected to follow-up by the NSS, as these practices take place without a judicial warrant, and no official written records are available about them. Lawyers in interviews with Amnesty International said that many of their clients released since 2015 were increasingly exposed to these practices starting in 2019.
The provisions of international law, the Egyptian Constitution and the Penal Code prohibit torture and other ill-treatment, as well as arbitrary or unlawful interference with a person’s privacy, family, home or correspondence. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt has acceded as a state party, states that no person shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention, and no one shall be deprived of his or her freedom except for reasons stipulated in the law and in accordance with the procedures established therein. The detained person should be promptly informed of the reasons for his detention and brought before a judge. He must also be given the opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of his detention, and must be informed of his rights, including the right to remain silent.