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Egypt must free human rights lawyer detained

GENEVA (20 November 2019) – UN human rights experts* have criticised Egypt over the ongoing detention of lawyer and human rights defender Ibrahim Metwally, who has been cleared in court of all accusations against him but has now been charged with apparently identical offences.

Mr. Metwally was arrested more than two years ago at Cairo airport while en route to Switzerland to discuss enforced disappearances with a specialist UN human rights mechanism.

“It is unacceptable that Mr. Metwally is still being detained even though the Cairo Criminal Court found him not guilty on 14 October 2019 of all the charges against him and ordered his immediate release,” the experts said.

“We are deeply concerned that on 5 November 2019 Mr. Metwally was notified of new charges which appear to be identical to those of which he was cleared.

“These new charges cast a shadow over the state of rule of law in Egypt and the independence of its judiciary. Mr. Metwally has been once again charged with membership and financing of a terrorist organisation despite his earlier acquittal.

“We call on the Egyptian authorities to guarantee due process of law to Mr. Metwally, who seems to be the victim of double jeopardy. It is clear that his prosecution may be linked to his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms.”

The experts also expressed serious concern about the conditions in which Mr. Metwally was being held.

“Before his acquittal in October, Mr. Metwally had already spent more than two long years of pre-trial detention in conditions allegedly amounting to torture, after he was subjected to enforced disappearance for a few days,” the experts said.

“His health has seriously deteriorated over this period and he has been denied appropriate medical care. We are gravely concerned about his ongoing arbitrary detention and about the conditions in which he is being held at the state security headquarters in Kafr-Al-Cheikh.”

Mr. Metwally, coordinator of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, was originally held on 10 September 2017 while boarding a plane to Switzerland. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously found that the detention which followed was arbitrary, and UN experts have already communicated their concerns about his case to the Government of Egypt. Mr Metwally’s son has also been missing since 2013.

The experts also noted that concerns about the high number of detainees being held in prolonged pre-trial detention were raised during last week’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt, a process which reviews States’ overall human rights record.

“We urge Egypt to heed the UPR recommendations that call on the State to release individuals, such is the case of Mr. Metwally, who were arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights, and to end reprisals against individuals cooperating with the United Nations,” the experts said.

The UN experts have previously raised concerns at the use of counter-terrorism legislation to target people expressing dissent and seeking to promote and protect human rights.

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