Ahead of the verdict expected on 16 September for Hisham Kassem, a prominent opposition politician and publisher arbitrarily detained since 20 August solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, said:
“The prosecution of Hisham Kassem for simply posting critical messages online is a signal that the Egyptian authorities’ relentless campaign to silence peaceful critics and punish dissent, including through the use of criminal defamation and other draconian laws, is continuing in full force.
“Criticizing the government and public officials is a human right. Hisham Kassem must be released immediately and unconditionally; and criminal defamation and other politically motivated charges against him dropped.
Criticizing the government and public officials is a human right. Hisham Kassem must be released immediately and unconditionally; and criminal defamation and other politically motivated charges against him dropped.Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa
“Although a limited number of dissidents were recently released from prolonged and unjust imprisonment, the world must not be fooled. Egypt’s shocking human rights record is plain to see, amid a renewed wave of arbitrary detentions and unfounded prosecutions of critics.
“Egyptian authorities must urgently halt the endless cycle of arrests and prosecutions targeting critical voices and stop using criminal defamation laws to muzzle dissent. States around the world must demand justice and freedom for those who dare to speak up.”
Hisham Kassem, 64, is facing criminal charges of defamation for his online criticism of a former government minister’s alleged corruption. He also faces charges of “insulting” and “disturbing” public officials over a post explaining his decision on 20 August not to post bail, noting that he was “more honourable that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and all his men”. If convicted, he faces up to three years’ imprisonment according to his lawyers.
The authorities have also violated Hisham Kassem’s fair trial rights, including his rights to adequate defence and to a public hearing. His lawyers were denied access to his casefile before the trial, while authorities banned diplomats and media from attending trial hearings.
Hisham Kassem was on hunger strike from 23 August to 12 September in protest at his unjust imprisonment.
In recent months, Hisham Kassem has vocally criticized the authorities’ handling of the economic crisis and the military’s role. In June 2023, he played a pivotal role in founding a coalition of liberal opposition parties and politicians.
Since the reactivation of the Presidential Pardons Committee in May 2022, hundreds of prisoners held for political reasons have been released, but arbitrary arrests have persisted at an alarming rate, including of Egypt-based relatives of dissidents living abroad. In August, the fathers of Egyptian journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada and German-Egyptian activist Fagr al-Adly were arrested over their children’s activism.