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UN panel presses Egypt for immediate release of senior Muslim Brotherhood figures

Human rights experts say detention of Essam and Gehad el-Haddad is 'unlawful' and 'may constitute a crime against humanity'
Ex-politician Essam el-Haddad (L) and his son Gehad have been held in solitary confinement for the past six years (Reuters)

A panel of United Nations human rights experts has called for the immediate release of two senior Muslim Brotherhood figures in Egypt, calling their detention unlawful and saying it “may constitute a crime against humanity".

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a report last week that Egypt has violated international human rights obligations with the continued arbitrary detention of Essam el-Haddad, a former senior adviser to late president Mohamed Morsi, and his son Gehad el-Haddad, who was a media spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The UN panel said that Egyptian authorities had not responded to its enquiries regarding the Haddads.

It concluded that their trials "should never have taken place" and that their detention lacks any legal basis.

Egypt’s general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed Morsi from power in a military coup in July 2013.

Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader, was then detained along with the majority of his team, including Essam el-Haddad.

Morsi died in a courtroom in July after six years of solitary confinement and medical negligence. The circumstance of his detention were described by Human Rights Watch as “amounting to torture".

In September, the Haddads were acquitted of espionage charges, but Essam was handed a 10-year prison sentence on charges of membership in a banned group.

His son, Gehad, was charged with the same crime, and remains in custody at the maximum security Aqrab Prison, according to his family.

The panel noted that the sentencing of Essam was legally problematic because the law that banned the Muslim Brotherhood was issued after his arrest, leaving Egyptian authorities guilty of violating the principle of non-retroactivity.

The two cases, according to the working group, “appear to fit the pattern of systematic, widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights directed against the senior figures of the ousted government of Mohamed Morsi and their real or perceived fellow supporters".

The panel called for the pair’s immediate release, compensation and reparations, and further investigations to be conducted and measures taken against those involved in their arbitrary detention.

Years in solitary

Essam El-Haddad, 65, is a medical doctor, businessman and co-founder of Islamic Relief, an international humanitarian organisation.

He was actively involved in the Freedom and Justice Party, a political party launched by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in 2012. Following Morsi’s election in June 2012, Essam was appointed his foreign relations adviser.

'Since [Gehad] has lost the ability to walk or move, other people now carry him'

- Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali

A 2018 Amnesty International report said that the physician, who holds a doctorate from the University of Birmingham Medical School, "has been in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement for 23 hours a day since September 2013 and denied family visits since October 2016".

Talking to MEE following Morsi's death, Essam's son Abdullah said his father had suffered four heart attacks since his arrest and needed urgent medical attention.

Gehad, 38, was the chief media spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood until the date of his arrest and was an active political commentator in the foreign press and on social media.

Prior to his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, he worked as the Cairo city director at the Clinton Climate Initiative from 2007 to 2012.

Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali said on Wednesday that Gehad has "lost the ability to walk" and was carried by two activists in his latest hearing on Tuesday.

"Gehad has been acquitted from all the charges against him. However, instead of being released, particularly [since] he is no longer able to walk, they brought new charges against him. Yesterday, he went to the State Security prosecution for a hearing," Ali said in a Facebook post.

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"But since he has lost the ability to walk or move, other people now carry him. Yesterday, those who carried him and took him up the stairs until the hearing room were Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer.

"The three of them were wearing the pre-trial detention uniform, because they all had a hearing to renew their detention on the same day," Ali added.

According to a statement by his family in May, Gehad was placed in a “punishment cell” in February 2017 after he wrote an opinion piece that was published in the New York Times.

Punishment cells have no ventilation, beds, toilets or light. Gehad's family said that Gehad told them last March that he had been severely beaten by a National Security Agency officer and prison guards who intentionally targeted his head.

At least 60,000 political prisoners have been detained since Sisi came to power in 2013, according to human rights groups. In the past month, at least 4,300 have been rounded up after the latest wave of protests against Sisi, prompted by large-scale corruption allegations by a Spainish-based whistle-blower.