Egypt’s general prosecutor Hesham Barakat ordered the release of 130 university students and minors on Sunday. They were jailed pending investigations into charges of violence, the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.
The prosecution said the decision came as a part of an initiative to review the status of those jailed pending investigations and as a charitable measure during the annual celebrations of the Prophet Mohamed’s birth.
The Egyptian Coalition for Children Rights (ECCR) released a statement welcoming the decision on Sunday. They added that one of the ongoing demands by human rights organizations is that the government review the legal status of students and minors still detained.
“We demand this step to correct all cases of political exploitation of minors in Egypt, so that they [the minors] are treated as victims of exploitation reaching the level of human trafficking, as well as holding those who exploit them accountable according to the provisions of Egypt’s Child Law,” ECCR General Secretary Hany Helal said in the statement.
Independent rights group Free the Children said that at least 1,000 minors have been arrested since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in summer 2013. Group coordinator Marwa Arafa told Mada Masr in an earlier interview that the minors faced mounting violations, including random arrests, torture, illegal prison sentences and poor detention conditions.
However, student activists suspect that the decision is not part of a larger campaign to loosen the grip over on-campus freedoms and student rights in Egypt.
Saeed Abdul Ghani, a member of the “Freedom for the Students” campaign, said that the decision was random, adding, “We cannot consider it the beginning of a better future for detained students.”
He referred to the arrests of student activists at the beginning of the academic year, saying these arrests showed that the government resorted to security solutions in response to escalating political turmoil on university campuses.
“Of course the numbers of detained students this year is much less, because the protest movement is much weaker inside universities [this year] due to the security crackdown,” he said. “Suspension decisions against students are a strong tool that they have used against us to terrify students away from political involvement.”
Ghani told Mada Masr that detained students still face various violations, including their inability to take exams while they are in detention. “Sometimes university administrations say the issue is in the hands of the police, and the police says it is in the hands of university administrations. But we don’t know where the truth is, or who is making decisions in this country,” he added.
Last week, the June 30 fact-finding committee released a report stating that 257 students were suspended last year due to clashes between the police and students. While the number of students suspended has not been officially disputed, a nationwide student campaign reports that the number of suspensions are at least twice that given by the committee.
Mariam Mohamed, a representative from “The University is for the Students” campaign, told Mada Masr in an earlier interview that she estimates suspensions during the 2013-2014 academic year to be around 600, mostly from the Cairo, Al-Azhar and Ain Shams universities, as well as other universities such as Mansoura.
The University is for the Students campaign provides support for those suspended or arrested during clashes on campus, as well as campaigning against administrative violations against students for their political activities. According to Mohamed, most of those suspended were never referred for investigation according to university law and in some cases students were not notified of their suspension.
The Cairo University student referred to Article 184 of the Law Organizing Universal Affairs, which was amended following a presidential decree in March. The amendments gave university presidents broad powers to suspend students for a wide range of crimes, and allowed disciplinary committees to interrogate students and issue a final decision in only one week.
Ghani also referred to the latest student bylaws passed by the Supreme Council of Universities as another sign that the state is giving no consideration to the student community. According to him, the bylaws were passed in an extremely undemocratic way, without taking into consideration the criticism of student unions and without the approval of a student referendum.
“Universities are not part of the state’s calculations,” he stated.