The Campaign in Solidarity with Alexandria Shipyard and Public Transport Workers filed an official complaint with the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on Thursday, calling on the state-appointed body to intervene on behalf of 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company workers – who are standing trial before a military court – and six jailed Cairo Public Transport Authority employees.
The complaint was filed at the conclusion of a roundtable discussion held at the NCHR’s complaints office in which campaign representatives, workers’ family members and council members participated.
Both groups of workers have been accused of organizing labor strikes and were subsequently detained and dismissed from their jobs.
Speaking during the roundtable discussion, NCHR member George Ishaq pointed out that “the workers did not actually engage in a strike action” in either case, but had only engaged in protests and planned strikes to advance work-related demands.
The Cairo Public Transport Authority workers have been held in detention since they were arrested from their homes in dawn raids on September 24. All six are currently being detained in Cairo’s Tora Prison pending the completion of criminal investigations.
In the intervening period, the Public Transport Authority has dismissed the workers from their positions, while the prosecution has accused them of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and forming a terrorist cell.
However, Shaiymaa Youssef, the wife of jailed transport worker Tarek Youssef, refuted this claim during the roundtable discussion.
“He doesn’t belong to any party or have a political affiliation,” she said. “It was only 14 days after he disappeared that we found out he was being held in Tora Prison.”
“There was no strike. So why is he being jailed?” Shaiymaa said, adding that her husband and the five other men are all being held in the same cell in Tora Prison. “Even if he had the intention to strike – which he didn’t – is he being jailed because of his intention to strike? Can people be arrested based on their intentions?”
Son of jailed transport worker Mohamed Abdel Khaleq,Seif Abdel Khaleq, who was also present at the meeting, said that he learned of his father’s detention 15 days after he disappeared. “Prosecutors have not questioned my father in the case,” he said, adding that his father does not know why his detention has been extended.
“There was no strike. So why is he being jailed? Even if he had the intention to strike – which he didn’t – is he being jailed because of his intention to strike? Can people be arrested based on their intentions?”
Both family members filed individual complaints with the NCHR in an attempt to secure the release of their relatives.
None of the relatives of the 26 workers from the Alexandria Shipyard Company was present at the NCHR on Thursday. However, some had previously met with NCHR officials.
However, independent labor organizer Fatma Ramadan stated during the roundtable that 15 of the 26 workers had been “secretly pressured into resignation by a military official on the promise of being released on bail.”
The 15 workers who have submitted their resignations have been released on bail, while the remaining 11 shipyard workers standing trial have not yet handed themselves into authorities.
The Alexandria Military Court is scheduled to deliver a verdict in the shipyard workers’ case on December 20, following six postponements.
As with the transport authority employees, the shipyard workers have been accused of organizing a strike and obstructing production, charges that stem from sit-in protests they staged on May 22 and 23.
Ramadan stated that the decision to refer the 26 workers to a military court has been justified by the fact that they are employed in a military institution: The shipyard has been under the administration of the Ministry of Defense since 2007.
“The Egyptian Constitution safeguards the right to strike by virtue of Article 15,” Ramadan stated. “Yet, these workers did not strike, nor did they obstruct production or services at the shipyard.”
Rather than grounded in any legal precedent, Ramadan claimed that both groups of workers “are being punished for demanding their rights and improved working conditions.”
Based on the Thursday meeting, Ishaq stated that, “the NCHR will issue a detailed memorandum to the respective judicial authorities and employers” to safeguard the human rights of both groups of workers.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 11 shipyard workers who are still employed by the company remain in detention. It has been amended to reflect that these 11 workers have not yet handed themselves into authorities.