Egyptian authorities have moved to hold dozens of people in remand detention in the last few days as part of the ongoing security crackdown in response to calls for protests sparked by a fatal train crash that took place in Cairo on February 27.
Thirty-five people arrested over the last week have been ordered to be detained for 15 days, pending investigations into their involvement in calls to protest against the government after the train crash, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR).
ECESR lawyers tell Mada Mast that the Supreme State Security Prosecution added the 35 defendants to Case 1739/2018 on charges of joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news. The case initially involved six political party members arrested in January.
The organization has also confirmed the release of 13 people arrested this week. Those released reported to the organization that approximately 30 others have also been freed, but ECESR has not been able to confirm their identities or document their releases.
In an ongoing arrest campaign undertaken, Egyptian security forces have arrested over 70 since February 27 across Egypt — mainly in Cairo and Alexandria — for alleged involvement in calling for anti-government demonstrations in the aftermath of the train crash in Cairo’s Ramses Station that killed 22 people.
While there has been notable backlash against the government online, Mada Masr has not been able to document any sizeable protests since last week’s deadly accident.
However, ECESR lawyers tell Mada Masr that security forces were dispersed in areas where protests were expected to take place in the wake of widespread criticism of the government’s lack of investment in railway infrastructure following the crash.
Individuals were arbitrarily stopped in these areas and were told to open social media accounts to allow security forces to search for content related to the train crash. Individuals with photos, videos or content pertaining to the crash were apprehended, according to statements defendants made to ECESR.
A number of individuals have also been arrested from their homes, lawyers previously told Mada Masr.
Pharmacist Mahmoud Abdel Aty was the first to appear before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, which ordered his detention for 15 days pending investigations. Abdel Aty was arrested on Thursday from Tahrir Square — the landmark site of protests during the 2011 revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak — after he held up a sign saying, “Step down, [President Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi.” He was interrogated by prosecutors on Saturday, in the absence of a lawyer and subsequently added to Case 1739/2018.
Security forces have continued to arrest people this week. Bread and Freedom Party member Ziad Abul Fadl became the most recently confirmed person to be arrested, when security forces apprehended him early Tuesday morning at his home in Alexandria, according to party leader Elham Eidarous.
Eidarous tells Mada Masr that officials in various Alexandria police stations have denied knowledge of Abul Fadl’s whereabouts.
Aside from Abul Fadl and former Dostour Party member Belal Abdel Tawab — who was arrested on March 1 in Alexandria — most of those arrested or forcibly disappeared in Alexandria have no prior history of political activism, lawyer Mahienour al-Massry tells Mada Masr.
The majority of the defendants are under the age of 20, with no record of political activity, Massry adds.
A lawyer with the Egyptian Commision for Rights and Freedoms confirms this observation, stating that the defendants he is representing are 17 to 20 years old. The majority of defendants whose whereabouts were unknown before they appeared before the State Security Prosecution were being held in the Central Security Forces camp in Cairo, the lawyer adds.
Another ECESR lawyer tells Mada Masr that “the majority of the people whose interrogations I attended have no organizational or political background. Most of their statements in the interrogations were made spontaneously and they, at times, seemed confused,” indicating a lack of preparedness during interrogations.
“I attended [an interrogation] with a 19-year-old metalworker, who’s responsible for providing for his family of four. When the investigator asked him about his opinion of the January 25th revolution, he answered that he was in 7th grade at the time, but that, if he had been older, he would have taken part,” the lawyer says.
The lawyer says that the young man was arrested on Wednesday, while heading to a hospital to donate blood after hearing about the Ramses train crash. He added that a woman and her daughter were also arrested as they were donating blood.
Social media users called for protests in the aftermath of the crash in Cairo’s Ramses Railway Station — the largest train station in the country, which is located in the heart of the capital — which left 20 people were killed and 45 others injured, some critically, according to Egypt’s Health Minister Hala Zayed. Two people died the next day from the injuries they sustained.
The train entered the station at high speed and collided into a concrete buffer stop at the end of the line on Platform 6, causing the fuel tank to explode and triggering a fire that quickly spread to other parts of the station, according to eyewitnesses.
Following the crash, social media users called for protests and shared a video of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaking at the opening of national projects in Qena in May 2017 where he seemed to downplay the need for investing in Egypt’s crumbling derelict railway infrastructure. In the video, Sisi says that projections of a necessary LE10 billion needed to overhaul Egypt’s railways would be better used collecting interest in banks.
Train accidents are increasingly common in Egypt, with the number of accidents growing from 781 in 2013 to 1,793 in 2017, according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
Mada Masr previously compiled a summary of the eight largest train accidents in Egypt between 2002 and 2017.