Media organizations received instructions from security agencies to attack the National Council for Human Rights and its head, following a statement it published criticizing recent police violations, media sources told Mada Masr.
In the statement published on October 3, the NCHR condemned security forces for stopping citizens randomly in the streets and inspecting the contents of their mobile phones. The council called such practices unconstitutional. The street arrests have taken place in the context of a security crackdown that started with anti-government street protests on September 20.
The security directives were sent to editors of news websites and television shows via Whatsapp, according to sources working at the outlets.
The directives, according to the sources, included a number of points. First, that the Penal Code allows police officers and others with arrest powers to stop people and search them in order to halt crimes in progress. The second message was that the president of the NCHR, Mohamed Fayek, has overstepped his position, that the council’s statement shows the lack of knowledge of his own country’s laws, and that he suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.
In the days following the NCHR statement, various media organizations published stories conveying those messages. The privately owned Fajr newspaper published a story October 3 titled: “Unaware of the laws: The NCHR head’s statement puts him at an impasse.” In the story, the newspaper wondered if the reason behind Fayek’s statement was old age or Alzeheimer’s Disease. On the same day, the state-owned Akhbar al-Youm published an attack on Fayek, saying that he never speaks out against the terrorism that threatens Egypt, but instead on so-called human rights violations.
The messages followed a statement from the Interior Ministry on October 3, which claimed that stopping and searching citizens on the street is legal.
A source close to the NCHR said that Fayek agreed to issue the statement after a meeting with other council members, who put pressure on the council president to respond to security violations in the wake of the September 20 protests.
“I am satisfied that the statement came out and wish there had been stronger positions in the past for other violations,” Ragia Omran, an NCHR member and lawyer, told Mada Masr.
Citizens have complained about being randomly stopped, particularly in the downtown Cairo area, by police officers and asked to open their mobile phones.
A journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, was stopped at a police checkpoint in the Qasr al-Nil area of downtown Cairo. They asked him to open his phone, but he politely refused and said that he is a journalist, showing the officers his press card. The police took his press card and personal ID, and asked him to stand aside. The journalist waited for an hour, during which his bag was searched. One of the police officers told him angrily that he was being uncooperative by not surrendering his phone. The journalist replied that it is not a legal request, to which the officer responded, “I can make it legal, but not here.” The officer told him that he is only interested in seeing his Facebook page, “which is public anyway.” The journalist persistently refused, and eventually he was allowed to leave with his identification cards.
More than 3,000 people have been arrested since last month’s protests, according to rights groups, in the largest arrest campaign of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s tenure. Those arrested include civil society members, prominent activists from the January 25 revolution, minors, and lawyers representing detainees.
Egypt is due to undergo the United Nations’ Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review in November, during which the subject country’s human rights record is put under close scrutiny. The periodic review is normally based on a national report provided by the state, as well as reports gathered from independent human rights organizations.