Release Hafez Abu-Se'da
NOW

4 December 1998

ARTICLE 19 appeals to UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to assure the safety and immediate release of EOHR Secretary-General

The following is a 4 December 1998 ARTICLE 19 letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression further to the arrest and detention of Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights:

Abid Hussein

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

Geneva

4 December 1998

ARTICLE 19 requests you urgently to intervene to assure the safety and immediate release from detention of Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights. According to information received by ARTICLE 19, on 1 December 1998 Mr Seada was committed for up to 15 days detention by the State Prosecutor on three charges, pending further inquiries.

We are seriously concerned for the safety of Mr Seada, who has not been brought before a judge promptly, as required by Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party. We understand that no representative of Mr Seada's interests has seen him since he was detained, and that his wife was denied access to him when today she went to Tora Istiqbal prison (where it is believed her husband is being held) despite having permission from the authorities to visit him.

ARTICLE 19 is disturbed that the State Prosecutor's office summoned Mr Abu Seada to answer questions in connection with an investigation into a report on a particular human rights issue in Egypt, and that while there he was charged with offences under the Penal Code (second chapter, items 80 and 87) and under an Army Law, the specifics of which are somewhat unclear to us, and immediately jailed.

As we understand it, the charges are of dissemination abroad of false information harmful to Egypt's national interests; accepting funds from a foreign country for the purpose of carrying out acts harmful to Egypt; and receiving donations without obtaining permission from the Egyptian authorities.

As mentioned above, Egypt is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as such is committed to upholding freedom of expression under Article 19 of that international treaty. This includes the right to impart and receive information regardless of frontiers. ARTICLE 19 is concerned with upholding that right, and believes that laws allowing prosecution for dissemination of 'false' information should be removed from the statute book, as they breach Article 19 of the ICCPR. The United Nations' Human Rights Committee has frequently commented on the incompatibility of false news provisions with the guarantee of freedom of expression. We therefore call on you to press the Egyptian government torepeal any laws which criminalise expression on these grounds.

According to our information, Hafez Abu Seada's arrest arises from funding actually granted by the Human Rights Policy Department of the Foreign Office of the British Government to the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights for a specific project concerned with enhancing the status of women. Not only that, but it would appear that due to the amount of concern expressed, EOHR returned the money to the British Foreign Office on 30 November 1998, and the project has been cancelled, to the detriment of those it was intended to benefit.

It is difficult to understand how such a project would harm Egypt's interests. Certainly, the Egyptian government continues to accept money directly from the United Kingdom government, and in 1996-97 received a total of 6.28 million from the Department for International Development (in the form of Technical co-operation - 3.29, debt relief - 1.268 and trade and aid - 377,000).

In conclusion, ARTICLE 19 requests that you make representations to ensure that Hafez Abu Seada is released immediately and that no further action is taken without full respect for legal guarantees, including guarantees of basic human rights. We also ask you to urge the Egyptian government to repeal forthwith laws relating to the publication and dissemination of false news.

I look forward to receiving your reassurance on this important matter at your earliest convenience.

Frances D'Souza

Executive Director

ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship, campaigns for freedom of expression worldwide. Members of the International Board are as follows:

Zeinab Badawi (Chair, UK), Professor Peter Baehr (Netherlands), Geoffrey Bindman (Treasurer, UK), Professor Kevin Boyle (UK), Dato' Param Cumaraswamy (Malaysia), Salah Eldin Hafiz (Egypt), Paul Hoffman (US), Cushrow Irani (India), Jody Kollapen (Director of East and Southern Regional Office, South Africa), Daisy Li (Hong Kong), Goenawan Mohamad (Indonesia), Mario Vargas Llosa (Spain).

Similar appeals can be sent to:

Abid Hussein

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

Geneva, Switzerland

For further information, contact ARTICLE 19, 33 Islington High St., London N19LH, U.K. tel: +44 1 71 278 9292, fax: +44 1 71 713 1356, e-mail:article19@gn.apc.org, Internet: http://www.gn.apc.org/article19/


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