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Egypt: businessmen behind bars for resisting demands from security agencies

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Egyptian authorities are abusing anti-terrorism laws to arbitrarily detain an influential businessman and his son in conditions amounting to torture in retaliation for their refusal to hand over the company’s assets, Amnesty International said today. hui.

Concerns over the health of Safwan Thabet, 75, founder, former CEO and majority shareholder of Egypt’s largest dairy and juice producer Juhayna, are growing as he has been held in prolonged solitary confinement since his arbitrary arrest. 10 months ago. . Her 40-year-old son, Seif, was arrested two months later, in February 2021, and was also held in solitary confinement in conditions amounting to torture. Prior to their arrests, Egyptian security officials demanded that they relinquish control over Juhayna’s assets.

“Safwan and Seif Thabet are being punished simply for daring to defy demands by Egyptian security officials to hand over their family’s assets to the Juhayna company, which is a household name in Egypt. They showed rare courage in resisting the authorities’ attempt to blackmail them. We urge the Egyptian authorities to release the two men, who should never have been arrested, said Philip Luther, director of research and advocacy for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“In addition to being denied the right to challenge the legality of their detention, Safwan and Seif Thabet are tortured by being placed in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Egyptian authorities have long used bogus anti-terrorism charges and accusations to quell political dissent; now they are using the same tactic to target businessmen who refuse to comply with their arbitrary seizure orders.

Amnesty International spoke to three people familiar with the family situation of Juhayna and Thabet and examined court documents, press articles and official statements concerning the arrest and detention of the men.

Hostile takeover

In the early hours of December 2, 2020, around 50 armed police in four armored vehicles led by an officer from the National Security Agency – a specialized police force mandated to fight terrorism and security threats – stormed into the home. of Safwan Thabet in Cairo and arrested him.

For four days, security forces denied detaining him until he was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecutor’s Office (SSSP). Prosecutors told him he was accused of joining and funding a terrorist group based on a secret report with the NSA that neither Safwan nor his lawyer were allowed to review. No evidence of their involvement in a recognizable crime has been presented; the secret NSA report was the sole basis for their detention order.

Egyptian state media reported that Safwan Thabet was arrested on allegations of funding the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian authorities consider a terrorist group. The authorities have provided no evidence to support their claim regarding this alleged affiliation, which independent experts deny.

According to a source close to Juhayna’s operations, shortly before his arrest, a senior Egyptian official asked Safwan to sell part of his business to a public entity.

On January 31, 2021, two months after his father’s arrest, Seif Thabet was ordered to report to the NSA. Seif was not allowed to bring a lawyer to the meeting, in which a security official ordered him to hand over all of his family’s shares in Juhayna or suffer a similar fate on his father. The Thabet family continued to refuse to hand over their property.

On February 2, 2021, Seif Thabet returned to the NSA offices as instructed and did not reappear. Instead, security forces took him to the SSSP on February 6, where a prosecutor told him he was accused of joining and funding a terrorist group, again based on secret investigations by the NSA that he was not allowed to review. Authorities refused to reveal his whereabouts, until his family finally managed to locate him inside the infamous al-Aqrab (Scorpion) prison, which is part of the Torah prison complex, February 14th.

SSSP prosecutors and later judges of terrorist circuits in criminal courts have repeatedly extended their detention pending investigations. Prosecutors even extended their detention in their absence and that of their lawyers, and without allowing them at any time to challenge the legality of their detention.

Inhumane conditions

Safwan Thabet suffers from stomach ulcers, high cholesterol, fatty liver, knee replacement surgery and shoulder injuries. He has been held in solitary confinement at Mazra’at Tora Annex Prison, part of the Tora Penitentiary Complex, since his arrest, and the prison administration has refused to regularly deliver food, medicine or clothes. These cruel conditions, coupled with the denial of medical treatment, exacerbated concerns about his health.

According to an informed source, Seif Thabet was held in prolonged solitary confinement in an insect infested cell, deprived of access to a bathroom or shower and deprived of adequate food and water. His family were denied regular visitation rights and were only rarely allowed to see him. He sleeps on blankets on the floor and is prohibited from having personal items or clothing suitable for the climate.

Amnesty International considers the treatment inflicted by the prison authorities to amount to torture and other ill-treatment and violates Egypt’s obligations under international law. In addition to being subjected to prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement for months, they are held in inhumane conditions, given insufficient food and denied access to medication and treatment as well as regular family visits.

Pending their release, the Egyptian authorities must ensure that the two men are removed from solitary confinement and allowed access to adequate medical care, regular family and lawyer visits, as well as access to adequate food, water and sanitation facilities.

The public prosecutor must urgently open an investigation into their enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment and hold those responsible to account.

Corporate harassment

In January 2017, a court added Safwan Thabet and 1,500 others to the “terrorist list” without due process. Although the Court of Cassation revoked this designation in July 2018, another court re-listed Safwan Thabet on the list in April 2018, a decision which was upheld by the Court of Cassation in March 2021 for ban and freezing of assets.

A source close to Juhayna’s operations told Amnesty International that police officers stationed near some of the company’s facilities regularly stop drivers, seize their cars or licenses and sometimes detain them briefly, especially before peak seasons. distribution, particularly in April 2021. Egyptian and international media. reported in May 2021 that the Juhayna company had filed a formal complaint regarding the disruption to its operations.

In 2020, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi publicly called on authorities to expand the capacity to collect dairy products in Egypt. Throughout 2021, Egyptian pro-government media published articles calling for the state’s acquisition of Juhayna and accusing Safwan and Seif Thabet of terrorism.

“The attack on Juhayna shows how far the Egyptian authorities are willing to go to exercise control and shows how terrorism-related accusations are ruthlessly exploited in present-day Egypt, in total disregard of the impact of these measures affect the lives and livelihoods of those affected, ”said Philippe Luther.