UN Body Calls for Release of Shi'a Muslim Detainee…Mohamed El-Derini Decision Condemns Interior Minister's Disregard for Court Rulings

Press Release

23 June 2005

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision in a case submitted last year by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) regarding the detention of Mohamed El-Derini on the basis of his Shi'a religious beliefs.

The international body's opinion, which was made public yesterday, 22 June 2005, described the continued detention of El-Derini as "arbitrary" and in contravention with international law, and requested the Egyptian government to "take the necessary steps to remedy the situation." The Working Group found that Egypt had violated Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party.

"[M]aintaing a person in administrative detention once his release has been ordered by the court competent to exercise control over the legality of detention renders the deprivation of liberty arbitrary," the written opinion read.

The Working Group also criticized the practice of recurrent administrative detention in Egypt, whereby the Interior Minister issues a new administrative detention order every time a detainee obtains a final court ruling ordering his release. The international body found that "in the present case no legal basis can be invoked to justify the detention, least of all an administrative order issued to circumvent a judicial decision ordering the release."

During the same week, a Supreme State Security Emergency Court issued a new final ruling ordering the release of Mohamed El-Derini in a session held last Sunday, 19 June 2005. This is the fourth final ruling obtained by the lawyers of the EIPR in favor of El-Derini. The Interior Ministry has failed to implement all of these rulings in consistence with its usual conduct which was described by the first annual report of the National Council for Human Rights as a "flagrant violation of legal legitimacy".

El-Derini was arrested at his house on 22 March 2004 as part of a larger campaign of arrests that targeted a number of Egyptian Shi'a Muslims. While all the other detainees were released at a later stage, El-Derini has been in custody for 15 months now without ever being charged or even referred to prosecution. In addition to the four court rulings ordering his release, the EIPR submitted three complaints to the Office of the General Prosecutor and two complaints to the National Council for Human Rights calling for El-Derini to be released or referred to trial. No response has been received to any of these complaints.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is an international quasi-judicial panel of five independent experts appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The Group will submit its opinion condemning the Egyptian Government (Opinion No. 5/2005) to the next meeting of the CHR member states.  

The EIPR has also submitted a similar complaint to the African Union's African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights last May. The African Commission will start considering the case at its next session.

"We will use every local and international mechanism available to us until Mohamed El-Derini is released or referred to trial," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "The Egyptian government must realize that seeking African leadership or a Security Council seat has a price that involves abiding by the rule of law and fulfilling the state's responsibility under the constitution and international law.