Without guarantees... Detention of more than 1,500 defendants renewed by illegal collective decisions


3 March 2024

The Third Circuit of the Terrorism Criminal Court renewed the detention of 1,516 defendants in various cases, either by issuing a decision to extend their pretrial detention for 45 days in the absence of their lawyers or by postponing the consideration of the renewal of their detention. This occurred during sessions held via video conference at the Badr Rehabilitation and Correctional Center between Feb 25th and 28th, 2024.

Headed by Judge Wagdy Abdel-Moneim, the court renewed the detention of all those brought before it over the past month, as it did earlier in January. In February, EIPR lawyers witnessed repeated hearings that lacked the minimum guarantees of the defendants' rights to a fair trial. The court issued hundreds of decisions to extend the defendants’ pretrial detention without examining any of their cases while preventing lawyers from attending with their clients in some cases. Moreover, the court did not allow the lawyers to make sure their clients were present on the screen, thus depriving them of pleading and hearing the reasons for the prosecution's request to renew the defendants’ detention or hearing the defendants’ demands and complaints.

On Sunday, February 25th, the court informed the lawyers that the number of defendants brought before it was large and that only two lawyers would be allowed to attend the session to represent all defendants coming from each prison. The lawyers objected to the measure, saying it violated the right of defence. Then, the court told them it would adjourn the hearing for a month if they insisted on their objection. The court did not consider Article 143 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, which stipulates that the release of a defendant becomes mandatory upon the expiration of the previous period of detention without a judicial decision to renew the detention.

In the presence of two lawyers, the court began by looking into the detention orders for the defendants detained in the “Tenth of Ramadan Prison – 6” at once. Meanwhile, the EIPR lawyer could not attend with ten clients that day, and he was prohibited from proving his presence since the court had ended its contact with the prison after issuing a decision to extend the detention of all defendants for 45 days. The court’s decision violated Article 136 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, which states that “the investigating judge shall, before issuing a detention order, hear the statements of the Public Prosecution and the defendant’s lawyer. The detention order shall state the crime attributed to the defendant, the penalty prescribed for it, and the reasons on which it was based”.

By the end of that day, the court renewed the detention of 526 defendants, including former spokesman of the 6 April Youth Movement - Democratic Front Sherif El-Rouby, on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news in Case No. 1634 of 2022. On the same day, the court renewed - in violation of the law - the detention of several defendants who exceeded the legal maximum limit of pretrial detention without facing them with solid evidence or referring them to trial. Those included Abdel-Baqi Saeed Abdo and Nour Fayez Ibrahim Gerges, who have been detained in Case No. 2993 of 2021 on charges of contempt of religions. They also included Ehab Masoud Ibrahim, Wael Ahmed Ali, Mohamed Abdel-Hamid Ghoneim, and Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed Abu Donia, who have been detained in Case No. 1358 of 2019; and Mahmoud Hussein Yassin Shaaban and Al-Sayyed Ibrahim Saleh, who have been detained for nearly four years in Case No. 970 of 2020.

The situation on 26 February was not much different, as the court did not prevent lawyers from attending with their clients due to the relatively small number of defendants brought before the court - 241 defendants. However, it prevented lawyers from performing their work, as the head of the court insisted that their presence should complement the legal procedures only, provided that their requests would be limited to the release of the defendants, without addressing the defects in the procedures. The defendants who attended without lawyers were not assigned lawyers, and were not allowed to speak.

The number of defendants remained relatively small in the sessions held on 27 and 28 February, with 386 and 363 defendants attending on each day respectively. However, the court renewed – on paper – the detention of a number of defendants who attended without lawyers. It presented the defendants coming from the Tenth of Ramadan 6, the Tenth of Ramadan 2, and Badr 1 prisons only. It did not allow any of the lawyers to present their arguments and only proved their presence in the minutes.

In the last session in February, the court adjourned the hearing without issuing a single release decision. Meanwhile, the secretary of the prosecution informed the lawyers that the examination of the detention orders for the defendants who were not issued a decision in all the remaining prisons and police stations was adjourned, giving no reason.

None of the defendants tried before the terrorism courts that convened in Badr Prison via video conference was released during the current judicial year, which began in October 2023. Thus, thousands of defendants continue to be detained without real examination of their cases. Yet, there is no hope that the court would release them, after it turned its hearings into "mandatory" renewal sessions.

EIPR reiterates its call for Public Prosecutor Mohamed Shawky to issue a quick decision to release all those who have exceeded the maximum period of pretrial detention prescribed by law. It stresses that despite the Prosecution’s positive statement earlier this month about the release of 60 citizens as part of the "periodic review" of the status of all detainees, this number remains insufficient in light of the current situation, especially at terrorism courts.

EIPR once again calls on judges investigating detention renewals to abide by and respect the law, consider the detainees’ interests, and allow the defendants to be physically present to guarantee the right to defense, communication, and access. In case videoconferencing is an obstacle to justice, there is no law that prevents judges from holding hearings in the defendants' physical presence.