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(Beirut) – The Egyptian Authorities will widely deploy a videoconferencing system starting in 2022 to conduct pre-custody hearings remotely and permanently avoid bringing detainees to court in person, Human Rights Watch said today Could The system is inherently abusive because it undermines the legitimacy and conditions of detention, the well-being of detainees, and the right of detainees to be physically brought before a judge to be able to speak directly to and with the judge. Is. Lawyer in private.

Flawed videoconferencing systems exacerbate long-standing abusive pre-trial detention practices and flagrant due process violations, and effectively contribute to the cover-up of abusive detention conditions. Vulnerable prisoners remain isolated and arbitrarily denied contact or correspondence with family and lawyers for months or years.

“Egyptian authorities strangle fair justice by undermining the requirement for a judge to review whether someone should remain in pre-trial detention,” he said. amar magadi, senior researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities must eliminate the remote detention renewal system, reform abusive pre-trial detention practices, and guarantee due process rights.”

Justice Minister Omar Marwan on December 20, 2021 Decree number 8901 of 2021 issued, allowing judges to conduct pre-trial detention renewal hearings remotely “using technology” while “adhering to all legal guarantees”. The decree did not specify what these guarantees cover or link using the procedure to a specific emergency or situation. According to media reportsThe authorities started using the system on a limited scale from October 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human Rights Watch interviewed six Egyptian human rights lawyers who represented detainees during remote detention renewal sessions. Lawyers said all remote hearings, overseen by terrorism courts (part of the Badr Criminal Court) at the new Badr prison complex east of Cairo, were monitored. Human Rights Watch interviewed relatives of six men who had spent months or years in pre-trial detention and were transferred by the authorities to Badr in 2022. Family members said prison authorities have denied their detained relatives regular visits from family and lawyers, in some cases for up to eight years, as well as written or phone communication.

The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, an independent rights group, said in a 2023 report that the terrorism circuit in the Badr court 25,035 pretrial detention renewal orders reviewed in 2022, mostly for crimes related to political activism. Judges upheld all but 1.4 percent of detention orders. Lawyers and family members said that for the hearing, the defendant is taken by prison officials to a prison room while judges, prosecutors and lawyers gather in a courtroom, without detainees. Both parties communicate using video conference technology. Lawyers said the opportunity for remote hearing has been removed confidential communication with their detained clients.

All six lawyers said that judges often did not give lawyers or detainees enough time to speak, and silenced and silenced detainees who attempted to complain about conditions of detention. Lawyers also noted that, when a case involves multiple detainees, judges typically review the case collectively rather than addressing each detainee’s legal status separately. Judges routinely block lawyers and detainees from reviewing precise charges or prosecution files as a long-standing practice in “state security” cases.

Human Rights Watch noted that such due process violations effectively deprive detainees of their rights to adequate defense of their detention and to fair judicial review.

Lawyers also said that because detainees participate in video sessions in the presence of prison officials, they may feel they cannot speak about detainee abuse without retaliation.

Human Rights Watch and others organizations It has been documented in recent years that the authorities routinely undermine the right to legal advice by preventing visits by lawyers. However, during previous in-person court hearings, detainees inside detention cells in courtrooms sometimes had a narrow window – usually 5 to 15 minutes – to speak hurriedly with lawyers and see family members. For, though from behind a barrier. Relatives and lawyers said these brief moments allowed families to learn about the well-being of their detained relatives after authorities stopped prison visits, but that is no longer possible under the remote hearing system.

Family members of Anas al-Beltagi, who have been in arbitrary imprisoned More than nine years without a criminal conviction, said authorities denied family visits for seven years while keeping him in solitary confinement and that in-person detention renewal sessions were the only opportunity he had to leave his cell Had to leave “Since these [remote] The session began, I don’t know anything about him – sometimes I wonder whether he is alive or dead, ”said the relative.

Lawyers said that in several sessions, the judges abruptly ended the video meeting, which ended the entire series of hearings for that detention facility and renewed it without reviewing the detention of all remaining cases.

One of the six lawyers said that in several sessions, judges asked prison officials to completely remove prisoners from the room where they attended video meetings because the prisoners were “talking too much”, while this Claiming that there was no time to listen to everyone due to the large number of cases.

During a remote pre-trial detention renewal session before the Badr court in February 2022, a judge ended video calls with detainees at Badr 1 and Abu Zabal prisons after several detainees held their grudge for about two minutes Had talked about the situation, a lawyer said at the convention. But november 27 and december 21And 28The Egyptian Front for Human Rights reported that in 2022, judges ended video calls with detainees at Badr 3 prison after detainees spoke out about abuses in custody.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Freedom, a leading Egyptian human rights organization, said in In March that Badr court canceled the remote pretrial detention renewal sessions of detainees at Badr 3 Jail for a month on the pretext of “technical issues”. This cancellation coincides with news reports that many detainees moved hunger strike or suicide attempt Reasons for detention conditions when refusing visits.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter with detailed questions on 18 April to the offices of the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor General but received no response.

The Human Rights Committee oversees the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, Said That persons detained on criminal grounds should be physically brought before a judge, especially if this presence “will assist in the inquiry into the legality of the detention or where questions arise in relation to the ill-treatment of the person detained”. ” under International lawAll prisoners shall have the right to confidential legal aid during interviews and during any other procedural action.

Since 2014, under the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the authorities have held thousands of prisonersespecially in political matters, in arbitrariness for a long time Pre-trial detention without presenting evidence of wrongdoing, often simply for exercising their rights of peaceful assembly and free expression. Egyptian Criminal Procedural Code Is erroneous and does not get international requirements, as it allows prosecutors, not judges, to order detention for up to 150 days. The code also allows for the holding of detainees in pre-trial detention. for two yearsbut the officers often held captive beyond that limit.

International and African Human Rights Law requiring authorities to use pre-trial detention as an exception, not a rule, and only when clearly necessary for specific reasons, and for the shortest possible time. The defendant must be brought to trial within a reasonable time and must have the right to appear before a judge to decide on the legality and necessity of their detention.

Magadi said, “Instead of fixing their abusive pre-trial detention laws and practices, which contributed to the unjustified imprisonment of thousands of people, the Egyptian authorities are using a system that is unfair to lawyers and family.” prevents their contact with, and effectively covers up, abuses against them.”

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