EGYPT: Lawyer Mohsen Bahnasi, arrested and arbitrarily detained despite risks of contracting COVID-19
Mohsen Bahnasi is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Committee on Liberties of the Egyptian Bar Association. He advocates for the rights of political prisoners in Egypt.
On 27 March 2020, Mohsen Bahnasi received a call from someone who claimed to be in need of urgent legal advice and requested an appointment. When Mohsen Bahnasi arrived at the meeting place, he found several national security agents who arrested him violently. The agents did not show any judicial warrant. They took him to his home to carry out a search without presenting a search warrant. The agents seized money and his cell phone.
After the search, the lawyer was transferred to an unknown location. The authorities later reported that he was detained at the National Security Headquarters in Helwan, where he was interrogated, physically ill-treated and placed in solitary confinement. Mohsen Bahnasi has not been able to see his lawyer, who has not been given access to the case file or the arrest warrant. No evidence was presented regarding the charges against him and it would appear that the reasons for his arrest relate only to the opinions and positions of the lawyer.
Indeed, he is accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “spreading false news”, due to his publications on social networks in which he called for the release of Egyptian prisoners in the context of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Bahnasi said he was summoned, a few days before his arrest, to the national security headquarters, where he was questioned about writings and messages concerning the need to release prisoners for fear of a coronavirus pandemic. Although he answered questions and deleted all his publications, he was nevertheless arrested a few days later.
On 28 March 2020, the Supreme Prosecutor renewed Mohsen Bahnasi’s detention for another 15 days, pending an investigation.
He was transferred to Tora prison, which is known for its inhuman conditions of detention, especially because of its disastrous sanitary conditions. Isolated, he has no contact with his family or his lawyer. As long as he is detained, Mohsen Bahnasi runs a very high risk of contracting COVID-19.
The OIAD is deeply concerned by the arbitrary arrest and detention of lawyer Mohsen Bahnasi at a time when the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus is particularly high.
The OIAD strongly condemns the violence suffered by Mohsen Bahnasi, the pressure he has been subjected to regarding his publications and the searches that were carried out outside the law. The OIAD would like to remind the Egyptian authorities that under the 1990 UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers:
“Lawyers, like all other citizens, should enjoy freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they have the right to take part in public discussions concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights …” (Principle No. 23).
The OIAD calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Mohsen Bahnasi and allow him to exercise his profession as a lawyer in full independence.