Egyptian Scholar Sentenced To 4 Years In Jail After An Unjust Verdict

Ahmed Samir Santawy’s verdict reflects the intensity of Egypt’s ongoing crackdown and attack on academic freedom and free expression

This conviction was based on his social media posts in which Ahmed had criticized the state’s handling of the pandemic and the human rights violations in the Egyptian prison, something which Ahmed had denied in writing earlier.

Misdemeanors Emergency State Security court on June 22 sentenced Ahmed Samir Santawy, a master’s student in Sociology and Social Anthropology at Central European University (Vienna), to four years in prison for publishing “false news” and “spreading misinformation”.

This conviction was based on his social media posts in which Ahmed had criticized the state’s handling of the pandemic and the human rights violations in the Egyptian prison, something which Ahmed had denied in writing earlier.

Santawy’s verdict reflects the intensity of Egypt’s ongoing crackdown and attack on academic freedom and free expression. In recent years, the Egyptian security forces have arrested and detained hundreds of activists, journalists, academics, researchers, human rights defenders, and peaceful protestors. These people have been subjected to harassment, torture, and other forms of ill-treatment during their prolonged pre-trial detention on unfounded and arbitrary charges like terrorism and false news.

Ahmed has been on a hunger strike for the last 25 days, refusing to eat unless he is given a fair verdict. Ahmed told his father, “I’m not a criminal, I go out or I die”. He could not be dissuaded by family members and friends and said that death cannot make much difference to the unjust prison sentence where he already spent six months.

Background: Ahmed Samir Santawy was arbitrarily detained by the National Security Agency (NSA) on February 1, 2021, when he came to Egypt to visit his family. He was held incommunicado for five days with no access to his family or lawyers. On February 6, Ahmed was made to appear before the Supreme State Security Prosecutor (SSSP) who accused him of joining a “terrorist organization” and “spreading false news”.

The only evidence presented that the time was the screenshots of Facebook posts allegedly from Ahmed’s account. He was questioned about his studies and research at CEU which concerned women’s rights in Egypt, particularly their reproductive rights. Ahmed’s work focused on anti-abortion laws and the importance of women’s rights to safe health care.

According to Ahmed’s lawyer, he was severely beaten and harassed during his interrogation by NSA. He was shifted to solitary confinement in the Liman Torah Prison on February 6, where his situation increasingly deteriorated. On February 23, he was accused of “funding a terrorist organization” under State Security case no. 21/2021 on the basis of the NSA investigations file which neither Ahmed nor his lawyers were allowed to examine.

When he told the SSSP about his forced disappearance and ill-treatment by NSA during his detention, it did not order any investigation into these allegations. The SSSP also ignored the requests of Ahmed’s lawyers to conduct an examination by the Forensic Medical Authority. While Ahmed spent several months detained in the prison, his pre-trial was renewed four times in the absence of his lawyers.

A protest to demand the release of Ahmed was held in Vienna (Image credits: #FreeAhmedSamir campaign)

More than 350 researchers and internationally recognized experts have signed an academic petition for Ahmed’s release. The students, faculty, and staff of Central European University also started the #FreeAhmedSamir campaign when Ahmed was detained in February. Working together with several NGOs like Amnesty International, they have been demanding the immediate release of Ahmed. They have held several protests all over Europe and the demand for Ahmed’s release was even taken up by some members of the European Parliament in the Parliamentary meetings.

The current verdict, therefore, was a hard blow on their consistent efforts. Gabriella, #FreeAhmedSamir campaign’s spokesperson said, “It was very scary because it shows that the Egyptian government is cracking down all academics and this is something that really threatens Egyptian academics all over the world. It somehow feels like Ahmed has been used as some sort of an example by the Egyptian government of something, that is, if you are studying something that can be considered controversial then this is going to happen to you.”

In a similar fashion, Patrick George Zaki, another researcher and master’s student at the University of Bologna, was arrested in February 2020 at Cairo airport upon his arrival from Italy. He was charged with “publishing rumors and false news that aim to disturb social peace and sow chaos”, “incitement to protest without permission from the relevant authorities with the aim of undermining state authority”, “calling for the overthrow of the state”, “managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety” and “incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes”. Like Ahmed, he was also subjected to severe mental and physical torture during his pre-trial detention. Zaki still remains in custody pending investigation into these charges.

Ahmed’s sentence comes under the backdrop of similar attacks against freedom of expression, academic freedom, and peaceful assembly. The ruling in Ahmed’s case is final and cannot be appealed, however, the President has the right to stop this by granting pardon. Right now, the #FreeAhmedSamir campaign is working with other international organizations like Amnesty International, to demand presidential rejection of the sentence.

Leave a Reply