El Sharkawi v. Arab Republic of Egypt
Challenging Detention Under Egypt’s Emergency Law
Mohammed El Sharkawi was deported from Pakistan to Egypt in May 1995. From November 1996 until his release in March 2011, Sharkawi was held under Egypt’s Emergency Law without charge or trial. He was also subjected to severe physical mistreatment amounting to torture, and other human rights abuses. Since his release there has been no acknowledgement that his detention violated his human rights, and he has been given no redress.
In May 1995, Mohammed Abderrahim El Sharkawi was detained by the Egyptian authorities. He was then held for 15 years under the 1958 Emergency Law in various prisons without charge or trial. Sharkawi’s detention was made possible by both the powers granted to the executive branch under the Emergency Law, and the Egyptian authorities’ disregard for the 15 judicial orders for release.
During his time in prison, Sharkawi was subjected to various forms of physical mistreatment, including beatings with hands and rubber sticks, electroshocks and being tied to the ceiling from his wrists and ankles. During much of his detention, including during interrogation and when in his cell, he was handcuffed and blindfolded. Sharkawi was also held incommunicado, in particular during the first six weeks of his detention. Sharkawi was subjected to this abuse during interrogations, as a form of punishment for making complaints about his treatment, and as part of the routine running of the prisons.
The torture of Sharkawi was facilitated by the lack of safeguards in the Egyptian detention system. In particular, Sharkawi was denied proper medical treatment, even after filing numerous complaints about his poor physical health and making several requests for medical assistance during his time in detention. The torture and lack of treatment has left Mr. El Sharkawi with lasting health problems—including problems with his neck and back—that he did not suffer from before he was detained. The authorities also routinely refused him access to lawyers and his family. Mr. El Sharkawi was also restricted from carrying out religious observance or punished when he did so.
The government of Egypt’s treatment of Sharkawi is consistent with a pattern and practice of indefinitely detaining individuals without charge or trial under the Emergency Law and of widespread torture of those detained, including at the specific facilities where he was detained.
Despite Sharkawi’s numerous complaints about his physical abuse, denial of medical assistance, detention conditions, and other concerns, his complaints were never investigated and he has been provided no redress. Instead his complaints resulted in physical abuse and other forms of punishment. When Sharkawi contacted government officials to inquire about the status of his complaints after being released, the officials said they no longer had access to the complaints and therefore could not act upon them.
In March 17, 2011, three months after the submission of the letter introducing his communication to the African Commission and following the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, Sharkawi was released. He was not, however, provided with any explanation, apology, compensation or other redress for the violations of his rights over the previous sixteen years.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The Justice Initiative represents Sharkawi in proceedings before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. We argue that his detention without trial and torture violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Arbitrary and Unlawful Detention: The laws under which Sharkawi was detained were arbitrary, and his continued detention in the face of repeated court rulings ordering his release was unlawful, in violation of Article 6 of the Charter.
Right to Access an Independent Court: The Government’s failure to comply with court orders to release Sharkawi reflects the structural lack of independence of the State Security Emergency Courts and violated his right to access a competent national tribunal, and the independence of those tribunals, in violation of Articles 7(1)(a) and 26 of the Charter.
Right to Fair Trial without Undue Delay: The detention of Sharkawi for 15 years without bringing him to trial violated his right to be tried within a reasonable time under Article 7(1)(d) of the Charter, and his right to be presumed innocent under Article 7(1)(b). During that period he was also denied adequate access to his lawyer to prepare his defence in violation of Article 7(1)(c).
Torture: While in detention, Sharkawi was repeatedly beaten, hung from the ceiling, and electrocuted during interrogations and in response to making complaints about his treatment. He was also periodically held incommunicado. This abuse constituted torture, in violation of Article 5 of the Charter.
Failure to Provide Safeguards against Torture: The Government failed to provide adequate safeguards against torture, including denying Sharkawi adequate access to a lawyer and medical assistance, and preventing his family from visiting him, in violation of its positive obligations under Articles 1 and 5.
Failure to Conduct Effective Investigation of Torture. The Government has failed to conduct any meaningful investigation into the torture suffered by Sharkawi, in further violation of Articles 1 and 5.
Other Violations in Detention: Sharkawi was regularly detained in conditions which did not respect his dignity, in further violation of Article 5 of the Charter. He was denied medical care and held in crowded conditions with prisoners suffering infectious diseases, violating his right to health under Article 16. The state denied Mr. El Sharkawi his right to family life by denying him access to family visits and detaining him far from his family, contrary to Article 18. Finally, at times he was punished for practicing his religion, or prevented from doing so by restraints, in violation of Article 8.
Failure to Provide Redress: The Government failed to take any steps to give effect to Sharkawi’s rights, and to provide redress for the violations that he suffered, contrary to Article 1, in conjunction with each of the above articles.
Relief Sought: Given the nature of the violations, over an extended period of time and arising from systemic flaws in Egypt’s legal structure, Sharkawi has requested (1) acknowledgement and publication of the violations and an apology, (2) compensation and rehabilitation, (3) investigation of those responsible through a Commission of Inquiry, and (4) legislative reforms to prevent future violations.
The Justice Initiative files submissions on merits with the African Commission.
The Justice Initiative files submissions on admissibility with the African Commission.
The African Commission seizes the case.
Sharkawi is released from prison.
The Justice Initiative files a letter of introduction with the African Commission.
Sharkawi is detained by Egyptian authorities.
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African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Learn more about the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a judicial body that delivers binding judgments on compliance with the African Charter.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Learn more about the African Commission, which is tasked with promoting and protecting human rights by interpreting the African Charter and considering individual complaints.