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Startseite Urgent Actions 2023 09 Arbitrarily detained critic risks harsh sentence
UA 089/23
Aktiv seit 14. September 2023 | Noch 42 Tage Laufzeit

Arbitrarily detained critic risks harsh sentence

AI-Index: MDE 12/7201/2023

Hisham Kassem, a prominent Egyptian opposition politician and publisher, is facing a sentence of up to three years in prison on defamation and other politically-motivated charges brought against him solely for the exercise of his right to freedom of expression, including for publicly criticising a former government minister. His trial has been marred by breaches of his right to adequate defence and other fair trial safeguards. A verdict is expected on 16 September. He must be immediately and unconditionally released.


Hisham Kassem is one of the founders of the Free Current Movement, a coalition of opposition liberal parties and political figures formed in June 2023 calling for alternative economic policies. He is a prominent news publisher and author, and former president of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights.

Hisham Kassem’s arrest on 20 August comes amid the Egyptian authorities intensified crackdown on critics and the harassment of relatives of dissidents abroad. In August 2023, the authorities arrested the fathers of Egyptian journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada, based in Belgium, and German-Egyptian activist Fagr al-Adly, based in Germany. Both have been questioned about their sons’ activism. On 30 August, the authorities re-arrested Mahmoud Hussein, who was arbitrarily detained between January 2014 and March 2016, for wearing a T-Shirt with the slogan «A Nation without Torture» in relation to a case dating back to January 2014. On 2 September, prominent activist Mohamed Adel was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on bogus charges of «spreading false news». Another activist and former detainee Ahmed Hamdy al-Sayed, also known as «Gika», was rearrested in June 2023 and subjected to enforced disappearance until 27 August, when prosecutors ordered his detention pending investigations into bogus accusations of «spreading false news». This unrelenting assault of peaceful dissent exposes the government’s lack of commitment to genuine reform, despite launching the long-awaited National Dialogue with the opposition in May 2023 and the release of a handful of high-profile critics held in prolonged and unjust imprisonment for political reasons, including Ahmed Douma and Patrick Zaki. Thousands more continue to be held arbitrarily solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly, without legal basis or following grossly unfair trials.

The Egyptian authorities have increasingly consolidated their grip on the media in recent years through online censorship, raiding and closing independent media outlets and controlling content in both public and private media. Since 2013, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained, prosecuted and/or convicted journalists and other media workers simply for expressing critical views or carrying out their media work. They have also routinely used criminal defamation charges to punish critical journalists. For instance, on 7 September 2022, Mada Masr editor-in-chief Lina Attalah and three journalists, Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab were questioned by prosecutors on charges of «spreading false news» and «defamation» of Nation’s Future party members and «deliberately disturbing [them]», in addition to «operating an unlicensed website» in the case of Lina Attalah. According to Mada Masr’s lawyers, prosecutors asked the editor-in-chief to identify the authors and editors of the article in question as well as the outlet’s sources, institutional workflow and funding. The journalists were all released on bail, but the case remains open. Mada Masr has unsuccessfully sought a license since 2018.

Egyptian legislation treats defamation as a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Defamation laws have been used to punish political opponents solely for expressing opinions critical of the government or public officials, which are not compatible with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a party. The UN Human Rights Committee has been clear that the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties. Defamation should rather be treated as a matter of civil litigation, given that criminal penalties for defamation impose an undue restriction and have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression. Under international human rights law and standards, all public figures including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.


Take action

  • Write an appeal in your own words or use the model letter below.

  • Take action on Social media: Infos see the yellow field on the right.

  • Please take action before 9 November 2023.

  • Preferred language: Arabic, English. You can also write in your own language.

Model letter

Dear Counsellor,

I am writing to express my deep concern over the arbitrary detention on politically-motivated charges brought against Egyptian publisher, writer and opposition politician Hisham Kassem who in recent months has been vocal in his criticism of the authorities’ mishandling of the economic crisis and the role of the military. Hisham Kassem, aged 64, was detained on 20 August after being summoned to the South Cairo Prosecution office for interrogations in case no. 5007 of 2023 following a complaint of defamation lodged by former labour minister Kamal Abu Eita, whom Hisham Kassem criticized online and accused of corruption. Prosecutors ordered his release on bail of 5'000 Egyptian pounds, but he refused to post the bail, maintaining that his detention was arbitrary and that he did not commit any acts that merited imprisonment. On 21 August, Hisham Kassem was once again questioned by prosecutors in another case no. 5284 of 2023 in relation to complaints by three policemen at al-Sayeda Zeinab police station, where he was detained on 20 August. According to his lawyers, these complaints are linked to his online post on 21 August explaining his decision not to post bail, noting that he was «more honourable that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and all his men».

On 22 August, Hisham Kassem’s lawyers learned that he was referred to trial by the Cairo Economic Misdemeanours Court on charges of slander, libel, insulting a public official and intentionally disturbing the authorities. If convicted, he faces up to three years of imprisonment, according to his lawyer. His lawyers have said that authorities have violated several fair trial guarantees as they refused to provide them copies of his casefile ahead of the trial, which began on 2 September, and banned media and foreign diplomats from observing hearings without explanation. Hisham Kassem, who is being held in the 10th of Ramadan prison, began a hunger strike on 23 August, which according to his lawyers had a detrimental impact on his health. He suspended it on 12 September. The ruling is expected on 16 September.

I urge you to ensure that Hisham Kassem is immediately and unconditionally released and all charges against him dropped as he is detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. The Egyptian authorities must stop using criminal defamation laws to muzzle dissidents and amend the Egyptian Penal Code and other relevant laws to bring them in line with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law including by decriminalizing «insult» and «defamation» and treating «defamation» as a matter for civil litigation.

Yours sincerely,


Appeals to

Public Prosecutor Hamada al-Sawi
Office of the Public Prosecutor
Madinat al-Rehab
Arab Republic of Egypt

Fax: +202 2577 4716
Twitter: @EgyptianPPO


Copies to

Botschaft der Arabischen Republik Ägypten
Elfenauweg 61
3006 Bern

Fax: 031 352 06 25
E-Mail: ; (


You could also send copies to:

President Abdelfattah al-Sisi
Office of the President, Al Ittihadia Palace
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202 2391 1441
Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial

Minister of Interior
Mahmoud Tawfiq
Ministry of the Interior
25 El Sheikh Rihan Street Bab al-Louk, Cairo, Egypt
Fax: +202 2794 5529
Email: or
Twitter: @moiegy
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please also send copies to the Presidential pardons committee, via the address of the National Council for Human Rights:

National Council for Human Rights
340 D - شارع التسعين الشمالى - التجمع الخامس - القاهرة - مصر
Fax: +2028135607
Whatsapp/phone: +201558345554


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Letter delivery to other countries - General info:
It is possible to send PRIORITY letters to almost all countries.
Please check
on the Website of the Swiss Post, whether letters are currently being delivered to the destination country.
If not, we ask you to use other communication channels (email, fax or social media, if available) for the delivery of your appeal and/or send it via the embassy with the request for forwarding to the named person.

Response on your appeal/letter

It might be that you will receive a reply to your appeal letter. You do not have to answer to it by yourself, but we would be grateful if you would send us this letter. Ideally scanned by e-mail to We forward the replies to the relevant research team (via Amnesty's International Secretariat). The colleagues analyze the content and decide on how to proceed, which may be reflected in a Further information.

Incidentally, we do not fear any consequences for UA activists in Switzerland. However, it makes sense to consider not to wrtite a letter if you intend to travel to the country (or have family there). This applies above all to «problematic» and repressive countries. (Russia, Turkey, China, ...)

Social media

Twitter, target


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Suggested Tweet

#Egypt: Prominent critic Hisham Kassem is on trial on bogus defamation charges simply for criticizing the authorities. The verdict is expected on 16 Sept; if convicted, he faces up to 3 years of prison. Call on @EgyptianPPO to immediately and unconditionally release him.
[Link to UA]

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