French prosecutors issued international arrest warrants for three prominent Syrian officials charged with collusion in crimes against humanity on Nov. 5, in what human rights lawyers are calling a major victory in the pursuit of those believed responsible for mass torture and abuse in the regime's detention facilities. The arrest warrants name three leading security officials—including Ali Mamlouk, a former intelligence chief and senior adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as head of the Air Force Intelligence security branch, Jamil Hassan. A third, Abdel Salam Mahmoud—an Air Force Intelligence officer who reportedly runs a detention facility at al-Mezzeh military base in southwest Damascus—was also named. Hassan and Mamlouk are among the most senior Syrian officials to receive an international arrest warrant throughout the course of the conflict. Air Force Intelligence chief Hassan is already the subject of another warrant issued by German prosecutors earlier this year. Both men have been sanctioned by the international community for their role in abuses since the first outbreak of unrest in Syria in spring 2011.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian government Oct. 3 to immediately identify the whereabouts of and free Ezzat Ghoneim, a prominent human rights lawyer who has been missing for approximately three weeks. Ghoneim was arrested on March 1 on his way home from work. His whereabouts were not known for three days until a group of lawyers were granted access to him in a prosecutor's office in Cairo. These lawyers learned that, during the time he was missing, he was being interrogated by law enforcement officers. He was questioned as a defendant in a state security case in which he, a popular blogger, three journalists and a student were accused of spreading false news and "supporting a terrorist group." Following these interrogations, Ghoneim continued to be detained. On Sept. 4 a judge reviewed Ghoneim's detention and ordered his release conditioned on his reporting to a police station every two weeks. However, according to his wife, police refused to release him, citing the need for further "instructions from the National Security Agency." His wife again reported to the police station where he was being held on Sept. 13, when she was informed that he had already been released. She claims that neither she nor any of their friends have seen him since his supposed release.
Six UN Special Rapporteurs called on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Sept. 17 to respond to a recent Egyptian court decision that condemned 75 protesters to death. The court sentenced another 47 protesters to life in prison. The protesters were charged with illegal gathering, involvement in violence, and incitement to break the law. The Special Rapporteurs state that those who have been sentenced did not receive a fair trial, as they were not given the right to present evidence in their defense. The UNHRC was called upon to "send a strong message to all States that they have a duty under international law to investigate arbitrary killings and prosecute those responsible as well as to apply due process and fair trial standards." The Special Rapporteurs said the executions would be "arbitrary deprivations of life,” and stated that the life prison sentences are “grossly disproportionate and, therefore, may well amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment."
Armed street clashes have rocked Tripoli over the past week, as militias linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have vied for control of the Libyan capital with rival militias that have launched an offensive on the city from the southeast. The most significant of these is the 7th Brigade from the town of Tarhuna—also known as as the Kaniat Brigade, led by the Kani brothers. The 7th Brigade has rejected the truce, vowing to continue fighting until it "cleanses Tripoli of militias." The 7th Brigade has reportedly assumed control of the airport. There have been reports that that GNA has launched air-strikes on Tarhuna, but these were denied by the Presidential Council, which said that the strikes targeted only "aggressor" postitions inside Tripoli. The city's electricity has intermittently gone out amid the fighting, and access to Facebook—the only news source for most Libyans—has been blocked, although it is unclear by whom. The GNA has declared a state of emergency in the city, and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has formed a "crisis committee" to try to broker peace. But warlord Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, who is loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government, anticipated the fall of Tripoli, saying that "liberating the Libyan capital is inevitable." (Middle East Eye, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Al Jazeera, Libya Herald, Reuters )
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a cybersecurity law Aug. 18 that gives the government broad authority to block websites deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy, imposing prison terms for anyone found guilty of running or just visiting such sites. Amnesty International described the new law as giving "the state near-total control over print, online and broadcast media." The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed. There is another cybersecurity law before the president, which would place all Twitter accounts with more than 5,000 followers under government supervision. With street protests in Egypt all but banned, the Internet has been one of the last spaces left for dissent. Sisi has been in power since 2013 and won an election this past spring with 92% of the vote. Sisi ran virtually unopposed, and the turn-out was only 40%.
The Trump administration has decided to release $195 million in military aid to Egypt that had been frozen last year because of human rights concerns, the State Department announced July 25. The decision is intended to recognize "steps Egypt has taken over the last year in response to specific US concerns," the statement said. A high-level Egyptian military delegation had been in Washington for talks prior to the announcement. The funds, falling under Foreign Military Financing, are intended for Egypt to buy US-made military equipment. Human rights groups slammed the decision by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying he had squandered valuable leverage over President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at a time when his regime's rights record only seems to be worsening. "Repression is breeding resentment, and in some cases radicalization," said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. "That will ultimately further destabilize Egypt and undermine American interests."
Egypt's chief prosecutor on May 7 referred 555 individuals suspected of joining a local affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS) group to military court. The charges against them arise out of a series of attacks carried out by dozens of small militant groups situated in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. The suspects will faces charges for the planned and executed killings of security personnel, attacks on military checkpoints, and the destruction of a gas pipeline between Egypt and Jordan carried out over a series of 63 attacks.
Human Rights Watch on Feb. 26 accused Egyptian authorities of escalating arbitrary arrests against political opponents. According to HRW, the arrests, which took place in late January and February, are part of a government strategy to quell political protests ahead of the next presidential election to be held in late March. A statement earlier this month by regional human rights organizations charges that "the Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections." The statement accuses President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of creating a repressive environment, and demands that the US and European Union, which provide substantial aid to the Egyptian government, speak out.