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EGYPT: ARBITRARY DETENTION OF BUSINESSMEN THABET AS PART OF CRACKDOW ON SUCESSFUL BUSINESSES

The International League Against Arbitrary Detention urges the Government of Egypt to take all the necessary actions to implement the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion No. 12/2023 concerning Safwan Ahmed Hassan Thabet and Seif Eldin Safwan Ahmed Thabet (Egypt) starting for the Government of Egypt to accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.


Read the full WGAD Opinion concerning Safwan Ahmed Hassan Thabet and Seif Eldin Safwan Ahmed Thabet (Egypt) : Opinion No. 12/2023


DETAINED AS PART OF A CRACKDOW ON SUCESSFUL BUSINESSES IN EGYPT


Mr. Safwan Thabet is an Egyptian national and the founder and former chairman of Juhayna Food Industries. Mr. Seif Thabet is the eldest son of Mr. Safwan Thabet and has been the Chief Executive Officer of Juhayna Food Industries since 2016.


The two individuals were detained for over three and two years, respectively, as part of a crackdown on successful businesses, whereby the authorities use terrorism laws to add the names of business owners to terrorist lists and to justify the freeze and seizure of their assets. They own the largest producer of dairy and juice products in Egypt, Juhayna Food Industries, founded in 1983, which had the largest share of the country’s dairy market and a current capitalization of approximately 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($63.9 million).


ARRESTED AND DETAINED WITHOUT A LEGAL BASIS AND SUBJECTED TO ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE


The Working Group noted that Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet were released on 21 January 2023. However, Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet were detained without an arrest warrant, respectively on 2 December 2020 and on 6 February 2021, in violation of articles 3 and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9 (1) of the Covenant.


Following their respective arrests, both Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet were subjected to enforced disappearance for four consecutive days as the authorities refused to reveal their fate or whereabouts, despite the numerous efforts of their family members to obtain such information. The Working Group recalled that enforced disappearances are prohibited by international law and constitute a particularly aggravated form of arbitrary detention, which placed Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet outside the protection of the law, in violation of article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9 (2) and 16 of the Covenant.


DENIED THE RIGHT TO CHALLENGE THE LEGALITY OF THEIR THREE AND TWO YEARS DETENTION


Moreover, the Working Group found that Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet were denied the right to challenge the legality of their detention, in violation of article 9 (4) of the Covenant. The Workiin Group recalled that the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court is a self-standing human right, which is essential to preserve legality in a democratic society, which is in fact a peremptory norm of international law, which applies to all forms of deprivation of liberty, including not only to detention for purposes of criminal proceedings but also to situations of detention under administrative and other fields of law. The Working Group also noted the failure for the authorities to bring Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet before a judicial authority within 48 hours of their arrest in violation of article 9 (3) of the Covenant.


Finally, the Working Group noted that both Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet remained in pretrial detention in excess of three and two years, respectively. The Working Group recalled that it is a well-established norm of international law that pretrial detention shall be the exception and not the rule and that it should be ordered for as short a time as possible. Noting all the above, the Working Group considered that the pretrial detention of Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet, lacked a legal basis as it was not based on an individualized determination, and was neither reasonable nor necessary.


Consequently, the Working Group considered that the arrest and subsequent detention of Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet lacked legal basis and were therefore arbitrary under category I.


DENIED THE RIGHT TO PROMPTLY SEEK LEGAL REPRESENTATION


 Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet have been denied the right to promptly seek legal representation and communicate with their lawyers while in detention. The Working Group recaled that all persons deprived of their liberty have the right to legal assistance by counsel of their choice at any time during their detention, including immediately after their apprehension, and that such access must be provided without delay. The right to legal assistance is essential to the right to a fair trial as it serves to ensure that the principle of equality of arms is duly observed. In the present case, the Government violated articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 14 (3) (b) and (d) of the Covenant.


In the light of the foregoing, the Working Group considered that the violations of the rights of Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet to a fair trial were of such gravity as to render their detention arbitrary under category III.


A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM WITH ARBITRARY DETENTION IN EGYPT


The Working Group noted that the present opinion is only one of many opinions in recent years in which it has found the Government of Egypt to be in violation of its international human rights obligations. It expressed once again its concerns that this indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Egypt, which, if it continues, may amount to a serious violation of international law. The Working Group recalled that, under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.


CONCLUSIONS OF THE UN WORKING GROUP AGAINST ARBITRARY DETENTION


In light of the foregoing, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that the detention of  Safwan Ahmed Hassan Thabet and Seif Eldin Safwan Ahmed Thabet was arbitrary and fell under categories  I and III because their deprivation of liberty was in contravention of articles 3, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 9, 14 and 16 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended that the Government of Egypt take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Safwan Thabet and Mr. Seif Thabet without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, starting with their immediate release and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.


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