Cairo: 29 March 2020

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said today that the National Security Agency followed a strict police approach during the arrest of human rights lawyer Mohsen Bahnasi yesterday (Friday).  First, during his interrogation, the State Security Prosecution refused to let Bahnasi’s lawyers have access to the investigation record and the arrest warrant. The prosecutors also presented no evidence on the accusations they pressed against him, while the investigation only revolved around Bahnasi’s views and stances towards political issues making it more like the Inquisition courts and not a legal investigation.

According to his fellow lawyers, Mohsen Bahnasi had received a phone call from a person who claimed that he is in need of a legal aid and asked to meet him as soon as possible to inform him of the details. Giving him the address, Bahnasi consequently agreed to meet the man near his home. But on the agreed date, he was surprised by a security force attacking and beating him before taking to him into a microbus that headed to his home, where he was searched, his money and mobile phone was seized, and his family was verbally insulted. Then he was taken to the National Security headquarters in Helwan region (Al-Maasara), where he was beaten again and detained in a dirty small room, before he was transferred to the State Security Prosecution headquarters.

In the State Security Prosecution, dozens of lawyers received inhumane treatment as they were refused entry to the prosecution office and were left on the street for several hours. The matter dismayed one of the attendees who in turn expressed his objection and took a picture of the lawyers in the street, and as a result, the Prosecution building’s security guards arrested him and didn’t let him free until they deleted his camera’s content after detaining him for 3 hours.

When the investigation began, only four lawyers were allowed to attend and were surprised by the Public Prosecutor’s refusal to let them check the arrest warrant and investigation record. Neither Mohsen Bahnasi nor his lawyers were informed about the accusations the Prosecution issued against the human rights lawyer. Rather, the investigation focused only on Bahnasi’s views towards the constitutional amendments and the presidential elections in addition to his family and legal profession, which made the investigation closer to the inquisition courts and not a legal interrogation with a human rights lawyer.

Furthermore, the arrest of Bahnasi reflects the conflict between security services and offices; as Bahnasi said that he was summoned, days before his arrest, to the National Security headquarters in Abbasiya region where he was questioned about writings and posts about the need to release prisoners for fear of coronavirus pandemic. Although he responded to what the prosecutors told him and deleted all such posts, he was ordered to be arrested by Helwan’s National Security office; as if they were angry that Abbasiya National Security office had summoned them and didn’t abide by its regional competence.

ANHRI regrets to announce that the accusations pressed against human rights lawyer Mohsen Bahnasi in the Cas No. 558 of 2020 are nothing more than the unsubstantiated and irrational accusations that are regularly issued against hundreds or thousands of prisoners of conscience, including “joining an outlawed group and misusing social media.” We also hope that Bahnasi’s case won’t be like other cases where detainees are punished with prolonged pretrial detention despite not having committed any crime, but merely an expression of opinion.