Ahmed Tohamy Abdel Hay has been an assistant professor of comparative politics at Alexandria University's Faculty of Economic Studies and Political Science since 2014. Unidentified Egyptian security forces arrested Tohamy from his home on June 3, 2020. Prosecutors charged him with membership in an unnamed terrorist organization and spreading false information, without providing evidence of the charges or of a statutory justification to keep him detained. Tohamy has been in pretrial detention since then.
DAWN researchers interviewed sources close to the detainee and made use of other information from published sources that we consider reliable, as indicated below. Interviews include the following:
Source A: DAWN researchers exchanged several messages with Source A via email between October 25, 2020, and November 18, 2020.
Source B: DAWN researcher interviewed Source B on November 19, 2020, via an online application.
Source C: DAWN researcher interviewed Source C on December 15, 2020, via
an online application.
Source D: DAWN researcher interviewed Source D on May 22, 2021, via an online application.
Source E: DAWN researcher interviewed Source E on May 23, 2021, an online application.
We do not disclose the identity of these sources to protect their security. We reference our sources here as "Source A," "Source B," "Source C," "Source D" and "Source E."
Personal and Professional Background
Ahmed Tohamy Abdel Hay has been Assistant Professor of Political Science at Alexandria University's Faculty of Economic Studies and Political Science since 2014. Tohamy's research focuses on democratic transition, including social movements and state-society relations in Middle East, youth movements and youth culture, and social media and networking technologies.
Previously, Tohamy was a researcher at the National Center for Social and Criminological Research, Cairo (2000-2014). He was a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (1996-2000). In 2019, Tohamy was a DAAD visiting scholar at the Institute of East European Studies, Freie Universitate in Berlin.
Tohamy obtained his PhD in political science in 2013 from the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, UK. His PhD dissertation is titled "The Rupture State Society Relationship and Youth Activism in Egypt: Political Opportunities, Strategies, Framing and New Models of Mobilization." He received his BA in 1996 and MA in 2005 from Cairo University's Faculty of Economics and Political Science.
He was a member of the British Society of Middle East Studies (2010-2014) and the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (Codesria).
Tohamy has participated in numerous conferences in Egypt and abroad and published many articles in peer-reviewed journals. In 2016, his book, titled "Youth Policy in Egypt", was published by I.B. Tauris. A full list of Tohamy's publications and academic achievements is available here.
Time and Circumstances of Arrest
On June 3, 2020, unidentified security forces arrested Tohamy from his home in Cairo, Source A said. He remained forcibly disappeared at the state security headquarters in Cairo until June 20, 2020, when security forces transferred him to al-Haram police station, where he remained in detention until July 3, 2020.
According to Source C, during the arrest, the security forces confiscated two laptops, two mobile devices, $1,500 (U.S.), EGP 20,000 (about $1300 (U.S.), and a report he had printed from the Internet on Hazem el-Beblawi, a former Prime Minister in Egypt.
For years, the Egyptian authorities have restricted the freedom of scholars to speak and write freely, especially if their research is about politically or socially sensitive issues, including democratization and regime stability. Tohamy's research and writings have addressed these issues. His most recent work has focused on the Arab Spring and democratization in Egypt. Tohamy, for example, wrote about the Egyptian constitution and social and political conflict after the 2011 revolution. He also wrote about the rise of opposition leader Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, in Egyptian politics.
The crackdown on academic freedoms intensified after the Egyptian military removed former President Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013 and replaced him with a military-run government. The Egyptian government has since intervened in the work of universities and academics, including in appointing, promoting, and even firing faculty members, staff, and researchers, based on unfounded claims. For example, Jabr Nassar, president of Cairo University, fired Seif el-Din Abdel Fattah, a professor of political science at Cairo University, was because he served as a political advisor to Morsi. In September 2019, security officials arrested Hazem Hosny and Hassan Nafaa, two political science professors at Cairo University, after they expressed criticism of the Egyptian regime and President al-Sisi in various media outlets. Officials released them after holding them for months in pretrial detention. University administrations have also restricted the freedom of faculty members and other researchers to research and write on subjects that the government considers to be sensitive, including politics, religion and sexuality. These interventions included censoring MA theses and PhD dissertations. University professors reported receiving letters from the administration directing them not to teach or research certain topics, including political, religious, or social issues, and that they have engaged in self-censorship out of concern for this intervention.
Following the revolution of January 2011, Egyptian faculty members managed to obtain the right to appoint their universities presidents and college deans by election by faculty members. After winning the presidential elections in 2014, however, al-Sisi issued a decision authorizing himself to appoint university Presidents and college deans, putting the selection of these academic posts under direct Egyptian government control. As part of this system, in June 2014, al-Sisi cancelled the election of universities presidents and college deans and created a system in which the Minister of Higher Education presented a list of three candidates for each position, and the Egyptian president selected one from among the three. In January 2021, the Minister of Higher Education issued a decision that gave the Minister of Higher Education the right to form committees that are in charge of choosing universities presidents and colleges deans, modifying the selection process but still keeping the appointment of senior university officials under governmental control.
On June 20, 2020, Tohamy appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP). It was the only time an SSSP prosecutor interrogated him, according to Source C. In that interrogation session, source C said, the SSSP prosecutor asked Tohamy about two main issues. First, the prosecutor asked Tohamy about his academic research, his writings on generational politics, and the names of research institutions with whom he collaborated and of journals where published. Second, the prosecutor asked him if he has any connection to Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian American activist who was imprisoned in Egypt and now leads the Freedom Initiative, a Washington DC-based organization that advocates for freedom and democracy in Egypt and other countries. Soltan is suing the former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi in US District Court in the District of Columbia for torturing Soltan during the time he was imprisoned in Egypt. Egyptian security authorities have retaliated by arbitrarily arresting family members of Soltan who live in Egypt. On February 13, 2021, security forces raided the homes of six members of Soltan's extended family in Egypt and interrogated them about Soltan and his activities. This raid followed a similar raid on June 15, 2020, two weeks after Tohamy's arrest, in which security forces arrested five of those same six relatives. The Egyptian authorities released the family members arrested in June 2020, shortly before Biden won the US presidential election.
Tohamy denied any connections to Soltan, the activist. He added that he collaborated in some academic projects with two journalists whose last name is Soltan as well, Mahmoud Soltan and Gamal Soltan. Neither is related to the activist Mohammed Soltan. However, the SSSP prosecutor verbally accused Tohamy of communicating with Soltan via Twitter, Source C stated.
The SSSP prosecutor added Tohamy to Supreme State Security Case No. 649/2020 and assigned him a lawyer. An SSSP prosecutor, working under the supervision of SSP chief Khaled Diaa el-Din, ordered the pretrial imprisonment of Tohamy for 15 days. The SSSP prosecutor, whose name DAWN could not ascertain, charged Tohamy with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. According to Source D, prosecutors did not give Tohamy or his lawyer a written copy of the charges against him.
Joining a terrorist group is cited in article 12 of Egypt's Anti-Terror Law (Law No. 94 of 2015) which states,
"Whoever establishes, organizes, or manages a terrorist group, or assumes its leadership or a leadership position in it, shall be punished by death or life imprisonment. Temporary hard labor shall be the penalty inflicted on whoever joins a terrorist group or participates in it in any way while being aware of its objectives, and the punishment shall be temporary hard labor for a period of no less than ten years if the perpetrator receives military, security, or technical training by the terrorist group to achieve its objectives, or if the perpetrator is a member of the armed forces or police. Whoever compels a person to join a terrorist group, or prevents him from disassociating from it, shall be punished with life imprisonment. Execution shall be the penalty if this action results in the death of the person."
Article 13 of Egypt's Anti-Terror Law (Law No. 94 of 2015) states,
"Whoever commits a terrorist financing crime shall be punished with life imprisonment if the financing is for a terrorist, and death shall be the punishment if the financing is for a terrorist group or a terrorist act. The same penalty stipulated in the first paragraph of this article shall be imposed if the financing of terrorism is intended to support individuals to travel to a country other than their country of residence or nationality for the purpose of committing, planning, preparing, participating in, or providing aid to any form of terrorist crime. In cases where the crime is committed by a terrorist group or a legal person, the person responsible for the actual management of this group or that person shall be punished with the punishment prescribed in the first paragraph of this Article. The terrorist group or legal person shall be punished with a fine of not less than one hundred thousand pounds and not exceeding three million pounds, and it shall be jointly responsible for fulfilling the financial penalties or compensation for which it is judged to be liable."
Article 86 (repeated) of Egypt's Penal Code states:
"Whoever establishes, organizes, or administers, in contravention of the provisions of the law, an association, body, organization, group or gang, whose purpose is, by any means, to disrupt the provisions of the Constitution or laws or to prevent a state institution or one of the public authorities from exercising its actions, or assaulting the personal freedom of the citizen or other public freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the law, or harming national unity or social peace, shall be punished with imprisonment… Anyone who assumes leadership, or leads in it, or provides material or financial aid with knowledge of the purpose for which it is called, shall be punished with temporary hard labor."
Spreading false news and statements and misusing social media are cited in article 188 of the Penal Code. It states,
"Whoever publishes in bad intent […] false news, statements or rumors, false or forged documents, or falsely attributed to others, if this would disturb the public peace, cause panic among people, or harm the public interest, shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year and a fine of no less than five thousand pounds and not exceeding twenty thousand pounds, or one of these two penalties."
Trial and Legal Proceedings (a partial list of events)
June 20, 2020
Seventeen days after his arrest, Tohamy appeared, for the first time, before an SSSP prosecutor who ordered his imprisonment for 15 days in pretrial detention.
Since that appearance before the SSSP, Source C said, SSSP prosecutors renewed the pretrial detention of Tohamy approximately ten times, each time for 15 days.
The prosecution provided no evidence to support the charges against Tohamy and presented no evidence to establish any of the statutory conditions for pre-trial detention as stipulated in Article 134 of Egypt's Code of Criminal Procedure which permits pre-trial detention only "if one of the following cases or reasons is available:
- In flagrante delicto [if the defendant was caught in the act of committing the crime] …
- Fear of the escape of the defendant
- Fear of harming the interest of the investigation, whether by influencing the victim or witnesses, or by tampering with the evidence and physical clues, or by making agreements with the rest of the perpetrators to change the truth or obscure its features.
- Preventing serious breaches of security and public order that may result from the gravity of the crime.
- However, the accused may be held in remand if he does not have a fixed permanent place of residence in Egypt, and the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment."
The failure of the SSSP to make clear which of the above stated preconditions were met in Tohamy's case casts serious doubts on the legality of the decision to hold him in remand detention.
November 8, 2020
Tohamy's case was referred to the Criminal Court in Cairo, which renewed Tohamy's pretrial detention for 45 days.
Under Egyptian law, the prosecution has the right to renew the detention of a defendant pending investigations for up to ten consecutive sessions, with 15 days between every two sessions. In other words, the prosecution can extend the detention of a defendant for a maximum of 150 consecutive days. After the 150-day period, a Criminal Court assumes the responsibility of the decision to end or extend the detention, with 45 days allowed to pass between each of two consecutive sessions. DAWN researchers were unable to ascertain the name of the judge presiding over this case. The combined prosecutorial and judicial pretrial detention cannot exceed two years under Egyptian law for even the worst offenses.
There is no record available to DAWN about renewal of Tohamy's pretrial detention since December 17, 2020. However, he is still detained, meaning that a criminal court presumably has continued to renew his detention.
Beginning on July 3, 2020, security forces detained Tohamy at a prison located on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road called al-Kilo Ashra wi Nos. On December 17, 2020, they transferred him to al-Qanater prison, after the prison in which he was detained became overcrowded. Tohamy remains imprisoned at al-Qanater prison.
Sources A and C said that Tohamy was subjected to what they described as a harsh interrogation during the period of the enforced disappearance on June 3-20, 2020, but they did not provide details. He has experienced poor detention conditions since his arrest. Tohamy was held in a detention room with 30 other individuals and was denied exercise. Even after he was transferred to a formal prison, officials denied him family visits until October 2020.
According to Source D, Tohamy's wife visits him once a month. The visit is always through bars. The prison authorities do not allow any books or newspapers to be delivered to Tohamy.
Impact on Family and Professional Life
Tohamy is married, with two daughters and a son, and they are deeply distressed by his detention. They are also struggling financially. Tohamy's university, under growing governmental control, stopped paying Tohamy after his arrest. His wife had relied on Tohamy's salary and can no longer sustain their family economically. In addition, because the food provided to prisoners in Egyptian jails is so inadequate, his family sends money to the prison canteen each month, to allow Tohamy to supplement his diet.
Due to his imprisonment, Tohamy is not able to do his job as a university professor at Alexandria University. The university administration sent an inquiry to the SSSP to know the legal status of Tohamy. SSSP responded that Tohamy is in pretrial detention.
Violation of Rights
The right to freedom and security
Unidentified security forces have unlawfully deprived Tohamy of his liberty without presenting him with an arrest warrant or allowing him to contact a family member. [Article 14, Arab Charter on Human Rights; Article 9 (1), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Article 3, 9, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)].
According to Article 54 of the Egyptian constitution: "Personal freedom is a natural right which is safeguarded and cannot be infringed upon. Except in cases of in flagrante delicto, citizens may only be apprehended, searched, arrested, or have their freedoms restricted by a causal judicial warrant. All those whose freedoms have been restricted shall be immediately informed of the causes therefore, notified of their rights in writing, be allowed to immediately contact their family and lawyer, and be brought before the investigating authority within twenty-four hours of their freedoms having been restricted."
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has established categories of cases where a deprivation of liberty is arbitrary under the definition of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration. These include detention when "it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty", "when the deprivation of liberty results from the deprivation of the exercise of the rights and freedoms granted by certain other rights in the Declaration or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to freedom of speech," and when "the deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination, including discrimination as to political opinion, that aims towards or can result in the ignoring of equality of human beings."
Tohamy's imprisonment appears to meet these criteria. Consequently, his detention is arbitrary per Article 9 of the Universal Declaration.
The right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance
Security forces forcibly disappeared Tohamy for 17 days before he appeared before the SSSP.
[The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention CED); Principle 1, 6, Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions].
Egypt has not signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The Right to Freedom of Speech
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees each individual the right to freedom of expression. The right encompasses speech which is critical of the government and the political system the government espouses. Governments cannot, under Article 19, restrict the right of citizens to engage in political discussion and debate (see, A/HRC/RES/12/16). Article 19 of the ICCPR provides similar protections, as does Article 26 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which protects "freedom of thought, conscience and opinion." Tohamy's academic writing, publications and speech fall within this category of protected speech.
In spite of the protected nature of Tohamy's expression under international law, the charges against him indicate he is being prosecuted for his speech and writing, including allegations such as "spreading false news"
[Article 26, Arab Charter on Human Rights; Article 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)].
Officials Involved in Prosecution and Detention
Khaled Diaa el-Din, the head of Egypt's Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP). Diaa el-Din is prosecutorial official who approves pretrial detentions and renewal decisions issued by SSSP prosecutors working under his authority. Diaa el-Din is responsible for the unlawful prosecution of thousands of Egyptians for peaceful activism, protected by international human rights law. He is responsible for unlawfully prosecuting Tohamy for his peaceful writing and research, protected by international human rights law, and for using his prosecutorial discretion to enforce prima facie unjust laws that criminalize peaceful speech. He is also responsible for Tohamy's unjust, extended pretrial detention, used in Egypt as punishment itself.
Prosecutor General Hamada El-Sawy is responsible for the unlawful prosecution of thousands of Egyptians for peaceful activism, protected by international human rights law. As Prosecutor General, El-Sawy bears overall responsibility for public prosecutions, including in state security cases. The head of the Supreme State Security Prosecution, Judge Khaled Diaa El-Din, reports directly to El-Sawy. El-Sawy is responsible for the unlawful prosecution of Tohamy for his peaceful writing and research, and for enforcing prima facie unjust laws that criminalize peaceful speech. He is also responsible for Tohamy's unjust, extended pretrial detention.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), an Egyptian NGO that advocates for freedoms of expression and thoughts, issued a statement demanding the release of Tohamy. It also called on the authorities to release "all academics held in pretrial detention, whether for practicing their work or expressing their critical views of some public policies."
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) sent a letter to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, General Prosecutor Hamada El-Sawy, and head of SSSP Khaled Diaa el-Din expressing its concerns over the detention of Tohamy. It called on the Egyptian officials to stop the crackdown on freedom of expression and academic freedoms, and "to restore free and fair trials in Egypt."