Kholoud Said Amer, scholar
Updated on January 17, 2021.
Kholoud Said Amer (خلود سعيد عامر) works in the Publication Department at Bibliotheca Alexandrina as the head of the Translation Unit.
She's also a freelance translator and researcher focusing on linguistics and anthropology. Unidentified security forces arrested her at her family home in Alexandria on April 21, 2020 and charged her, without evidence, with joining a terrorist group, knowing its objectives, spreading rumors and false news, as well as using social media for these activities.
She was detained in Alexandria until a court ordered her release on probation. Security forces ignored the release order and disappeared her for 16 days before bringing her to Supreme State Security Prosecution to be charged in a new case and returned to pretrial detention, as part of a practice by the Egyptian authorities to keep defendants in endless, revolving door pretrial detention.
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: July 21, 2020.
- Source B: September 12, 2020.
We do not disclose the identity of these sources to protect their security. We reference them as "Source A" and "Source B".
Kholoud Said Amer is a 36 year old Egyptian scholar. Amer was born in August 1984. She is the Head of the Translation Unit of the Publication Department at Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Amer is also a freelance translator and researcher who focuses on linguistics and anthropology in Alexandria, Egypt.
Time and Circumstances of Arrest
On April 21, 2020, unidentified security forces from Alexandria's Security Directorate burst into Amer's family house in Alexandria and arrested her. Source B says that they did not show an arrest warrant and confiscated her laptop and phone.
On the morning of April 22, 2020, Source A stated that an official from the Alexandria Security Directorate contacted Amer's brother, to ask him to deliver Amer's laptop charger to them. Her brother brought the laptop charger to them.
Security forces forcibly disappeared Amer from the time of her arrest on April 21, 2020 through April 28, 2020. According to Source A, Amer's family members had no knowledge of her whereabouts for seven days. When they arrested Amer, security forces told her mother that they were taking Amer to Al Montazah police station.
However, when the family later went to Al Montazah police station, the official there denied she was arrested. The family reported that they sent three telegraphs to Attorney General (AG) Hamada Elsawy, Minister of Interior Major General Mohamoud Tawfik, and the Public Defender of the Alexandria Public Prosecution, whose name DAWN was not able to verify, inquiring about her whereabouts. They suspected that security forces were holding Amer at one of the State Security headquarters in Alexandria. On April 28, 2020, after seven days of enforced disappearance, Amer appeared before the Alexandria Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP).
The SSSP prosecutor, whose identity DAWN was not able to confirm, assigned Amer to State Security Case No. 558/2020. According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF), the SSSP prosecutor presented no witnesses or evidence to prove the alleged charges included in this case. There is no official written copy of the charges. Official legal documents pertaining to the case are not available to the defendant or her lawyer. This follows Egyptian authorities' systematic practice of depriving remanded defendants from their right to be clearly informed of the charges against them, and their rights under the Egyptian constitution and other international legal provisions.
The SSSP prosecutor, leveled the following accusations against Amer:
Participation in a terrorist organization with knowledge of its purposes.
Joining an illegal group is defined as a crime in two laws in Egypt, both of which the prosecutor cited.
According to article 12 of Egypt's Anti-Terror Law (Law No. 94 of 2015) states,
"Whoever establishes, organizes, or manages a terrorist group, or assumes it leadership or a leadership position in it, shall be punished by death penalty 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 the perpetrator is a member of the forces armed forces or police. Whoever compels or compels a person to join a terrorist group, or prevents him from separating from it, is punished with life imprisonment. Death penalty shall be the penalty if coercion, pregnancy, or prevention results in his death."
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 to call for 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
Article 188 of the Penal Code prohibits publishing false news. It states,
"Whoever publishes in bad intent […] false news, statements or rumors, false or forged papers, 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."
Using Social media for these activities
Article 29 of Egypt's Anti-Terror Law (Law No. 94 of 2015) states,
"Whoever establishes or uses a communications site, website, or other media for the purpose of promoting ideas or beliefs calling for the perpetration of terrorist acts or broadcasting material intended to mislead security authorities, influence the course of justice in any terrorist crime, exchange messages, issue assignments among terrorist groups or their members, or exchange information relating to the actions or movement of terrorists or terrorist groups domestically and abroad shall be punished by imprisonment with hard labor for no less than five years."
Trial and Legal Proceedings
- April 21, 2020
Security forces arrested Amer on April 21, 2020. Security forces forcibly disappeared Amer until April 28, 2020, when she appeared before the Alexandria SSSP office.
- April 29, 2020
Security forces from Alexandria's Security Directorate transferred Amer to the SSSP headquarters in Cairo. Case No. 558/2020 is being reviewed by SSSP in Cairo. Therefore all of the hearing and investigation sessions are being conducted at the SSSP headquarters in Cairo. This case involves 27 defendants.
An SSSP prosecutor whose identity we were not able to confirm investigated Amer's case and decided to imprison her for 15 days in pre-trial detention.
- May 10, 2020
The security forces in Alexandria transferred Amer from Alexandria to Cairo's SSSP headquarters. The SSSP prosecutor renewed her pre-trial detention for 15 more days without holding a hearing session.
According to information shared publicly by her lawyer, Mohamed Awad, Amer spent eight hours traveling by car between Cairo and Alexandria. Although she is detained in Alexandria, security forces transfer her to Cairo for hearings to renew her pretrial detention.
May 20, 2020,
Security forces transferred Amer again from Alexandria to Cairo's SSSP headquarters. The SSSP prosecutor renewed Amer's pre-trial detention for another 15 days without a hearing.
The SSSP prosecutor extended her pre-trial detention again on June 8 and June 22, 2020. DAWN was unable to obtain information about the subsequent renewals of Amer's pre-trial detention. However, Egyptian prosecutors presumably automatically renewed her detention.
December 13, 2020
The consultancy room at the Cairo Criminal Court decided to release Amer on probation, according to Khaled Ali, a lawyer close to the case.
December 29, 2020
Amer's Mother, Kariman Basim, said that after that court decision, rather than release Amer, security forces transferred her to different locations in various provinces. Amer arrived at Al Montazah police station on December 22. When the family asked about the exact date of Amer's release, security forces said that they are waiting for the state security division to issue the release order. As of the night of December 26th, security forces disappeared Amer. Officers at the Al Montazah police station told family members that she was not there and did not tell them where Amer was. Basim, her mother, expressed deep concerns about Amer's health, according to Source B. Basim said that when she met Amer at the police station on December 22, Amer appeared to have a high fever showed signs of difficulty breathing, coughed, and complained of a sore throat and pain in her joints. The family expressed fear that Amer may have contracted the coronavirus, according to Source B.
January 11, 2021
An Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms lawyer reported that Amer appeared in front of the SSSP, which ordered her into pretrial detention for 15 days, as part of a new case in which they charged her (Case No. 1017/2020). This practice of revolving door charges is common in Egypt. SSSP accused her of the same charges; 1) Participation in a terrorist organization with knowledge of its purposes, 2) Spreading false news and statements, and 3) using an account on the internet to publish news.
Egypt uses this practice, known as "recycling" cases, to allow the prosecution to start a new two-year pretrial detention period by bringing the same charges in a new case and thereby circumventing the law that limits pretrial detention to two years even for maximum offenses.
According to Sources A and B, Amer suffers from pain in her legs and has kidney problems. Amer's immune system is weak, making her vulnerable to contagious illness in prison. Given the risk of the covid-19.
Amer is imprisoned in Alexandria, but the SSSP prosecutors renew her pre-trial detention at Cairo's SSSP headquarters.
Impact on Family
According to Sources A and Source B, Amer's family has not faced any retaliation due to her arrest.
Violation of Rights
The right to freedom and security
Unidentified security forces have unlawfully deprived Amer of her liberty without presenting her with an arrest warrant or allowing her to contact a family member or lawyer for about a week. The police forces even denied arresting Amer.
[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 right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance
Amer was forcibly disappeared for about a week after her arrest on April 21, 2020. Neither her family or her lawyer were able to get hold of her whereabouts. 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 communicate with the outside world, especially with his family
[Article 38, Egypt's Prisons Organization Law No. 396 of 1956; Article 54, Egypt's constitution; Article 21, Arab Charter on Human Rights; Article 12, UDHR; Article 17 (1, 2), ICCPR; Principle 19, Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment; Rule 37, 39, 79, 92 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners]
The right to fair trial and the right to defence and legal representation
Defendants should receive a fair trial during the whole process of the investigation and trial. According to the sources DAWN talked to, the renewal of the pre-trial detention of Amer was done several times without being presented in front of the SSSP prosecutor. Amr's lawyer also was not presented.
[Article 77, Egypt's Prisons Organization Law No. 396 of 1956; Article 96, Egypt's constitution; Article 13, 14, 16 Arab Charter on Human Rights; Article 7, African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; Article 14, ICCPR]
[Article 54, Egypt's constitution; Article 16 (3, 4) Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR); Article 14 (3 b, d), ICCPR; Section A, article 2 (f), Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa; Principle 17 (1, 2), 18, Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment; Rule 93, Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules); Principle 7, 8, Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers]
Right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of participation in public affairs
Articles 19, 22, and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt has ratified, specifically safeguard these rights. Likewise, Articles 5-8 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders safeguard certain rights exercised by HRDs, and Article 12 requires states to protect HRDs from abuse, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse prejudice, coercion, or any other arbitrary action exacted as a result of their lawful exercise of such rights. [Article 18-20, UDHR; Article 19, 22, 25, ICCPR; Articles 5-8, 12, United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders]
Officials Involved in Prosecution and Detention
Attorney General Judge Hamada Elsawy
As the Attorney General, Elsawy is in charge of the public prosecution and consequently responsible for bringing the unproven charges against Amer. He is also responsible for the endless renewals of Amer's pretrial detention Amer's family sent a telegraph to Attorney General Elsawy inquiring about Amer's whereabouts during her forced disappearance. He failed to respond and to disclose Amer's location.
On May 28, 2020, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) called on Egyptian authorities immediately to release Amer. MESA described the detention as damaging to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina's reputation, adding that it threatens freedom of research in Egypt.