Egypt postpones trial of rights activist Hossam Baghat over elections tweet

Egypt postpones trial of rights activist Hossam Baghat over elections tweet
The trial of prominent Egyptian human rights Hossam Bahgat's trial has been postponed.
2 min read
07 September, 2021
Hossam Baghat's trial has been postponed [Getty]

The trial in Egypt of Hossam Bahgat, one of the country's most prominent human rights advocates, for a tweet criticising alleged electoral fraud, was postponed Tuesday, his lawyer said.

Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, is already banned from travelling and his assets have been frozen because of a separate case in which he remains indicted.

His lawyer Hoda Nasralla, also a member of the EIPR, told AFP the trial over Bahgat's tweet has been postponed until November 2 to allow the court "to examine notes and documents".

Authorities have in recent years particularly targeted the group Bahgat founded.

Three EIPR staff members were jailed last year, sparking an international campaign supported by celebrities including Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson that resulted in their release.

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Another EIPR researcher, Patrick Zaki, was detained in February 2020 and faces charges of "spreading false news" after he returned to Egypt from Italy, where he was studying at Bologna University.

In July, the US State Department condemned Cairo for specifically indicting Bahgat, saying dissidents "should not be targeted for expressing their views peacefully".

Bahgat is accused of "insulting" Egypt's electoral commission, after he alleged that incidents of electoral fraud and vote rigging had taken place during last year's parliamentary elections.

Parliament is mostly comprised of loyalists of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and is viewed by critics as a "rubber-stamp" body.

Bahgat is also being prosecuted for "spreading false news", which can carry hefty fines and jail time.

Right group Amnesty International has said Bahgat was being "unlawfully prosecuted".

In a tweet on Monday, Amnesty urged the authorities to "close the case & cease the harassment of human rights defenders".

Before Tuesday's hearing was postponed, Nasralla told AFP: "We will present evidence to the court of reports and information published by people involved in the elections," to support his allegations.

Sisi, a former army chief, took power in 2014 and has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, with rights groups estimating that Egypt holds about 60,000 political prisoners.

Former US president Donald Trump forged a particularly strong relationship with Sisi.

His successor, President Joe Biden, vowed on the campaign trail that there would be no more "blank cheques" for Egypt's president.

But Biden's top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in May visited Egypt and praised Sisi for helping bring a truce that halted bloodshed between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas.