Alexandria professor’s year-long languish in prison

Dr Mohamed Abdelhamid Kharaba, an assistant professor of chemistry and physics at Egypt’s University of Alexandria, has been languishing in prison without trial for more than a year. Kharaba was arrested on 24 November 2013 and charged with crimes including murder during anti-government protests, and terrorism – accusations that he has denied.

Since then he has been detained in Alexandria's Al-Hadra prison, allowed only a one-hour visit a week and having his detention renewed in court every 45 days.

University World News spoke to Alkarama – a Geneva-based human rights group established in 2004 to assist individuals in the Arab world who are subjected to or at risk of extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention – and to his son, to find out why Kharaba was arrested and what efforts were being made to secure his release.

Crime and punishment

According to Thomas-John Guinard, Alkarama’s regional legal officer for the Nile region, 61-year-old Kharaba was charged with murders during the 14 August 2013 Rabaa Square events and 16 August 2013 Ramses Square events.

Rabaa al-Adawiya Square was the larger of two protester camps occupied by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi that were raided by the police.

Guinard said Kharaba has denied the allegations, saying he could not have taken part to any of the stated events since at the time he was on holiday in Mersa Matruh, a Mediterranean seaport in Egypt about 240 kilometres west of Alexandria.

This defence has not saved him from persecution.

Kharaba is accused of having robbed a bank, burned a church, incited people to violence and chaos and sought to disrupt the rule of law. He is suspected of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, a now forbidden political group led by Morsi, and to be one of its leaders.

He has dismissed that charge, arguing that although he was a member of a political party –other than the Muslim Brotherhood – he did not conduct any kind of activities within it, even less in a leadership role.

Guinard said Kharaba had previously been arrested during the rule of long-time former president Hosni Mubarak, allegedly for fighting against the corrupt abuses of a University of Alexandria dean and his deputy.

After his initial arrest and the Arab Spring revolution that began in 2011, Kharaba was released. He returned to work at the University of Alexandria.

He has said he was shocked when police officers showed up at his house during the night of 24 November 2013. He was arrested by the Amn al-Watani state security agency and police without a warrant or being told his crime, and taken to state security headquarters for questioning.

“They pushed authorities to detain him on grounds of being a Muslim Brotherhood member when he is a Liberal Al-Wafd party member,” Ahmed AbdelHamid, Kharaba’s son, told University World News.

Harsh treatment

According to Guinard, Kharaba’s family believe the charges are fabricated and consider him to be a victim of complicity between the authorities and the university dean he clashed with. The absence of tangible measures to fight corruption in Egypt has made the situation worse.

Kharaba protested against the arrest. He was re-tried by the prosecutor, under new charges and without the presence of his lawyer. He was taken to the Al-Hadra prison, where he remains detained to date without trial, said Guinard.

Under Egyptian law and the charges against him, the detention could be renewed indefinitely.

“Every 45 days, he faces a trial that renews his imprisonment for 45 more days... no judges... no real trial. As the new constitution sets no limit for this detention, he can get 45-day renewals with no trial,” AbdelHamid told University World News.

Kharaba is allowed one hour-long visit a week – which is an improvement on the 10-minute weekly visit he used to be accorded.

AbdelHamid informed AFD International and Alkarama of his father’s detention in an effort to secure justice. In October last year Alkarama and AFD International wrote to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, or WGAD, to alert them to Kharaba’s case.

Guinard said that while WGAD, which is a special procedure of the United Nations, has confirmed receipt of Alkarama’s appeal, UN experts would only issue a decision during the working group’s regular sessions, the next one being in April 2015.

Given the number of communications received by WGAD between each session, it is uncertain whether there will be an opinion on Kharaba's case in April or in July during the following sitting.

“We hope the group will denounce the arbitrary detention of Kharaba and call upon the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately,” said Guinard.

He added that Egyptian authorities should stop using legal and judicial processes to muzzle opponents and citizens calling for reforms and, to this end, should ensure independence of the judiciary.

Persecution of academics and students

There are no official figures for the number of academics arrested since the beginning of the revolution in 2011, said Guinard.

“What is known is that since July 2013 and the ousting of Mohamed Morsi by the army, hundreds if not thousands of students have been arrested during peaceful demonstrations on campuses.”

Guinard said that some academics had been released but many were still imprisoned without being charged.

“Students remain one of the strongest adversaries of the military-backed government and are the victims of violent repression by the authorities, who regularly violate their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly,” he claimed.

Furthermore, many academics who allegedly support the Muslim Brotherhood had been removed from universities.

AbdelHamid, Kharaba’s son, said more than 215 academics were currently in detention in Egypt – but University World News could not verify the figure.

As the struggle to rescue those in detention continues, Guinard said all arbitrarily detained academics in Egypt should have their right to a fair trial respected and be released if the charges against them are fabricated.

The Egyptian authorities should guarantee the right to freedom of expression and to peaceful reunion, and stop harassing academics and students because of their political opposition, he said.