El Sharkawi v. Arab Republic of Egypt

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Challenging Detention Under Egypt's Emergency Law

Mohammed El Sharkawi was detained without trial under Egypt’s Emergency Law for nearly 16 years, and tortured in custody. Although he was released in early 2011, there has been no acknowledgement that his detention violated human rights standards, and he has been given no redress. The new government continues to detain people under the Emergency Law, in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.


In May 1995, Mohammed Abderrahim El Sharkawi was detained by the Egyptian authorities. For the next 16 years he was held under the 1958 Emergency Law in various prisons without charge or trial. His detention continued despite the fact that he obtained at least 15 court orders for his release.

During his detention he was repeatedly tortured. He filed complaints against this ill-treatment and the conditions of his detention. In July 2008, draft complaints were found in his cell in Liman Tora prison near Cairo. As a punishment, Egyptian authorities transferred him to El Wadi El Gadid prison in the remote Egyptian western desert, 600 km from his family home in Cairo.

The government of Egypt’s treatment of El Sharkawi is consistent with a pattern and practice of indefinitely detaining individuals without charge or trial under the Emergency Law and of widespread torture of those detained, including at the specific facilities where he was detained.

Since 1981, Egypt has been under a continuous state of emergency. Article 3(1) of the Emergency Law allows for the arrest and detention of any individual who is deemed to be "dangerous to public security and order." The definition of these terms is unclear and it is left to the discretion of government officials to decide when an individual should be arrested and placed in administrative detention.


In March 17, 2011, three months after the submission of the letter introducing his communication to the African Commission and following the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, El Sharkawi was released. He was not, however, provided with any explanation, apology, compensation or other redress for the violations of his rights over the previous sixteen years.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

The Justice Initiative together with co-counsel at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights are representing El Sharkawi in proceedings before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.


Arbitrary Detention. By detaining El Sharkawi for almost 16 years without charge or trial, and in violation of numerous court orders, Egypt violated the prohibition of arbitrary detention protected by Article 6 of the African Charter.

Torture. The authorities repeatedly subjected El Sharkawi to torture during the course of his detention, in violation of the prohibition of torture (Article 5).

Right to a Hearing. Egypt deprived El Sharkawi of the right to have his cause heard by detaining him without charge or trial, in violation of Article 7 of the African Charter.

Family Life. The prolonged detention arbitrarily deprived El Sharkawi of his right to family life, in violation of Article 18 of the African Charter.


May 26, 1995. El Sharkawi detained by Egyptian authorities.
November 5, 2010. Letter of Introduction filed to the African Commission.
March 17, 2011. El Sharkawi released.
May 2011. African Commission seizes the case.
July 22, 2011. Written Submissions on Admissibility filed to the African Commission.