Egypt L4L speaks to Ragia Omran
15 February 2014

Egypt L4L speaks to Ragia Omran

On 11 January 2014, L4L met with Ms Ragia Omran, a leading member of a number of Egypt’s legal advocacy organizations and women’s rights activists.

Ms Omran has set up a rapid response network, involving approximately 40 organizations and 100 lawyers, to (legally) assist people who are arrested for protesting or for other political reasons. They arrange for a lawyer to go to the police station where the detainee is being held and assist them in any way possible. In addition, they also organize the collection and distribution of food, blankets and other necessities for these detainees.

While the network is sufficiently represented in the cities, one of the bigger challenges Ms Omran faces is finding enough lawyers with human rights knowledge in the countryside, to help people being detained there. For this reason, she also tries to provide those lawyers with relevant information and training, so that their network can be extended outside the cities.

Ms Omran explained that, under Egypt’s current constitution, lawyers are protected as an independent profession. Special permits are required, for example, to arrest a lawyer or raid a law firm. As such, they are not directly threatened in relation to their human rights work. That being said, she is noticing an increased amount of more indirect intimidation and obstruction, such as being refused immediate access to detainees in police stations.

A specific area of focus for Ms Omran are women’s rights. As women become more active in Egyptian society and politics, she sees more and more arrests of, for example, female protesters. She also believes that sexual harassment of women has increased. However, there are increasingly more groups acting against this by promoting women’s rights and assisting the victims of such sexual harassment.

Ms Omran is a member of the Front to Defend Egyptian Protesters, which represents civilians who are ordered to appear before military courts. She is also a member of the No to Military Trials for Civilians Campaign, established in 2011 to provide legal support to detainees and to advocate against military trials against Egyptian civilians.

In November 2013, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) awarded Ms Omran with its 30th annual award, to honour her work and commitment to human rights in Egypt. The President of the RFK Center, Ms Kerry Kennedy, noted that Ms Omran “is often the first to arrive on the scene at jails, police stations, court houses, and military and civilian prosecution offices” and that hundreds of peaceful activists have her to thank for successfully securing their release and protecting their rights to freedom of speech and association. Ms Kennedy named Ms Omran “a beacon of hope for the women of Egypt and a champion in the global human rights movement.”

It was an honour and a pleasure to meet Ms Omran and we hope we will be able to assist her with her work for human rights and legal representation in Egypt in the future.

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