A verdict on the appeal case of 23 defendants charged with violating the Protest Law will be issued on December 28, a Cairo Misdemeanour Court of Appeals announced on Sunday after the first appeal session.
The defendants will remain in detention pending the verdict on what has become known as the “Ettehadiya presidential palace” case.
According to the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, Sunday’s court session was attended by a number of human rights activists and a delegation from the European Union.
Defense lawyer Taher Abul Nasr told Mada Masr he expects the sentence will be six months, which will effectively mean the defendants will be released, as they will have already served their term by the time the appeal decision is made.
Abul Nasr started his opening statement on Sunday by saying that the referral of Sanaa Seif to the prosecution is invalid, as she was never interrogated. He also questioned the pre-trial detention of all the defendants.
Throughout the trial, lawyers have argued the case is political and lacks criminal evidence, with videos and photos presented to the court that do not show any of the defendants. They also demanded the trial be held elsewhere, in a more standard location, and not at the Police Academy in Tora.
Lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali demanded the release of all 23 defendants due to inadequate investigations and lack of evidence, although he added that he was pleased the defendants were not held in a glass box for Sunday’s hearing.
Among those detained are 20-year-old filmmaker and activist Sanaa Seif, and the Egyptian Institute for Personal Right’s Yara Sallam, a 28-year-old lawyer and researcher. Seif is the sister of Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison earlier this year for taking part in an unauthorized protest in November.
The defendants were arrested in Heliopolis in June for participation in a demonstration denouncing the Protest Law.
The controversial Protest Law came under criticism during the UN’s recent Universal Periodic Review of Egypt in Geneva.
In statements released earlier this year, Amnesty International called for the unconditional release of Sallam and her fellow political prisoners, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the immediate release of all 23 political detainees.
HRW’s Joe Stork commented, “Egyptian authorities are detaining peaceful demonstrators for protesting a deeply restrictive Protest Law, and grilling a human rights defender about her organization’s work. Anyone detained for violating the Protest Law should be free, unless they have been charged with a credible offense.”
Philip Luther, the Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program stated, “The case provides the latest proof of the Egyptian authorities’ determination to quash peaceful protest and stifle all forms of dissent. No one should be detained for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression and assembly.”
University professor Laila Soueif, mother of detained Sanaa Seif, and activist and lawyer Mona Seif, Sanaa’s sister, have both been on hunger strike for more than 60 days against the Protest Law and the detention of Egypt’s youth. In October, both Soueif and Seif declared the escalation of their strike, surviving solely on IV fluids.
The defendants were sentenced last month to three months in prison and a LE10,000 fine for illegal assembly, violation of the Protest Law, possession of explosives, and terrorizing citizens.