In Thursday’s hearing in the “Shura Council” case, the defense team argued that the prosecutor’s evidence was deeply flawed, prompting the Cairo Criminal Court to adjourn proceedings until February 9.
The prosecution has charged 25 people with assaulting policemen and violating the Protest Law during a demonstration in 2013. After an initial conviction was overturned last year, the defendants were granted a retrial.
In the previous court session on January 17, the prosecutor suddenly presented two new pieces of evidence, including a knife and a small card that stated, “I am against the Brotherhood and the government.” The evidence was presented without prior notice and after the defense team had already begun their arguments, spurring defense lawyers to contest the prosecutor’s violation of due procedure.
Defense lawyer Khaled Ali demanded that the manner in which the evidence was introduced to the court be duly recorded, citing concerns about manipulating opinion. The court refused Ali’s request.
Ali also argued that nothing in the video evidence presented by the prosecution showed that any of the defendants assaulted any security personnel or soldiers — on the contrary, the videos showed security personnel violently attacking the defendants prior to their arrest.
In addition, witnesses for the prosecution have given contradictory testimonies on the alleged assault, including police officer Emad Tahoun, who is also listed as a plaintiff in the case. Of the 13 witnesses called by the prosecution, only Tahoun and two others testified to seeing activist Alaa Abd El Fattah assaulting the officer, while the other witnesses either said they weren’t sure of the attacker’s identity, or hadn’t seen the assault at all.
But even the three witnesses who did testify to seeing the assault gave contradictory statements, Ali continued, each reporting that the attack took place in a different location. The lawyer showed maps demonstrating the significant difference between the alleged locations of the attack as reported by the different witnesses.
Ali then zeroed in on Tahoun’s testimony, which has changed throughout the trial. Tahoun initially said Abd El Fattah attacked him with a mob of 35 other protesters, and beat him with a metal rod until another officer saved him. Tahoun later testified that he was beaten by Abd El Fattah and a group of 15 protesters, but then one of the protesters saved him. Another witness — a fellow officer — then testified that Abd El Fattah had assaulted Tahoun alongside two other protesters, but did not have any weapons.
Evidence presented against Abd El Fattah also includes tweets purportedly sent from his account, in which he disseminated the No to Military Trials for Civilians group’s call for protest.
During Thursday’s session, Abd El Fattah demanded to address the judge on this matter, who allowed him to step out of the glass defendants’ cage. The activist said that as a computer programmer, he knew from a technical standpoint that tweets cannot be used as evidence, because it is impossible to establish who wrote them without having access to Twitter’s servers.
In addition, the prosecutor’s allegation that his re-tweets of the call to protest reached all of his half-million followers is flawed, Abd El Fattah added. Structurally, Twitter works such that short messages are sent to followers’ timelines, and then quickly disappear as new tweets are issued, thus limiting the reception of a given tweet to a much smaller number of followers.
Supporting Abd El Fattah’s statements, Ali argued that “if everyone would be prosecuted for re-tweeting calls for protest, then all of Egypt would be arrested, including judges.”
The case dates back to November 26, 2013, when a number of activists organized a protest against military trials for civilians in front of the Shura Council. The Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the Constitution — which included articles sanctioning military trials — was meeting in the building at the time. Police violently dispersed the march and arrested some of the demonstrators.
Though he was not arrested during the protest, Abd El Fattah’s name was added to the list of defendants the following day. He was later arrested on charges of taking part in the protest and assaulting policemen.
Abd El Fattah had been released from jail pending the verdict when mid-way through the trial, the court suddenly sentenced him and his co-defendants to 15 years in absentia — although he and some of the other defendants were in fact present outside the court house, and had been refused entrance to the hearing that day.
After that conviction, a retrial was granted. Abd El Fattah and others were temporarily released from custody, but then swiftly remanded back into detention.
Abd El Fattah has been on hunger strike for more than 90 days in protest against the charges.