A number of Egyptian human rights organizations issued a joint statement “expressing grave concern” over Monday’s verdict in the “Shura Council” case.
Cairo Criminal Court sentenced activists Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman to five years in maximum-security prison and five years under surveillance. 19 other defendants were sentenced to three years in prison and three years under surveillance. A LE100,000 fine was ordered against all 21 defendants.
The statement was signed by 15 organizations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development Center, the National Group for Human Rights and Law, the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement.
The defendants were charged with organizing an unauthorized protest, attacking a police officer, stealing a walkie-talkie, hooliganism, committing acts of aggression against police officers, blocking the road, crowding a public place and destroying public property.
The statement criticized the charges, which it said “are now common to any case related to peaceful demonstrations, leading to the imprisonment of hundreds of citizens.”
The case dates back to November 26, 2013, when security forces dispersed a protest called for by the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” group, outside the Shura Council in downtown Cairo. Demonstrators were rallying against the newly issued Protest Law, as well as against provisions in Egypt’s draft constitution facilitating the trial of civilians before military courts.
“Participants in the protest were beaten, female protesters were sexually assaulted,” the statement added.
The organizations accused the police of “extensively throwing accusations at citizens practicing their right to peacefully express their opinions.”
In June 2014, Cairo Criminal Court sentenced all the defendants in absentia to 15 years in a maximum-security prison, five years probation and a LE100,000 fine.
The case has been through different stages of litigation, all of which have been scrutinized for violations.
“Security forces guarding the trial were notified of the verdict before the defendants, to allow the police to arrest the defendants as they attempted to enter the courtroom to attend the session, which was held before its scheduled time. This move resulted in the arrest of Alaa Abd El Fattah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman and Wael Metwalli,” the statement read.
The prosecution was also criticized for violating Abd El Fattah and his wife’s privacy, when a CD was presented in court containing private photographs from a laptop that was confiscated when their house was raided. “The footage was screened without any objections from the court,” the statement added.
During the retrial in October 2014, “the judge decided to return the defendants to detention, in what seemed to be a form of punishment against the political stances expressed by one of the defendants.”
According to the organizations, the court, which serves as part of the judicial measures to fight terrorism, was specifically established to “suppress political opponents.”
“Most of the verdicts issued by these courts include cruel punishments against defendants and the violation of their rights, as well as an absence of the basics of fair trials,” it clarified. “This is evident after most of the initial verdicts were overturned by the Court of Cassation and retrials were ordered in these cases.”
The organizations emphasized “the dangers of violating rights and freedoms by the courts,” which it says is “a violent breach of the sovereignty of the law” and turns the constitution into merely “ink on paper.”