In what has been described as “the first case of enforcement” of Egypt’s latest anti-terrorism law, controversial Judge Nagy Shehata sentenced five individuals — including two minors — to prison on charges of partaking in an unauthorized protest in the Giza suburb of Badrasheen on Wednesday.
The Giza Criminal Court found these five individuals guilty of illegal assembly, blocking roads, obstructing traffic, possession of unlicensed firearms, along with assaulting law enforcement officers in Badrasheen.
Presiding over the Giza Criminal Court, chief justice Shehata sentenced three adult protesters to seven years imprisonment and fines of LE100,000 each, along with sentences of five years imprisonment for the two minors said to be involved in this protest. These five defendants were all sentenced in absentia.
The date of the defendants’ arrest from Badrasheen, and their referral to trial has not been mentioned, however.
In an interview with the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm news portal on Wednesday, Judge Shehata confirmed that this was the first case whereby defendants were tried and sentenced in accordance with the new anti-terrorism law.
Shehata claimed that “the defendants were referred to trial following the ratification of the anti-terrorism law.” However, Shehata did not mention when the defendants were arrested, or if they were arrested prior to its issuance.
The reported enforcement of this new law raises questions regarding its wide-reaching scope, retroactive enforcement, and the imprisonment of minors on terror charges, along with other concerns.
On Wednesday, local media outlets reported that this verdict was the first case in which the new anti-terrorism law was implemented. The privately owned Youm7 news portal that this case involved an “urgent referral of the defendants to trial.”
However, Mokhtar Mounir, a rights lawyer with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), told Mada Masr, “There has not been enough time for prosecutors to refer this case to trial in light of the new law. On average, such referrals take around two months before the make it to the trial phase.”
Mounir said, “This case is unlikely to have been expedited to trial within the course of just one month. A more plausible scenario — if indeed this is the first case of the implementation of the counter-terrorism law — is that the defendants have been referred to trial in light of this law on a retroactive basis.”
Mounir explained that the date of the defendants’ arrest and their referral to trial must be disclosed in order to fully understand the dimensions of this case — as security forces have been arresting supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi in Badrasheen since the summer of 2013.
Mounir explained that if these defendants had been arrested prior to August 16, 2015, then they have been subjected to a retroactive enforcement of this anti-terrorism in the course of their trial — which represents a violation of both international and domestic legal norms.
Mounir also pointed out that the referral of minors to trial on terrorism charges is a violation of their most basic rights
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement regarding Sisi’s newest anti-terrorism decree arguing that it “runs counter to a basic principle in international human rights law that requires laws to be precisely drafted and understandable as a safeguard against their arbitrary use and so that people know what actions constitute a crime.”
HRW’s statement added: “The government has equipped itself with even greater powers to continue stamping out its critics and opponents under its vague and ever-expanding war on terrorism.”
Sisi’s anti-terrorism law stipulates the death penalty for those found guilty of establishing or leading terrorist organizations, and simultaneously safeguards police from legal responsibility while dealing with terrorism cases. The law also dictates stringent censorship measures upon various forms of communication — including social media, as well as fines of LE 200,000-500,000 on journalists found to publish information contradicting official statements.
The first political arrests since the issuing of this law, were reported in the Nile Delta Governorates of Gharbiya and Beheira last month — yet these defendants are still being held in pre-trial detention, pending investigations.
However, supporters of the Sisi regime have been calling on security forces to enforce this anti-terrorism law against unarmed protesters and non-violent political opponents.
Since the decree was issued, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation called for the enforcement of this latest counter-terrorism legislation against civil servants so as to thwart their protest against the provisions of Sisi’s new civil service law — which was partially staged on September 12, within the walled Fustat Garden.
A staunch supporter of Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Gerges Boshra, has repeatedly called on police to enforce this same anti-terrorism law against Christian protesters who had planned a demonstration against the pope’s policies on September 9. However, police refused to grant these protesters permission to demonstrate outside the papal headquarters in Abbasiya, Cairo.
While the Coptic protest was refused authorization, and the civil servant’s protest was subjected to police harassment — neither has been subjected to the implementation of the anti-terrorism law.