Hundreds of lawyers staged a nationwide strike on Saturday after seven lawyers in the southern Egyptian city of Minya were sentenced to prison for insulting the judiciary.
Lawyers did not attend sessions in Egypt’s criminal courts on Saturday after the Lawyers Syndicate published a statement on Friday urging them not to interact with judges or court employees.
The standoff dates back to 2013, when judge Ahmed Fathy filed a complaint with the prosecution accusing a number of lawyers in Minya of assaulting him and obstructing the court. 22 lawyers were referred to criminal court in 2015, with one sentenced to three years, eight given life sentences in absentia and the rest acquitted. Last week, seven of the eight lawyers sentenced to life were retried and handed five-year sentences, sparking an outcry among lawyers nationwide.
While the strike was just planned for Saturday, lawyers aim to boycott the courts that sentenced the Minya lawyers indefinitely, head of the Lawyers Syndicate Sameh Ashour said in a statement, adding that the syndicate is appealing the ruling and requesting the sentences are suspended until the appeal is heard.
The Lawyers Syndicate launched a similar strike in 2015 over police brutality after lawyer Karim Hamdy was tortured to death in Matareya police station in February, 2015. He was arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood organization and was found dead two days after being interrogated by National Security Agency officers.
In a similar incident in June, 2015, a lawyer was beaten by a police officer, injuring his left eye. The incidents pushed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to publicly apologize, though he stressed such violations are the result of the actions of individual police officers and not systemic violations, as many lawyers claim.
A number of human rights activists launched the campaign “Freedom for the Black Gown,” in support of lawyers jailed for political charges. Among them was lawyer Mohamed Sadeq, who was forcibly disappeared on August 30 and only appeared before the prosecution after three months, accused of attempting to kill the deputy prosecutor general, despite the assassination attempt taking place a month after his disappearance. Sadeq was known for representing the families of others who have been forcibly disappeared for their political affiliations.
A number of internal disputes have also surfaced inside the Lawyers Syndicate, fueling anger among lawyers against its leadership. This includes amendments to membership guidelines that lawyers say are exclusionary. A number of lawyers won a lawsuit appealing the amendments last month, though Ashour said the ruling would be appealed, and several lawyers protesting at the syndicate headquarters in downtown were assaulted by armed men.
Lawyers also objected to stipulations they should pay Value Added Taxes by collecting their fees directly from clients, and should submit detailed financial reports to the Finance Ministry, which they claim will place more financial burdens on them and their clients. Ashour said he met with ministry officials, who agreed to exempt lawyers from submitting the monthly reports.