Twenty-six members of a grassroots campaign that opposed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s nomination for the 2018 presidential election were sentenced to prison on Thursday.
On January 31, an emergency state security court sentenced 21 defendants (12 of whom were sentenced in absentia) to five years in prison, while sentencing five others to 15 years in prison in absentia, according to Ahmed Abdel Latif, a lawyer for the defense and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. Two defendants were acquitted of all charges.
The council launched two campaigns in 2017: “Egypt is thirsty” in October of that year, which aimed to raise awareness about the issues Egypt will face in relation to the construction Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam, and “Please don’t, Abdu” in November 2017, which opposed the nomination of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for a second presidential term.
On November 28, 2017, shortly after the “Please don’t, Abdu” campaign was launched, Ahmed Ali Abdel Aziz, the founder — who was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday — was detained by the Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and spreading false news.
An investigation carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA) alleged that the “Please don’t, Abdu” campaign promoted incitement against the government and state institutions.
On June 10, 2018, the Public Prosecutor referred 28 members of the Egyptian Council for Change — including Shazli, Abdel Aziz and employees of media outlets Al Jazeera, Al-Sharq and Mekamleen — to an emergency court on charges of establishing an illegal organization as part of Case 29/2018.
The prosecution claimed that the defendants launched what was described as “anti-government field campaigns,” and knowingly spread false news about the government via social media and news outlets.
Two days after the case was referred to court, the Egyptian Council for Change issued a statement, saying, “How can opposing the nomination of Sisi in the 2018 election, in which he was the only candidate, through the ‘Please don’t, Abdu’ campaign, be considered illegal?”
The emergency law stipulates that the president, as the military ruler of the country, or a representative, is to ratify verdicts issued by Supreme State Security emergency courts, in order for verdicts to become final. Defendants tried by emergency courts are denied the right to appeal their sentences. The military ruler may choose to reduce, annul or suspend a sentence, or order a retrial.