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Egypt sentences 12 student protesters to 17 years in prison

Police detain students in El Azhar university after student protests in Cairo on 30 October 2013
Police detain students in El Azhar university after student protests in Cairo on 30 October 2013

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the verdict by Al Gamaleya court of misdemeanor in case no. 7332/2013 on 12 November 2013 to sentence 12 students at El Azhar university to 17 years in prison and a bail of LE 6400 (US $9292) for non-implementation of the sentence.

The students had last been arrested during their demonstrations in front of the Azhar chiefdom on 30 October while protesting the arrest of a number of their colleagues and to express their opposition to the current authority, which they consider illegitimate. During their protest, members of Azhar security attacked the students with knives, arrested a number of them and held them inside the Azhar chiefdom premises before handing them over to the El Gamaleya police. The police documented the incident and summoned the prosecution, which then interrogated the students inside the police station.

The undersigned organizations recognize that the arrest of the students and putting them to trial is a violation of the right to demonstration and freedom of expression. The harsh sentences and conditioning their release with payment of such a high bail is a violation of the right to a fair trial. The undersigned organizations also reiterate that demonstration and expression of opinion through peaceful means is a human right, which Egyptian authorities must respect and protect and that the current political conflict in Egypt should not be used as a pretext to violate the right of any person to a fair trial.

Based on the above, the undersigned organizations believe that the respective court was at fault in its impartial implementation of the law and supporting the freedom of individuals. Aside from the accusations made by the prosecution against those students, whether true or false, the court has dealt with cruelty against the sentenced students, by punishing them for all charges raised by the public prosecution, despite all the charges being related to their arrest during their protest in front of Al Azhar chiefdom. This is considered a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Egyptian penal code which obliges criminal courts, in the case of indivisible, multiple crimes for the same purpose, to consider them all one crime and sentence the maximum penalty for those crimes.

Also, the court ordered the students to pay a bail of LE64000 as a condition to stop the execution of the sentence and their release until the time of appeal, scheduled for 4 February 2014. Only one student could afford to pay this sum, while the rest of the students are still in detention until now. This very high sum for a bail and the remote date set for the appeal, according to which the students will remain in prison, indicates a tendency to harass those students, raising the possibility of a vengeful nature of the verdict, politically motivated and totally unrelated to the necessary respect and indiscriminate enforcement of justice.

The undersigned organizations believe that the security-driven policy towards the students' movement at the current time threatens the independence of the university and the future of students' rights and freedoms in Egypt, and raises concerns regarding the imposition of a tight security grip on campus life. During previous months, university administrations have abandoned reacting to student breaches though the specified disciplinary punitive measures and decided it was easier to leave the students prey to the authority of the police, with no regard to the impact this may have on their educational career or its impact on the escalation of acts of violence inside universities as well as deepen the rapidly increasing societal split in view of the ongoing political conflict.

Finally, the undersigned organizations call upon Al Azhar University to fully bear its responsibility and to immediately intervene and pay the necessary bails to release the students sentenced in the above mentioned case. Otherwise its position would indicate approval of the detention of those students until the time of their appeal, a matter of grave consequence to their academic career.

To learn more about the cause, kindly watch this video from the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression's (AFTE) press conference in solidarity with El Azhar students.

Signed,

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Nazra for Feminist Studies
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development (ACT)
Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Andalus Center for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
El Nadeem Centre for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
Land Center for Human Rights

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