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Rights groups condemn 15-year sentences for Egyptian protesters

Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah
Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah

http://manalaa.net/node/87368

The harsh sentence handed down on 11 June 2014 in absentia by the Cairo Criminal Court against Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Wael Metwally and 22 others is another severe violation of the basic right to a fair trial adding to the dismal human rights situation in Egypt, said the undersigned organizations. The undersigned organizations condemn the sham proceedings, which did not meet the most basic standards of a fair trial, and express their belief that the defendants should not have been charged or tried in the first place as they were merely exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The undersigned organizations condemn the continual crackdown on any form of dissent and the silencing of lone voices drawing attention to the government's abysmal human rights record. Putting one of the faces and symbols of opposition activism, Alaa Abdel Fattah, behind bars appears to be a punitive measure against his ongoing vocal criticism of the authorities, and aims to serve as a deterrent for others by signaling that criticism is no longer tolerated.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Wael Metwally and 22 others were convicted of breaching the protest law, illegally gathering, theft, and attacking officials on duty; they were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, 100,000 pound fines, and a further five years of police surveillance after their release. The verdict was handed down in abstentia despite the fact that the defendants' lawyers were present from 9:00am in the court room at the Police Academy in Tora Prison. They were awaiting the beginning of the hearing, while some defendants began to arrive shortly afterwards. At about 9:45am, to their surprise, lawyers discovered from court security officials that the verdict had already been handed down in absentia without any hearing. Some 15 minutes later, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman and Wael Metwally were arrested outside the court.

During the last hearing in this case held on 25 May, the proceedings were postponed until 11 June due to the judge's alleged illness. The 11 June verdict was handed down in proceedings flagrantly breaching the right to a fair trial, including the right to adequate defense. The defense did not have an opportunity to call in witnesses, cross examine prosecution witnesses, examine video evidence or plead their case. On the other hand, the prosecution's case solely rests on police investigations and witnesses, including some five or six police officers carrying out the arrests. Defense plans to call for a "repeat of procedures" and a retrial. In the meantime, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, and Wael Metwally will remain behind bars. It is worth noting that after the investigations were over, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman were kept in custody for over 100 days waiting for their referral to the criminal court. We consider this delay an abuse of the law aimed at prolonging their detention. The undersigned organizations are extremely concerned about the manipulation of the law, for the purpose of keeping the defendants in custody for an extended period.

The undersigned human rights organizations express their deep concern about the deeply flawed nature of the trial and the judiciary's apparent involvement in a political conflict. The verdict is the latest example in a series of unfair trials conducted in Egypt in the past three years, all failing to uphold basic due process rights. The Minya mass trials are other blatant examples of severe breaches of the right to a fair trial. The verdict further demonstrates the selective nature of justice and thus reflects deep problems affecting the judiciary at large.

The defendants, with the exception of Alaa Abdel Fattah, were arrested on 26 November 2013, when police violently dispersed a peaceful protest in front of the Shura Council in Cairo. Alaa Abdel Fattah was taken from his home two days later. The protest organized by the No to Military Trials group against provisions allowing for the military trials of civilians in the 2014 Constitution, came in the wake of a passage of a repressive protest law on 24 November, which essentially bans protests unauthorized by the Ministry of Interior and gives security forces free reign to use excessive force to disperse peaceful protests.

Police broke-up the peaceful protest using excessive force, beating and arresting protesters - including women who were punched, dragged and in some cases sexually assaulted. While women and a number of journalists and lawyers were released without charge, 24 men were slapped with charges. Alaa Abdel Fattah was added to the case after the public prosecution issued an arrest warrant. Despite Alaa Abdel Fattah's declared intention of handing himself to the public prosecution, on 28 November, police forcibly broke into his home hitting him and his wife Manal Bahaa al-Din before whisking him away. Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman remained in prison until their release on bail on 23 March.

Thousands of people have been arrested in the context of demonstrations and other political violence, many of them charged or convicted of breaching the protest law since its passage in November 2013, including members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as prominent activists and human rights defenders known for their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Among those serving sentences for breaching the repressive protest law is human rights defender Mahinour El Masry sentenced along with seven others to two years in prison on 2 January and fines for protesting without authorization in Alexandria. A higher court upheld the verdict on 20 May. Founder of the 6 April Movement, Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, the movement's spokesperson, and political activist Ahmed Douma are also currently serving three-year sentences for breaching the same protest law, following their conviction by a Cairo court in December.

The 11 June verdict is another example of the government's unrelenting disregard for Egypt's constitutional guarantees to uphold freedom of assembly and the right to a fair trial, as well as Egypt's international obligations as a state party to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

SIGNATORIES:

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

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Andalus institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development (ACT)
Arab Organization for Penal Reform
Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
El Nadeem Centre for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
National group for human rights and law
Nazra for Feminist Studies
New Woman Foundation

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