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More activists fall victim to Egypt's draconian protest law

Protesters march during a rally against anti-protest legislation in Cairo on 21 June 2014
Protesters march during a rally against anti-protest legislation in Cairo on 21 June 2014

REUTERS/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper

The undersigned organizations condemn in the strongest possible terms the decision by Masr al-Gedeida's prosecution to detain 23 protesters and rights defenders for 4 days pending investigations and the release of only one protester.

The detainees were arrested upon joining a peaceful march on 21 June 2014, to demand the repeal of the draconian protest law and the release of prisoners of conscience.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the undersigned organizations also condemn the arrest of colleague Yara Sallam – the officer of transitional justice at EIPR and the recipient of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network's award in 2013.

Sallam was arrested along with others at the protest march. The prosecution made the decision on 23 June to detain the 23 protesters for 4 days pending investigations under fabricated charges that include: assembly, obstructing the enforcement of the law, participating in an unauthorized protest, damaging public property, possession of incendiary material, and the show of force in the aim of terrorizing citizens.

The peaceful march had set off on the evening of 21 June with the intention of heading to the Ittihadiya Palace to demand the release of prisoners of conscience and the repeal of the protest law.

Forty five minutes later, men in civilian attire armed with white weapons –believed to be working under the supervision of the Ministry of Interior - assaulted the march resulting in several injuries among the protesters.

When the demonstrators approached the Ismailia Square, security forces dispersed them using teargas leading the protesters to run into side streets in the direction of Salah Salem Street or Safir Square.

Upon the march's dispersal, security forces arrested more than 30 people with the help of individuals in civilian apparel.

A number of those detained were later released on no charges while 24 detainees were referred to the public prosecution which then decided to imprison 23 of them today [23 June].

Among those arrested and referred to the public prosecution is rights defender Sanaa Seif, who participated in the protest march to demand the release of political prisoners which include her brother, Alaa Abdel Fattah.

The detainees were questioned in the absence of their lawyers in a police station by National Security officers. Questions included inquiries about the detainees' political affiliations, opinions on the protest law and their choice of candidate during the presidential elections.

According to the testimony of some of the released detainees, they said a number of the arrested protesters were beaten and threatened to be charged with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and/or the 6 April Movement.

The protesters currently in detention are: Sanaa Ahmed Seif, Mohamed Ahmed Youssef Saad, Bassam Mohamed Aly El Saed, Ahmed Samir Mahmoud Mohamed, Islam Tawfik Mohamed Hassan, Yasser Samir Fadel Sayed, Ibrahim Ahmed ElSaed AbdelRahaman , Salwa Aboud Aly Mehrez, Karim Moustafa Yassin, Yara Refaat Sallam, Islam Mohamed AbdelHamid Mohamed, Nahed Sherif Abdelhamid ElSaed, Fekrya Mohamed Mohamed, Mohamed Anwar Massoud, Hanan Moustafa Ahmed Soliman , Moataz Mahmoud Mansour Ragheb, Mohamed ElSaed AlSayed, Ahmed Mohamed Abdelhamid Mohamed, Mahmoud Hesham Hassanien AbdelAziz, Mo'men Mohamed Radwan, Mohamed ElSayed Mohamed, Moustafa Mohamed Ibrahim, Samar Ibrahim Mahmoud Ibrahim.

The one person the prosecution decided to release is Amr Ahmed Muhammad Mahmoud.

Colleague Yara Sallam was among those arrested along with her cousin, Shehab Fakhry Ismael.

They were arrested by a group dressed as civilians who handed them over to security agents after which they were verbally abused, forcibly led into a deportation van, and taken to Masr el-Gedeida Police Station.

During interrogations, Ms. Sallam was asked questions about her work with EIPR and about the organization's management and activities which, we believe, is the reason she was not released and was instead referred to the public prosecution the following day unlike her cousin who was released the next morning without being charged.

The undersigned organizations express their concern regarding the accusations levelled by the prosecution against the detainees including Ms. Sallam –accusations the prosecution is accustomed to automatically levelling against participants in peaceful demonstrations and gatherings with no serious investigations and based on sham inquiries prepared by the Ministry of Interior, especially the National Security Agency.

The undersigned organizations note that the penalty for protesting without authorization is a fine which makes it illegal to hold suspects in pre-trial detention for such crimes. The undersigned organizations believe that the Ministry of Interior resorts to fabricating other charges for protesters such as assaulting establishments and individuals in order to turn the charge to either a felony or a misdemeanour that mandates pre-trial detention. Unfortunately, the public prosecution usually approves of these charges after conducting sham investigations.

The undersigned organizations have always demanded the repeal of the oppressive protest law enacted by former President Adly Mansour in November 2013.

The Ministry of Interior must stop violating citizens' right to peaceful assembly and must stop fabricating charges for suspects. The undersigned organizations also demand the independence of investigation authorities and the public prosecution from the executive authority. Those entities must cease the use of pre-prepared charges to harass political activists and dissenters, and must end the use of pre-trial detention as punishment. Charging peaceful protesters with fabricated crimes like assaulting establishments and individuals will lead to the loss of confidence in the justice system.

The undersigned organizations stress, one more time, the necessity of repealing the disreputable protest law which has allowed the arrest of thousands of citizens in the context of demonstrations and events of political violence witnessed by Egypt throughout the past few months. Not only is the law bad, the detainees were not given the opportunity of neutral investigations or fair trials.

As such, many charges, not limited to breaching the law, were brought against detained protesters including assaulting police officers and buildings.

A 1914 law on assembly is also frequently used for the harassment of protesters. As a result, some of those detainees were convicted and sentenced for almost identical charges whether they were members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, or prominent activists known for their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood like Mahinour el-Massry who is serving a two-year sentence along with seven others –all of whom were convicted on 2 January and sentenced for protesting without authorization and assaulting security forces in Alexandria.

A higher court later upheld the verdict. The founder of the 6 April Movement, Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, the movement's spokesperson, and political activist Ahmed Douma are currently serving a three-year sentence for violating the same law and assaulting security forces after having been convicted by a Cairo court last December.

Signed,

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
National Group for Human Rights and Law
The Human Right Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners
Land Center for Human Rights
El Nadeem Center for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development (ACT)
Arab Penal Reform Organization
Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies

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