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A system of selective justice? Egypt sentences 229 protesters to life in prison

Political activist Ahmed Douma attends his court hearing in Cairo on 4 February 2015
Political activist Ahmed Douma attends his court hearing in Cairo on 4 February 2015

REUTERS/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper

This statement was originally published on on 5 February 2015.

The undersigned organizations express their grave concern at the unjust sentence handed down yesterday, 4 February 2015, against 229 defendants, among them the political activist Ahmed Douma and the officer of the Human Rights Defender Program at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Hind Nafie.

The defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and fined LE17,648,880 (around $USD 2300000) collectively. An additional 39 juvenile defendants received ten-year prison terms. The judgment was issued in connection with the 'cabinet clashes' case of December 2011, when police and military forces dispersed a sit-in near the building that houses the Council of Ministers using lethal force and assaulted female protestors, ripping their clothes off.

For many, the dispersal has become associated with the so-called 'blue-bra' incident, in which soldiers dragged a young woman in the street and kicked her.

Yesterday's verdict provides clear evidence that there exists a significant defect in the Egyptian justice system. While protesters and demonstrators were issued with a mass and unjust verdict, no member of the police or army, responsible for dispersing the protest, attacking demonstrators, and killing at least 17 people, has been held accountable.

Hind Nafie, one of the defendants in yesterday's trial who received a lifetime prison sentence, was severely beaten during the dispersal. Her attackers, however, have not been held to account. While special court provisions are used to undermine the rights of political opponents, other provisions are put in place to guarantee and protect regime-supporters. What we are witnessing in Egypt is a system of selective justice.

The undersigned organisations believe that these courts and their unjust verdicts are indicative of the position of the Egyptian judiciary as an adversary – rather than an arbitrator of conflict — with its issuance of the most severe of punishments, its undermining of the most basic of judicial guarantees, and its issuance of mass death and lifetime sentences.

Indeed, the mass verdict in the 'cabinet clashes' case is not the first of its kind. The day before the verdict in the 'cabinet clashes' case, 183 people received death sentences collectively.

What we are witnessing in Egypt is a system of selective justice.

Before that, the Minya and Beni Suef courts issued a mass death sentence to 220 people, and another 492 people received life sentences in the Matay case in the Minya. There is limited space here to list the other cases of mass verdicts. Such sentences are likely to further erode Egyptians' faith in the justice system and spur acts of retaliation, revenge, and political violence, which will only benefit terrorist organizations.

The court in the 'cabinet clashes' case made several egregious legal violations against both the defendants and their defense counsel. The circuit chief judge explicitly voiced a personal animus against the defendants. The court also sentenced Ahmed Douma to an additional three years of prison for contempt of court when Douma objected to the chief judge's opinionating on the case.

In addition, the court panel terrorized the defendants' lawyers, referring five of the six of them to investigation on various charges after they insisted on responses to their motions and sought to have missing or incomplete parts of the case files included. This prompted the head of the Bar Association to issue a resolution on November 22, 2014 prohibiting any lawyer from appearing before the circuit or accepting a court appointment in this case and referring violators to disciplinary proceedings.

The head of the syndicate's decision came in response to the repeated assaults on lawyers in the circuit and the infringement of due process guarantees protected by the constitution and law. According to the syndicate resolution, the court also used its legal authorities to preserve order in the courtroom to charge lawyers and disregard their complaints, intimidating them into abandoning essential motions in defense of their clients, as well as belittling and mocking lawyers who appeared before it.

Even more worrying is that the Supreme Judicial Council disregarded the resolution issued by the Lawyers Syndicate although it was notified of the decision. The council took no action to contain the crisis or even investigate the seriousness of the resolution. The judge was intent on holding hearings without lawyers for Douma, the only defendant present, undermining Douma's right to counsel and relying on legal loopholes that allowed him to be assigned a lawyer on paper only.

The undersigned organisations call on the Supreme Judicial Council to use its position and disciplinary authority to intervene to prevent the collapse of the Egyptian justice system. The undersigned organisations also call on the Supreme Judicial Council to reform the justice system by ensuring the judiciary abstains from involvement in political conflicts and commits itself to justice.

Douma was previously sentenced to three years in prison and fined LE50,000 for his participation in a demonstration in front of the Abdin courthouse; his appeal with the Court of Cassation was recently denied. In addition, the court in the 'cabinet clashes' case handed him another three-year sentence for contempt of court. Adding this to the life sentence he received yesterday, this means that Ahmed Douma will serve 31 years in prison for exercising his constitutional right of peaceful assembly.


Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
National group for human rights and law
The Human Right Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners
Arab Network for Human Rights Information
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance
Hesham Mobarak Law Center
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development
Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
Arab Penal Reform Organization
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
The Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions
The Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child

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