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When witnesses become defendants: The murder of Egyptian protester Shaimaa El Sabbagh

Witnesses to the murder of Shaimaa El Sabbagh who willingly testified during the trial of a policeman accused of killing her are now facing criminal charges for allegedly participating in the protests that took place on the day she died.

Activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh receives help after she was shot dead during a protest in Cairo January 24, 2015
Activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh receives help after she was shot dead during a protest in Cairo January 24, 2015

REUTERS/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper

This statement was originally published on cihrs.org on 28 March 2015.

Due to the continuous crackdown on human rights defenders, the undersigned human rights organizations and individuals express their astonishment and shock regarding the accusations charged by the Qasr El Nile prosecution office in Egypt to a number of witnesses who willingly testified about the killing of Shaimaa El Sabbagh.

El Sabbagh, who is a member of the Socialist People's Alliance Party, was killed during the violent and brutal dispersal of a peaceful memorial event on 24 January 2015.

The event was organized by members of the Socialist People's Alliance Party to commemorate peaceful protestors who lost their lives during the 25 January 2011 revolution. The witnesses were accused of protesting illegally, breaching public order and infringing on public security according to the protest law.

Seventeen people were charged based on these alleged accusations. Ms. Azza Soliman, a lawyer in the Cassation Court and President of Board of Trustees of the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) as well as one if its founding members, Mr. Mosatafa Abdel Al, a member of the Bread and Freedom Party (under establishment), Dr. Maher Shaker, and 14 members of the Socialist People's Alliance Party (Mr. Talaat Fahmy, Mr. Zohdi El Shami, Mr. Elhami El Merghani, Ms. Nagwa Abbas, Mr. Adel Meligi, Mr. Mohamed Salah, Mr. Khaled Mostafa, Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Mahmoud, and Mr. Ahmed Fathy Nasr) are on trial based on these charges. Charges pertaining to Shaimaa El Sabbagh were dropped due to her death. The first court session is to take place on 4 April 2015.

In a move rejected by the undersigned human rights organizations and individuals, the Prosecutor's Office decided to transfer Ms. Azza Soliman, who willingly testified about the murder, from the list of witnesses in Shaimaa El Sabbagh's case to the list of defendants.

Azza Soliman was in a restaurant close to where Sabbagh was murdered and she published her testimony on her Facebook account after providing it to the Prosecutor's office. Moreover, Mr. Mostafa Abdel Al and Dr. Maher Shaker who were also in a café nearby and tried to save El Sabbagh, were arrested and transferred to the defendants' list after testifying. This escalation is a direct violation of the Egyptian constitution, which grants immunity to witnesses and requires witness protection. The accusations reflect the continuing security lockdown on human rights defenders, who exercise their right to freedom of expression and expose grave human rights violations.

The undersigned organizations and individuals call upon the Egyptian government to abide by its national human rights obligations and immediately drop all charges against Ms. Azza Soliman and other witnesses.

The Egyptian government must also drop all charges against members of the Socialist People's Alliance Party as the Protest Law, with which they are charged, is constitutionally challenged. Participating in a peaceful demonstration is a fundamental human right which is guaranteed by international and regional human rights treaties. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to respect and protect the right to freedom of assembly and ensure protection of witnesses and human rights defenders.

Entities and organizations:

Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
New Woman foundation
El-Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Nazra for Feminist studies
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Women and Memory Forum
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development – ACT
Cairo Center for Development (CCD)
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies
The Egyptian Foundation for the societal engagement.
The Egyptian Coalition on Children's rights.
Egyptian Foundation For Advancement Of Childhood Conditions(EFACC)
Forum for Women in Development
Egyptian Women Union
United group
Fouada Watch
I saw harassment (ShoftTaharoush)
BaheyaYaMasr
Egyptian Popular Current
Bread and Freedom Party (under establishment)
Arab Office for Law (AOL)
The National NGOs Center for Population and Development (NCPD)
Forum of Dialogue and Partnership for Development (FDPD)
Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR)
Bashayer – Helwan foundation for societal development
One world foundation
Tawafuq Center for legal aid, training, and development
MalahHefniNasef foundation for humanitarian development
Al Mahrousa Center for economic and social development
Lawyers for Justice
Egyptian Center for justice and legal studies
Bent Al Ard foundation
Female Egyptian Lawyers initiative
Female Egyptian Lawyers and steps towards the future
The Nile Center for Studies and Researches
The National Union for legal independence
Egyptians against religious discrimination
The Egyptian foundation for family development
National Community for Human Rights and Law (NCHRL)
Egyptian Association for Comprehensive Development (EACD)
The Arab Awareness Center for rights and law
Media personnel association
The legal foundation for family support and Human Rights
The Egyptian Foundation for Economic and Social Rights
Omy foundation for Rights and Development
Our Dream foundation for comprehensive development in Al Khosous
Female future leaders foundations in Al Saff
Female leaders foundation for development and environment in Qaliobya /Shubra Al Khaima
Feminist renaissance foundation in Dossami
Message of Light foundation for Women's Development in Minya
Al Dameer foundation for humanitarian rights in Mansoura
Women Center for legal support and awareness in Mansoura
Badr Al Tawayel Foundation for societal development in Sohag

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