Egyptian Human Rights Activists to Appear in Court Saturday
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today said that the ongoing trial of 23 people who are being prosecuted for violating Egypt’s anti-protest law is evidence that Egypt is not on a path toward becoming a stable democracy that upholds human rights and the rule of law. Tomorrow, an Egyptian court will hear the case of these men and women, who were arrested on June 21 following a peaceful demonstration calling for the repeal of Egypt’s anti-protest law (Law No. 107) and the release of those detained under the law.
“The handling of these cases by Egyptian authorities casts doubt on the credibility of the legal process. The lack of evidence, the breaches of defendants’ fair trial rights, and the absence of due process all point to a political motivation behind these prosecutions,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The State Department should stop claiming that Egypt is moving down a democratic path when that clearly is not the case.”
The defendants are due to appear in court on Saturday, September 13, following an initial hearing in June. Law No.107, which was enacted in November 2013 as a tool to quell dissent and imprison human rights defenders, bans gatherings of 10 or more people without prior government approval. The anti-protest law affords the Interior Ministry wide discretionary powers over protests including the use of firearms against peaceful protesters. Those convicted of breaking the law can face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $14,500.
The 23 defendants in this case face charges of participating in a demonstration without authorization, which allegedly endangered public security. They are also charged with damaging property, displaying force with the aim of terrorizing passersby and endangering their lives, and taking part in a gathering of more than five people with the aim of threatening “public peace” and committing crimes. The authorities have presented no evidence that they found weapons on any of the defendants or shown why they believe the demonstrators were intent on violence.
Internationally recognized Egyptian human rights defender Yara Sallam is among the defendants in this case. Sallam is best known for her work in Egypt and The Gambia and is the 2013 winner of human rights defender prize the North Africa Shield for her work in Egypt with leading NGO Nazra for Feminist Studies. Sallam and her cousin were reportedly picked up in the vicinity of the protest by security forces as they were buying water from a local kiosk, without any evidence that they had taken part in the demonstration. During her interrogation, Sallam was questioned extensively about the leading human rights organization for which she works, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
To date, procedures in this case have been characterized by a lack of transparency and respect for due process rights. Detainees have reported insults and ill-treatment by authorities during and after arrest, and said they were questioned without the presence of their lawyers by individuals in civilian dress who did not introduce themselves or clarify their official positions.
In recent months, the Egyptian government has led a campaign to quash political dissent and violence through excessive use of force against protesters, imprisonment of thousands of political dissenters, and unfair trials leading to harsh sentences. Earlier in June, a Cairo court sentenced prominent Egyptian activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, and 24 others to 15 years in prison and fines on a range of charges stemming from their involvement in a peaceful protest on November 26, 2013, in Cairo. The trial session was held without the defendants present.
Human Rights First continues to urge the United States to reshape its side of the bilateral relationship with Egypt to promote a path toward stability and a human rights respecting democracy in Egypt. The United States must continue and enhance its support for independent civil society organizations, especially those seeking to promote and defend human rights and to hold the government to account.