Expected Verdict in Trial of 13 Prominent Activists is an Escalation in the Repression of Government Critics in Egypt

New York City – Human Rights First today warned that the anticipated January 5 verdict in the long-postponed trial of 13 Egyptian activists accused of setting fire to the campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq on May 28, 2012 marks an escalation of the repression against government critics.  Shafiq, who was former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former military general, narrowly lost the presidential run-off election to Mohamed Morsi in June 2012.

Leading activists Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mona Seif are among the defendants in what appears to be a politically-motivated prosecution designed to punish and intimidate secular critics of the military-backed interim government.  Prosecutor General Talat Abdullah reopened the prosecution, for which the evidence appears flimsy, in May 2013 towards the end of President Morsi’s term in office.  At the time, this renewed prosecution was seen as an effort by President Morsi to clamp down on his critics.

“It is sad and revealing that Egypt’s military-backed interim government should choose to proceed with this apparently unfounded prosecution,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks.  “In the current context, with restrictions on basic freedoms of assembly and expression mounting and with several leading non- Islamist opposition activists already sentenced to jail terms, this prosecution is an escalation of the repression against critics of the policies of the current government.  Using such heavy-handed tactics against non-violent critics is incompatible with moving towards the democratic transition that Egypt’s current rulers claim to want.”

“The sentencing of further human rights and democracy activists to jail terms can only have a chilling effect on the legitimate activities of non-violent government critics,” added Hicks.

Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to call for the immediate release of Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has been in detention since November 28, 2013, under investigation for allegedly plotting to organize illegal protests.  The United States should also call for the dismissal of the charges against the 13 activists accused in the May 28, 2012 incident at the Shafiq campaign headquarters and it should remind the Egyptian authorities that arbitrary detention and politically-motivated prosecutions, of which this is just one example, run contrary to the desired goal of inclusive, democratic civilian government in Cairo.

“Repression will not bring necessary stability and social peace to Egypt and the interim government must change course if Egypt is to avoid a further slide into chronic internal conflict,” concluded Hicks.

For more information, read Human Rights First’s December 2013 blueprint How to Turn Around Egypt’s Disastrous Post-Mubarak Transition.

Press

Published on January 2, 2014

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