Human Rights First Urges Dismissal of Case Against 23 Egyptian Prisoners
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. Government to press Egypt to dismiss the case against 23 prisoners arrested in June 2014 for allegedly taking part in a political march. An Egyptian court sentenced each of the prisoners to three years in prison in October, and their appeal is set for December 28.
“The Egyptian government is failing to protect human rights on many levels – from attacking NGOs to imprisoning people without due process to not properly addressing the problems of sexual violence. Dismissing the case against this group would be a step toward the Egyptian regime getting on the right track,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.
Those appealing the October decision include prominent human rights activists Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, two of the seven women in the case. The group was convicted largely on charges relating to Egypt’s infamous protest law (Law 107 of 2013), which violates rights of freedoms of assembly and expression. The inclusion of these rights in the Egyptian constitution appears not to have mattered in this case so far. The defendants were also given an additional three years of probation, and an LE 10,000 ($1,400) fine for breaching the repressive protest law and other trumped-up charges including damaging property and “displaying force.”
“Yara’s conviction seems to be linked to her human rights work,” said Dooley. “She’s a leading human rights defender, a prominent lawyer, and an alum of Notre Dame University in the U.S. Those of us who know her recognize her dedication to her human rights work. She and the others should be released and all charges dropped.”
Earlier this month, Congress passed a new omnibus spending package that attaches conditions to the 2015 $1.3 billion military aid budget to Egypt. These include upholding the rights of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and enabling independent civil society organizations and independent media to function.
“The new U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Stephen Beecroft, has just arrived in Cairo. He should immediately make clear to Egyptian authorities that this is a case the United States is taking a close interest in as a test of human rights,” added Dooley. “He should tell the authorities that dismissing the case against the group would be a good first step in Egypt showing it’s taking necessary steps to reform.”
Human Rights First also urges Secretary of State John Kerry and Congress to use the review of military assistance to Egypt required by the new legislation to ensure that aid is used to better advance the strategic interests of the United States and Egypt, and to ensure that human rights promotion remains an integral part of the bilateral security relationship. Human Rights First’s new blueprint, “How to Prevent Egypt from Slipping into a Deepening Crisis” details specific recommendations for how the U.S. government should use its influence to persuade the Egyptian government of President Sisi to turn away from the authoritarian path.