Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Islands’ prisoners

Following last week’s Administrative Court ruling on Tiran and Sanafir islands, overturning the recent agreement giving them to Saudi Arabia, Mona El-Nahhas asks if detainees locked up for protesting the original decision will now be released

Al-Ahram Weekly

Twenty-four activists are behind bars, facing charges related to their opposition to Egypt’s ceding of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia in April. Since the signing of the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement on 9 April, there were several protests and lawsuits contesting the agreement.

Following demonstrations on 15 and 25 April that decried the land transfer, courts sentenced 152 people to two to five years in jail and fined them LE5 million. Dozens were later released after appeals against their sentences.

After last week’s administrative court ruling annulled the border demarcation agreement, voices have been calling for freeing the remaining 24 protesters. According to their relatives, they have been subjected to torture. The ruling states that the two islands should remain part of Egyptian territory and that it is against the law to change their status in any form or through any procedure for the benefit of any other state.

“The ruling proved that all such detainees and prisoners were right in defending their land,” said a statement by the Land Organisation for Media and Human Rights following the administrative court ruling. It called for the immediate release of all land defenders.

A leading member of the popular current Maasoum Marzouq called on the government to immediately release all land detainees “who paid a price for defending the truth and for saying that the islands are Egyptian”.

However, legal experts argue that releasing the activists will not be that easy, noting that the Administrative Court ruling will not have a direct effect on their legal status. Constitutional expert Nour Farahat does not expect that the ruling will lead to the release of the protesters.

“Spreading false news about the Egyptian character of the two islands, a charge which may be dropped following last week’s ruling, is not the only accusation levelled at them,” Farahat said.

The general prosecution accused most of Tiran and Sanafir activists of protesting without a licence, joining a terrorist group, attempting to topple the regime and other criminal activities.

Agreeing with Farahat, Mokhtar Mounir, a defence lawyer, said that releasing them is not expected. “The ruling may help drop just one charge on a long list of charges, namely, spreading false news. Still, defence councils will attempt to prove that all other charges levelled at the detainees were related one way or another to the agreement which is now annulled,” Mounir said.

The defence council of the inmates had previously said that the general prosecution lacks the necessary evidence to back up the charges. Lawyers argued that the prosecution, while conducting its own investigation, relied on reports by the national security apparatus, and said that all charges made against their clients are void.

Regardless of the legal status of the prisoners and whether or not they will benefit from last week’s ruling, members of the popular campaign for defending the land said they would press for their release.

“An open letter has been submitted to parliament, asking that it issues a pardon and releases all protesters as well as prisoners of conscience who are not involved in cases related to violence or terrorism,” said Medhat Al-Zahed, a leading member of the campaign that was launched following the signing of the controversial agreement.

“Defending land detainees is an essential part of our struggle towards dropping the agreement,” said Al-Zahed.

Seven out of the 24 detainees are currently serving a two-year jail term following an appeal’s court reduced on Tuesday a previous ruling which sentenced them to an eight-year imprisonment. The other 17 detainees, including lawyers, journalists and political activists, have been remanded in custody with their detention orders renewed every two weeks.

Malek Adli, a lawyer who filed lawsuits against the agreement, is among the detainees who face charges of spreading false news about the two islands.

Following the 21 June administrative court ruling, Adli sent a message congratulating the Egyptian people.

“Thank God. The ruling reveals that we are not the ones who spread false rumours. On the contrary, other bodies and figures owe us an apology,” Adli said in a message released on his wife’s Facebook page.

Last month, the French Lawyers Syndicate nominated Adli for a prize as a lawyer defending human rights.

“I am not asking for Adli’s release,” Asmaa Ali, Adli’s wife, said after visiting him this week. “I just want that prison rules be applied to him.”

 On Sunday, as the government’s appeal was being heard by the Higher Administrative Court, Adli’s name was shouted out by activists at the court. Supporters called for the release of Adli — “the two islands’ prisoner” — and all other land defenders.

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