Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Protesters behind bars

Three-year prison sentences against 10 demonstrators opposed to the government’s maritime border agreement with Saudi Arabia will further inflame the heated debate over the deal, writes Khaled Dawoud

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Eight opposition parties, a dozen human rights organisations and over 150 political figures signed a statement on Monday “denouncing” what they described as “harsh” three-year prison sentences and fines of LE 100,000 imposed on 14 July by a Cairo court against 10 demonstrators arrested three months ago while protesting the controversial maritime border agreement signed with Saudi Arabia in April.

The sentences have undermined hopes that the confrontation between the government and its opponents over the border deal would give way to calm. The deal, signed during a visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Egypt on 5 April, gives control of the strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. Lawyers say they will appeal the sentences.

Other cases involving more than 200 young men and women tried on similar charges have ended in acquittal and in June the Administrative Court said the agreement should be annulled because it violated the constitution. The court ruled the two islands were an integral part of Egyptian territory. The government has appealed the ruling.

 The sudden announcement of the agreement, which was accompanied by generous aid deals with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, angered many Egyptians. Many argued the territorial concessions should have been publicly debated and some demanded they be put before the public in a referendum.

President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi said negotiations over the deal had lasted for months but had been conducted quietly in order not to jeopardise relations with Saudi Arabia. The president, angered by opposition claims that Egypt had “sold” the two islands, asked Egyptians to allow parliament to have the final say on the maritime agreement.

Al-Sisi enjoys wide support within parliament but the legal process seeking to suspend the agreement has delayed the approval of MPs.

Protests against the deal were held on 15 April and ended peacefully. But protesters were arrested during the second wave of demonstrations on 25 April. According to the Front for the Defence of Egypt’s Demonstrators at least 1500 people were arrested between 15 and 25 April for taking part in demonstrations against the Tiran and Sanafir deal.

Though the majority of detainees were released within days more than 200 were referred to trial on charges of breaking the Protest Law. Sentenced to prison terms ranging from between two and five years by first degree courts most had their custodial sentences quashed on appeal though a Giza court, in cancelling the five-year prison sentences of 101 defendants, replaced them with fines of LE100,000.

The case involving the 10 defendants sentenced on Thursday was the last to be tried involving protesters from 25 April. They had been arrested after starting a small march in the densely populated neighbourhood of Boulaq Al-Dakrour. Lawyers were optimistic their clients would be acquitted. The court had already ordered the release of all but one of the defendants pending trial, giving the impression the judges did not believe the charges were serious enough to merit imprisonment.

None of the nine defendants whose release the court had ordered were present when the sentences were issued on Thursday. The remaining defendant, Hamdi Kamal aka Hamdi Eshta, a member of the Dostour Party, remained in prison because he faces charges in a separate case involving six other activists. They are accused of forming a clandestine organisation which sought to overthrow the regime, undermine stability and spread false news.

Malek Adli, a prominent lawyer, is a defendant in a second case in which activists are also accused of seeking to overthrow the government. Adli, together with former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, was one of the petitioners who filed the case against the agreement signed with Saudi Arabia in front of the Administrative Court. Adli, who has been detained in prison since he was arrested on 6 May, has spent much of that time in solitary confinement according to his wife.

Adli’s eight co-defendants include Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Sakka, the two journalists arrested by police while seeking refuge inside the Press Syndicate on 1 May. No date has been set for the trial.

Defence lawyer Tarek Awadi claims the security agencies are “exacting their revenge” on Adli for his outspoken opposition to the deal with Saudi Arabia.

“There have been no new investigations since Adli’s arrest in early May and there is no justification to detain him in prison for more than 70 days,” says Awadi.

The statement issued by the eight political parties, human rights organisations and public figures on Monday demanded the release of all defendants who remain in prison for opposing the deal with Saudi Arabia.

“We were hoping the authorities would reconsider its crackdown on those who oppose giving up Egyptian territory following the Administrative Court ruling annulling the deal with Saudi Arabia,” the statement said. “Instead the government has appealed the ruling and continues to suppress young Egyptians through draconian sentences such as those issued against Hamdi Eshta and his nine colleagues.”

The signatories also noted how acquittals issued by other courts in similar cases confirmed that the majority of arrests on 25 April were arbitrary and no solid evidence was presented against defendants.

 

 

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