Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Through enough mud and some will stick

Political activists complain of an escalating campaign of vilification, Ahmed Morsy reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Activists who played key roles in the 2011 revolution have condemned the “fabrication of accusations of treason” against them after recordings of private phone calls, many dating from the time the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was in power, were broadcast by private TV channel Al-Qahera Wal Nas. Among those whose telephones were tapped are Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, co-founders of the 6 April Movement, activists Asmaa Mahfouz, Abdel-Rahman Youssef and former MP Mustafa Al-Naggar.

Recordings of phone calls were broadcast during a programme presented by Abdel-Rahim Ali, director of the Arab Centre for Research and Studies. In one call to Mahfouz made immediately before the storming of the Nasr City headquarters of the much reviled State Security Investigation in 2011 an unidentified caller asked Mahfouz for help in mobilising more protesters in front of the security building.

“The call contains nothing for which I can be condemned,” Mahfouz told Al-Ahram Weekly. “What it does do is raise questions about the violation of privacy. Who recorded the calls? And how did they end up being broadcast? Who handed the recordings to the presenter, and why?”  

Ali claimed during his programme that the calls exposed a threat to national security and demanded the activists be prosecuted. The only legal action that should be taken, responded Mahfouz, is against those who spied on personal calls and then broadcast them.

Fifty public figures have called on interim President Adli Mansour to condemn the broadcast. The episode, they say, is part of an ongoing campaign to discredit the 25 January revolution. Former presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Mohamed Abul-Ghar, veteran activist and a member of the National Council for Human Rights George Ishak, deputy chairman of the Press Syndicate Gamal Fahmi and member of the National Partnership Current Mahmoud Afifi were among the 50.

Ali also broadcast phone calls made by Maher and Adel which he claimed proved the 6 April Movement was following a foreign agenda. In one call the two joke about rumours Maher had received $500,000 from foreign sources, and more funds from Sheikha Moza, wife of the emir of Qatar.

While a number of political groups and activists make no bones about having received some funding and training from international NGOs and human rights organisations including the International Republican Institute (IRI), Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute — subjects of a high profile clampdown by SCAF — the programme rolled out the connections yet again as evidence of the recipients conspiring with foreign states.

The calls also referred to “training in Serbia” — again no secret —, communications with the IRI and the European Union and the Danish embassy’s willingness to fund the 6 April Movement.

The 6 April Movement issued a statement criticising “intelligence-directed” media outlets for spreading “fabrications” by the National Security Apparatus (NSA).

“If anyone has evidence of treason, spying or illegal funding they should submit it to the judiciary,” said the statement. “Unless, of course, the only objective is defamation.”

Activists claim the current campaign against them, and by extension the 25 January Revolution, is a  continuation of that conducted under SCAF.

“They are doing their best not only to defame us but also to vilify everything related to the 25 January Revolution,” says Mahfouz.

On 25 December, three days after they received a three-year sentence under the controversial new protest law Maher, Adel and Ahmed Doma began a hunger strike to protest against their “mistreatment” in Tora Prison. Human rights campaigner Mona Seif posted a Facebook statement in which she said: “[They] started a hunger strike to protest against their conditions in prison. Their winter clothes were taken from them because they were the wrong colour and they have been given no replacements.”

An Interior Ministry spokesman denied that the three had been singled out for mistreatment. The three activists have appealed the verdict. The appeal is due to be heard on 8 January.

All three have been active for many years and were detained under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Doma was also imprisoned under SCAF and Morsi.

“The 25 January Revolution is being buried,” Mahfouz told the Weekly. “The suppression protesters and activists face is getting worse than before 2011.”

Maher, Adel as well as Doma were jailed and fined LE50,000 after being found guilty of organising a demonstration in front of Abdine Court on 30 November, attacking soldiers, endangering public order and destroying public property.

An estimated 100 activists, including Doma and Adel, had gathered in front of Abdine Court to support Maher as he handed himself in for questioning over allegations that he called for a protest in front of the Shura Council on 26 November without first getting the approval of the Interior Ministry as stipulated by the new protest law.

“The court’s verdict was clearly political,” says Mahmoud Afifi, former spokesman of the 6 April Movement. “It was an attempt to intimidate young activists, to send the message that however high profile you are there is no protection, you will be suppressed. It is a heartbreaking message for anyone who felt optimistic for a better future.”

The trio of activists, like the 25 protesters arrested on 26 November in front of the Shura Council, were at the forefront of the 2011 revolution that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. They also took part in the 30 June Revolution that ousted Mohamed Morsi and ushered in the current interim administration. Their sentencing has fuelled fears of an expanding crackdown on any opposition by the interim authorities.

Alaa Abdel-Fattah, another symbol of the 2011 revolution, was detained a month ago on charges of organising the Shura Council protest along with Maher in violation of the demonstration law. He also faces charges of assaulting police officers. Alongside 13 other defendants, including his sister Mona Seif, Abdel-Fattah is facing trial in another case. All are accused of attempting to burn down the campaign headquarters of former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik in May 2012. A judgement is expected on 5 January.

The cases, says Mahfouz, are an attempt to take revenge on symbols of the movement that forced Mubarak from power.

“Abdel-Fattah, Maher, Doma and Adel are the most prominent activists and their detention means that protesting is no longer allowed.”

Hossam Moanis, Popular Current spokesman, posted a message on his Facebook account: “Doma and other revolutionary youth are in prison while Mubarak regime remnants and police officers continue to be acquitted... Will whoever currently rules ever learn from the recent past?”

Fourteen local human rights organisations condemned the three-year verdict against the activists and questioned the due process behind it in a press release issued last week. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Nazra for Women Studies, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies were among the signatories.

The statement contrasted the speedy conclusion of the activists’ case with the tortuously slow legal process that has accompanied the deaths of hundreds of protesters in clashes with police over the last three years.

Officers tried for their role in killing hundreds of protesters in the 25 January Revolution were found not guilty after the police failed to provide any evidence against them. The statement described the judiciary as an extension of the state’s security apparatus.

“There can be no doubt that the ruling against the three activists is politicised and is an extension of security’s targeting of activists in a clear and deliberate fashion.”

The statement also described the new protest law as a tool to harass peaceful protesters and political activists.

Lawyers and human rights groups stress the controversial new law contradicts the draft constitution finalised on 3 December. The draft, which Egyptians will vote on in a referendum on 14 and 15 January, clearly states that demonstrators are required only to “notify” the authorities of their intention to hold a protest.

The Cairo-based Arab Organisation for Human Rights condemned the three activists’ sentence as a flagrant contradiction of the spirit of the 25 January and 30 June revolutions.

“It is a step backward. The state appears to believe that the protest law and imprisoning activists will ease down the political situation and decrease the number of demonstrations. In reality it will only boost the state of tension in the streets,” Afifi said.

On Sunday Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, said the convictions were cause for “great concern”. She called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners detained solely in connection with peaceful protests, unless the authorities have solid evidence (of) recognisable criminal offences”.

“Participation in peaceful protests and criticising the government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution,” she said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon joined the chorus of condemnation. His spokesman Martin Nesirky said the convictions were “contrary to the spirit of Egypt’s revolution nearly three years ago”.

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