Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Bad week for activists

Hopes were dashed this week that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi would start his term with reviewing the cases of dozens of jailed pro-democracy activists, reports Khaled Dawoud

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Amid speculation that newly elected President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi might start his term with looking into the cases of dozens of young political activists who have been in jail for months, either pending trial or serving sentences, for violating an unpopular protest law issued in November, a series of court orders this week ended such expectations.

Adding to the sense of dismay among several political parties, youth groups and human rights organisations was the fact that most of the jailed young men and women were known for their support of the 25 January Revolution that ended the 30-year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak and also stood up against the failed policies of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi that ended with his removal a year ago.

Pro-democracy activists apparently wanted to test the waters as soon as Al-Sisi took over the presidency to press for the release of their colleagues who have been arrested over the past few months and to amend the protest law that grants wide powers to the Interior Ministry and sets harsh penalties of up to five years imprisonment for violators.

But after gathering to stage a demonstration in front of the presidential Al-Ittihadiya Palace on 21 June, the police and   thugs who were seen chasing away protesters with knives and rocks, cracked down on the small demonstration of activists, arresting 23, including seven young women.

On Sunday morning, relatives and activists gathered in front of the Masr Al-Gedida Court in Heliopolis, hoping that the court would order their release pending trial, considering they were only involved in a peaceful protest and included women and a few known human rights activists such as Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam.

Yet, they then learned from lawyers that the trial had been suddenly moved to the Tora Police Academy, usually reserved for cases involving Political Islam groups and those involved in armed violence.

To the surprise of the lawyers and the families, the judge decided to adjourn the case until 13 September to “study requests made by the defence team.” This would leave the 23 young men and women in prison for nearly three months before their trial resumes. Lawyers said the only option left for them was to present a request to the court to hold an earlier session and to renew their demand for the release of the defendants pending trial.

A day before on Saturday 28 June, a court in Alexandria had adjourned the case of prominent lawyer and 25 January activist Mahinour Al-Masry until 20 July, keeping her in prison for over three months after she was convicted of violating the protest law and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of LE50,000.

Al-Masry was among a group of activists who staged a small peaceful demonstration earlier in December in front of a court house in Alexandria in which two policemen were being tried for brutally beating and killing a young man in 2010, Khaled Said. His death was considered among one of the reasons that triggered the 25 January Revolution, of which Said became one of the icons.

She was sentenced in February with eight other youth activists, but was not present in court. After her arrest on 12 April, she appealed the sentence, and her lawyers were hoping she would be released pending trial.

A lawyer herself, Al-Masry is a member of the Revolutionary Socialists group, and only two days before her imprisonment she received a prestigious French human rights award that goes to lawyers defending human rights.

The committee of the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize said on 26 June it had decided to honour Al-Masry in 2014 for her role in defending human rights in Egypt and getting jailed as a result under presidents Mubarak, Morsi and Al-Sisi. The same award was given to the late South African president Nelson Mandela while he was serving 27 years in jail.

Also on Sunday, a Cairo court announced it would start looking on 22 July into the appeal made by 26 activists who were sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment for taking part in an unauthorised protest and attacking a police officer a few days after the protest law was issued by former prime minister Hazem Al-Beblawi in November.

They include prominent blogger and radical activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who was arrested with two other defendants immediately after the sentence was issued on 12 June while trying to get into the court. The judge decided to hold an early session at 9 am, and when he came into the courtroom and found no lawyers or defendants, he sentenced all 26 to 15 years imprisonment in absentia.

Alaa’s sister, Sanaa, is among the activists who were arrested on 21 June in front of Al-Ittihadiyya Palace, and whose trial has been adjourned until 13 September.

The sentences and trials of pro-democracy activists come at a time of debate among political parties and youth organisations on how useful street protests were in the first place, considering the ongoing daily demonstrations by Muslim Brotherhood supporters opposing Morsi’s removal, terrorist attacks against policemen, and president Al-Sisi’s insistence on maintaining the protest law.

While several official political parties said they would no longer support holding demonstrations at this stage, other youth groups believe this would be a setback to the gains made after the 25 January Revolution and would not lead to the release of their colleagues.

Several political parties, including Al-Dostour, Al-Tayar Al-Shaabi led by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, the Popular Socialist Alliance, the Social Democratic Party, Al-Adl Party, Al-Karama Party and Egypt Freedom Party, have announced they will hand over to the presidency an amended protest law that would respect the right to assemble and hold peaceful demonstrations in accordance with the constitution Egyptians approved in a referendum in January.

They have also renewed their appeal to president Al-Sisi to issue a pardon for activists who have received final prison sentences under the protest law.

The leaders of the political parties said they were hoping the president would consider the religious occasion of the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, and his own pledges during his election campaign, to reconsider the cases of the jailed activists in order to open a new page at the beginning of his four-year term.

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