Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Trial and punishment

Trials involving former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi are wrapping up as secular dissidents continue campaigning for the release of activists held for violating the protest law, reports Khaled Dawoud

Trial and punishment
Trial and punishment
Al-Ahram Weekly

If you have recently seen the colour green replacing the profile photos of your friends on Facebook and Twitter, that’s part of the campaign led by several secular revolutionary movements and political parties calling on President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the government to release dozens of activists held for months for violating the unpopular, year-old protest law.

Those groups were also responsible for printing pictures of some of those activists and hanging them, captioned “They are spending their feast in prison”, and replacing the advertising on billboards in Cairo during the recent Eid Al-Adha Feast. Political groups like the 6 April Movement, the Revolutionary Path Front and the Revolutionary Socialists, together with Al-Dostour Party, the Popular Trend Party and the Popular Socialist Alliance Party have also taken part in the Empty Stomachs campaign, in which dozens of activists went on hunger strike, in some cases for over two weeks, in solidarity with activists in prison and to call for their immediate release.
 
They have also been demanding amendments to the protest law to match the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by the new constitution, to lessen the powers granted to the Interior Ministry to allow or ban peaceful protests, and to reduce the harsh penalties stated in the law issued in November by former Prime Minister Hazem Al-Biblawi.

A month ago, the courts ordered the release of prominent activist and blogger, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, together with two of fellow activists, after they spent three months in custody under trial for organising an illegal protest. Also released was Mahinour Al-Masry, who was standing a trial separately in Alexandria. But many other activists remain in prison, including Alaa’s younger sister, Sanaa Abdel-Fattah, 19, who has been in prison since 21 June, together with 23 young activists, including six women, for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration at the Al-Ittihadiya Presidential Palace in Heliopolis.
 
While activists and political parties were hoping for the 24 young demonstrators to be released on Eid Al-Adha (as per a tradition of granting pardons on feast days), neither the hunger strike campaign nor the feast campaign paid off. Disappointing all expectations, the court adjourned the case on 11 October for another five days.
 
Today, 16 October, the court will hold a new session, and lawyers are likely to press for the release of the 24 defendants pending trial. Khaled Ali, the main lawyer in the case, was joined in the session held on Saturday by the Chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate Sameh Ashour, implying that the campaign calling for the release of activists unaffiliated with political Islam had gained wider support among supporters of President Al-Sisi. They both pointed out that the preventive detention of the 24 defendants for over four months during the trial has turned into a punishment in itself, and an unnecessary one at that, considering that the defendants were not charged with any violence and could easily be barred from leaving the country.

Courts and prosecutors have been inconsistent in their decisions concerning the detention of activists held for breaking the protest law, which imposes harsh penalties of up to five years in prison. While in several cases the defendants were released on bail or pending trial, in a few others, such as those involving the 24 activists, or the case involving the leader of 6 April Movement, Ahmed Maher, together with Ahmed Doma and Mohamed Adel, who were sentenced to three years in jail a year ago, the defendants have been kept in custody.

After initial remarks by ministers that the government might consider amendments to the protest law, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and his minister of justice have both precluded such a possibility in recent statements. They argued that they would rather leave that task to the next parliament or to the Constitutional Court, which has agreed to look into a case questioning the constitutionality of two articles in the protest law. Opponents, however, point out that no date had been set for the parliamentary elections, while the Constitutional Court could take up to a year before ruling. Until a new parliament is elected, President Al-Sisi maintains legislative power, and he is the only party that could amend the law or issue new legislation.

Meanwhile, this week the courts were busy looking into far more serious charges made against former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi. In one of the first cases that were referred to court after the army removed Morsi following popular demonstrations on 30 June, 2013, the prosecutor made a strong case against the former president and 14 other defendants, including top Brotherhood leaders. This is the case involving the charge that Morsi was responsible for the killing of peaceful demonstrators outside the Al-Ittihadiya Palace on 5 December, 2012, shortly after he issued the infamous Constitutional Declaration in which he placed his own edicts above the law.

In three sessions held this week, the prosecutor said the testimonies provided by the commander of the Republican Guard, responsible for the security of the president, and a former interior minister, “confirmed without any reasonable doubt that the former president was fully aware of plans by Brotherhood leaders to violently disperse the peaceful sit-in” organised by Morsi’s opponents outside the presidential palace. He said that after some of Morsi’s top aides failed to persuade the Republican Guard and the former interior minister Ahmed Gamaleddin, to use violence to disperse the protesters, they told him that they would “do it on their own” and issued orders to members of the Brotherhood to head to the palace and forcibly remove the tents built by opponents of the former president.
 
The prosecutor displayed videos of suspected Brotherhood members marching close to the palace in a militia-like formation, chanting, “Power, Will and Belief. Morsi’s men are everywhere.” He added that some of Morsi’s aides attempted to bring some of the protesters held by Morsi’s supporters, while badly beaten, inside the presidential palace, but that the request was rejected by the Republican Guard officers. The prosecutor also alleged that Morsi’s aides intentionally targeted a journalist who was shot dead in front of the palace, Al-Husseini Abu Deif, because he wrote an article for his newspaper claiming that Morsi’s wife was involved in corrupt practices to favour one of her relatives.
 
After the prosecutor wraps up the case today, 16 October, Morsi’s lawyers and those of the other defendants will take their turn next week. The court will then issue its sentence, which will be the first against Morsi since his removal.

On Tuesday, 14 October, Morsi also stood trial in a separate case, in which he was charged with espionage and providing intelligence information to foreign organisations such as Hamas and Hizbullah. Thirty-six other defendants, including 16 at large, are also accused in this case, including the Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, Khairat Al-Shater, Mohamed Al-Beltagui and Essam Al-Erian. While Badie had been sentenced to death by first-degree courts in at least three cases, no sentences have been issued yet against Morsi.
 
Morsi is charged in three other cases, bringing the total number of cases against him to five. He is charged with escaping prison together with key Brotherhood leaders shortly after the 25 January, 2011 Revolution broke out against former President Hosni Mubarak; insulting the judiciary in public statements; and, most recently, with yet another set of espionage charges, this time involving the passing of national security secret documents to the state of Qatar. The last case involves several Brotherhood leaders and members of his team at the presidential palace during the year he spent in office.

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