Washington, D.C. – The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) condemns today’s sentencing of 25 defendants, including prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, to 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 EGP for allegedly attacking a police officer and participating in an illegal protest last year. This decision is the latest in a succession of widely-condemned rulings by Egyptian judges over the past several months and continues the worsening erosion of fundamental rights for Egyptians. It is also a clear reminder of the negative implications of the controversial protest law enacted last November.
According to Abdel-Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, the judge issued his ruling an hour before the hearing was set to begin. At the time, Abdel-Fattah and two other defendants, Mohamed Nouby and Wael Metwalli, were waiting to be let into the courtroom. As Seif further explained, because they were not physically inside the courtroom during the sentencing, the defendants were technically deemed to be in absentia, giving the judge the legal power to issue the harshest sentence allowed. However, respect for due process in this particular trial has been questioned by legal experts because of the omission of necessary evidence (AR); also, because both the defendants and the judge were actually present despite the in absentia designation, Egyptian law dictates that a retrial should have been held immediately. Abdel-Fattah and the two others were arrested immediately following the sentencing. They remain entitled to a retrial, though one has not yet been scheduled.
This trial stems from the defendants’ arrest late last year for violating Egypt’s protest law by joining a peaceful, but unauthorized, protest against constitutional provisions that allow for civilians to be tried before military courts. TIMEP has called for the repeal of this law, which allows for the unlawful suppression of free expression rights, and it has similarly called for the release and pardon of all who have been sentenced under this law.
The use of powers granted under the protest law against activists and members of the political opposition has contributed to a diminishing space for free speech and dissent in Egypt over the past several months. Rulings issued pursuant to this law have put Egypt’s judicial system on the receiving end of widespread international condemnation and have prompted questions about Egypt’s commitment to its human rights obligations and, more broadly, its dedication to fully pursuing a democratic transition.
In his inauguration speech on Sunday, newly-elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi commented that it is time for Egyptians to “reap the fruits of their two revolutions” and realize their “legitimate hopes and aspirations.” President Sisi further expressed his support for greater rights and freedoms and for a stronger Egypt where justice and rights prevail. TIMEP calls upon President Sisi to turn his words into actions and to stand by his promise to protect the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians. TIMEP also renews its call for Egypt’s protest law to be repealed and for those who have been sentenced under the law to be pardoned and released.
Update (August 26, 2014): Nearly a dozen detained activists and demonstrators in Egypt have reportedly gone on hunger strike within the past week to protest the government’s continuing crackdown on dissent and denial of due process to political prisoners. Among the hunger strikers are well-known activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Mohammed Ramadan, the attorney for activist Mahienour el-Masry.
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The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.