22 face jail under draconian anti-protest law
Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to release activists due to stand trial tomorrow for defying the country’s repressive protest law.
Prominent women’s human rights defenders Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif are among 22 people facing trial on charges of taking part in a gathering aimed at threatening “public peace” and damaging property, among other offences.
Yara Sallam did not even participate in the protest. She had been walking with her cousin in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis where the protest was taking place on the evening of 21 June. In the process of buying water from a kiosk, she and her cousin were arrested. Her cousin was released the next day but Sallam was kept in detention after security forces discovered she works at the human rights organisation, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
During that evening protesters had been marching to the presidential palace when they were repeatedly attacked by groups of men in civilian clothes. The security forces arrested 24 people, releasing one. A child, Islam Tawfik Mohamed Hassan, is facing trial before a juvenile court in a separate process.
Yara Sallam and seven other women standing trial in the case are currently detained in al-Qanater Prison, while the men are being held in Tora Prison. (For more on Yara Sallam see a blog here
). The defendants are facing charges of damaging property, displaying force with the aim of terrorising passers-by and endangering their lives, and taking part in a gathering of more than five people with the aim of threatening “public peace” and committing crimes. Under Egypt’s recently-enacted - and highly draconian - Law Regulating the Right to Public Gathering Processions and Peaceful Protests (Law 107 of 2013), protest organisers must submit their plans to the authorities, who have the power to cancel or reroute proposed demonstrations.
According to testimonies and information available to Amnesty, the charges are almost certainly baseless and the defendants likely to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Amnesty is calling for the release of all those arrested on 21 June simply for taking part in the demonstration, while also calling for Yara Sallam’s immediate release.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:
“The charges against Yara Sallam, who did not even participate in the protest in question, are completely farcical.
“She has been kept in detention and put on trial because of her work as a human rights defender. She is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.
“This appears to be yet another show trial based on scant and dubious evidence that is intended to be a clear warning to anyone who defies Egypt’s protest law. The case provides the latest proof of the Egyptian authorities’ determination to quash peaceful protest and stifle all forms of dissent.”
Delayed legal process
In an earlier hearing on 29 June, the judge turned down repeated requests by the defence to order the provisional release of all the defendants. He also rejected requests for the handcuffs of male detainees to be removed during the trial. The trial was then postponed until 13 September for audio-visual evidence to be presented - unnecessarily extending the defendants’ detention for more than two months. Lawyers have submitted many requests to expedite the date of the hearing but all such requests have been denied.
Sanaa Seif’s hunger strike
Sanaa Seif’s father, the tireless human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif al Islam, died last month and on 28 August Sanna Seif went on hunger strike to protest against the authorities’ refusal to allow her to spend some time with her father during his final days. Eleven other activists - including Sanaa’s sister, the well-known activist Mona Seif - are on hunger strike to protest against the Egyptian authorities’ practice of detaining human rights defenders.