Security authorities are “deliberately hunting political activists under the pretext of applying the protest law”, said a group of human rights organisations on Monday.
A statement issued by 14 Egyptian civil society groups condemned Sunday‘s heavy-handed sentence of 6 April Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher, member of the group’s political bureau Mohamed Adel, and prominent activist Ahmed Douma. The three were each sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour and fined EGP 50,000.
The rights groups accused the interim government of using the controversial new protest law to selectively crackdown on political activists in coordination with the security apparatus, and expressed “no doubt” concerning the politicisation of the court ruling.
“The undersigned organisations condemn the verdict and repeat its warning of the involvement of the judiciary in the filtering of opposition voices,” said the statement, adding that such rulings “threaten to demolish what is left of the rule of law and will undermine the cornerstone of the state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens”.
The organisations also questioned the “seriousness” of the government’s commitment to building a comprehensive transitional justice system, saying ongoing practices “are far from building a state of law, but on the contrary…the practices of a police state reproducing more brutality than ever before.”
The signatories to the statement included the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) also condemned the sentence in its own statement, reiterating that the newly-issued protest law restricted citizen’s rights to peaceful demonstration and represented a “setback for the gains of the revolutions of 25 January and 30 June, which rose to ensure the rights and general freedoms of citizens.”
Head of EOHR Hafez Abu Seada in the statement decried what he considered politically-motivated arrests, saying that Egypt’s uprisings did not occur “for the continuation of the same approach and policies.”
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Police Catherine Ashton expressed “concern” over the penalties handed down to the activists. “These sentences appear to be based on the recently enacted protest law, which is widely seen as excessively limiting freedom of expression and assembly,” said Monday statement from her office.
Ashton expressed “the hope that these sentences could be reviewed in an appeals process” and stressed “the importance of protecting freedom of expression and assembly for the successful completion of the interim government’s roadmap.”
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office also expressed concern over the sentencing. Minister Mark Simmonds said that the development “represents a serious setback to attempts to return Egypt to the democratic path and undermines the values expressed by Egyptians during the Revolution of January 2011.”
“The UK believes the freedom to protest peacefully is vital in any democracy and calls on Egypt’s interim leaders to ensure they uphold all Egypt’s international human rights obligations,” Simmonds added in a press statement.
The Arab Organisation for Human Rights called for the Prosecutor General to release the accused pending the appeal, saying the ruling “sends the wrong message and does not conform with the spirit of the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions.”
Former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh’s Misr Al-Qawia Party also strongly criticised the verdict. Party spokesman Ahmed Imam expressed Misr Al-Qawia’s “surprise” that youth of the revolution were being convicted amidst acquittals by former Hosni Mubarak-era officials, adding that the “presence of some of the youth of the revolution behind bars shows the true nature of this bloody regime and what it wants for Egypt in the foreseeable future.”
The Muslim Brotherhood also denounced the court ruling in a press statement. Leading Brotherhood figure Mohamed Ali Bishr denounced the protest law, saying it was “in blatant violations of the rights and freedoms of Egyptians.”
Bishr also called the timing of the sentencing “absurd”, indicating that he suspected the authorities were further cracking down on activists ahead of the third anniversary of the 25 January revolution. He called on the government to abolish the protest law and release “all political prisoners who were arrested falsely and unjustly since the coup and until now.”
Douma, Maher, and Adel were ruled guilty by Abdeen Misdemeanour Court on Sunday of rioting, “thuggery”, using violence against Abdeen Courthouse security personnel, possession of melee weapons, and protesting without the Ministry of Interior’s approval as stipulated by the new protest law. Maher’s lawyer confirmed that the verdict would be appealed.
Following the sentencing the defence team said the verdict included “political implications” and was a “verdict on the 25 January Revolution.”
The 6 April Youth Movement called for protests on 25 January 2014 to demand the interim government “to stop its current practices or leave,” adding that the government had transformed the roadmap put in place following former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster into “a group of procedural dates, which is now useless because of the regime’s practices.”