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Foreign ministry rejects criticism of activist court ruling

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Cairo court upheld conviction of revolutionary activists Maher, Douma, and Adel on Monday amid wide condemnation from political parties, rights groups and foreign governments

Egyptian prominent activist Ahmed Douma stands in the accused dock during his trial over an unlicensed and violent demonstration on April 7, 2014 in the capital Cairo. An Egyptian appeals court today upheld three-year prison sentences for the three activists charged with violating a controversial law restricting protests. AFP PHOTO / HASSAN MOHAMED

Egyptian prominent activist Ahmed Douma stands in the accused dock during his trial over an unlicensed and violent demonstration on April 7, 2014 in the capital Cairo. An Egyptian appeals court today upheld three-year prison sentences for the three activists charged with violating a controversial law restricting protests. AFP PHOTO / HASSAN MOHAMED

It is not for the United States or others to accept, reject or comment on a court ruling in Egypt, the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a Tuesday statement, as condemnations of the court decision upholding sentences against three pro-democracy activists continued to flow. 

The ministry’s statement which cited “a government source” added that US’s comments are neither worth commenting on nor responding to.

The United States Department of State said it is “deeply troubled” over the Abdeen Appeals Court decision on Monday which upheld prison sentences and fines issued against prominent blogger and activist Ahmed Douma, co-founder of the 6 April Youth Movement Ahmed Maher, another co-founder Mohamed Adel, rejecting their appeal.

Spokeswoman of the US Department of State Jen Psaki said in a press briefing: “We urge the Egyptian government to exercise its constitutional authority to commute these excessive sentences, which are not in line with the rights guaranteed in Egypt’s new constitution, Egypt’s international obligations, or the government’s own commitment not to return to Mubarak-era practices.”

The three defendants were each sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour and fined EGP 50,000 on 22 December for several charges, including protesting without the Ministry of Interior’s approval under the controversial Protest Law. The law has been heavily criticised since its inception as a draft both domestically and internationally.

Psaki added that the continued imprisonment of the three under a law that “severely restricts the universal right to peaceful assembly and expression runs counter the Egyptian government’s commitment to fostering an open electoral environment and a transition process that protects the universal rights of all Egyptians.”

Similarly, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugh Robertson expressed his concerns in a statement on Tuesday. “The UK government places great importance on making progress on the political roadmap for a democratic transition which the Egyptian authorities committed to in July 2013,” Robertson said. “The freedom to protest peacefully is an integral part of achieving a successful transition to democracy in Egypt.”

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at international human rights watchdog Amnesty International Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said Monday’s court ruling “tightens the vice on freedom of expression and assembly and is yet another sign of Egypt’s growing climate of intolerance towards any legitimate criticism of the authorities.”

Sahraoui added that the trio are prisoners of conscience, that they should have never been put on trial and that they must be released “immediately and unconditionally,” with their “convictions quashed.”

A coalition of seven Egyptian political parties and groups released a joint statement after a press conference on Tuesday in which they announced full solidarity and support with the families of Douma, Maher and Adel. “Given that the litigation and cassation procedures will take a long time, we call on [interim] President Adly Mansour to grant Douma, Maher and Adel, amnesty and to everyone who was handed a final sentence which cannot be appealed.”

The signatories, which include the 6 April Youth Movement, Al-Dostour Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Al-Tayar Al-Sha’aby “asserted that they will continue to coordinate in order to pressure the government into dropping the Protest Law, which led to the issuance of tough prison sentences against hundreds of civilians and the imposition of heavy fines.”

The law is leading “to the creation of a state of distrust and frustration among large segments of youth who had hope of living in a country that respects its dignity and rights,” the groups added.

The Freedom for the Brave initiative, which provides support and assistance for detainees, signed the statement as well, though it had already said on Monday that it rejects the court’s decision. The group described the sentences against the trio as a political verdict, one which is shocking and comes contrary to the expectations of “logic and reason.”

In criticism of the Protest Law, the group said that the law must be “brought down” and that it is a shame for authorities to retain it, let alone ratify it. Keeping the law under the pretext of fighting terrorism is the “height of political deceit,” Freedom for the Brave said. “The continuation of this law means the detention of more young men and women who have done nothing but use a right guaranteed by the constitution, the right to peaceful protest.”

The group added that it holds the interim president responsible for the continuation of the law, “since only he has the authority to rescind” the law and drop the charges against those sentenced or still facing trial because of the law.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) said that the right to protest has become absolute and guaranteed to everyone who notifies the authorities but without the need for a licence since the adoption of the 2014 Constitution. “This is in accordance to the rulings of the Court of Cassation and the provisions of the law, since the Court of Cassation has ruled that if a law conflicts with the constitution, then it must be complied with the provisions of the constitution.”

EOHR head Hafez Abu Saeda expressed his fears that the Protest Law would be used to criminalise peaceful protest and the right to assembly.

On Monday, Al-Dostour Party and Al-Tayar Al-Sha’aby (Popular Current) coalition had both called on Mansour to grant Douma, Maher and Adel amnesty, in separate statements.

Al-Tayar Al-Sha’aby said that it is extremely “dissatisfied” and “surprised” at the harassment and persecution that youth of “the 25 January and 30 June revolutions” are facing. The political group added in a statement that this seems to be part of a plan to undermine these youth.

The group renewed its stance of rejecting the Protest Law in its current form and described it as one which was rejected by most political groups that are affiliated with the revolutions and considered a law that prohibits protesting instead of organising it. Al-Tayar Al-Sha’aby called for repealing the law.

Al-Dostour Party also renewed its “categorical rejection” of the law “which completely contradicts the gains the Egyptian people achieved after the 25 January Revolution.” The party announced support and solidarity with all ongoing efforts “to bring down the law,” adding that there are sufficient legislations that deal with all the violations stipulated in the “notorious” law which “has given the Ministry of Interior broad powers to restrict the right to protets.”

Many arrests have been made since the introduction of the much maligned law, with prominent critics including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a group of 17 domestic rights groups.

 


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