The Saturday trial of famed activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others, for hosting an illegal protest outside the Shura Council building last November, was suspended until 17 May after the bench was asked to recuse itself from the case.
Charges against Abdel Fattah and the other defendants include blocking roads, assembling illegally, protesting without a permit, and acquiring weapons during a protest.
The 26 November demonstration, which the defendants described as peaceful, protested Article 198 of the constitution, which allows for the military trial of civilians under certain circumstances. The protest was dispersed by security forces using water cannons and tear gas, as prescribed by Article 12 of the Protest Law.
In a major victory for the activist, Abdel Fattah was granted bail on 23 March after being held since his home was raided by police two days after the protest. According to a statement released by family and friends, both Abdel Fatah and his wife were beaten by police during the arrest.
Abdel Fattah and co-defendant Ahmed Abdel Rahman were held until March. The 23 other defendants were released on bail on 4 December.
While Abdel Fattah is a renowned activist, human rights lawyer Mahmoud Belal said Abdel Rahman was simply a passerby who was carrying a knife because of his work at a hotel. Abel Rahman was walking home from his shift, and stepped in when he saw police officers beating female protestors, said Belal.
The Protest Law, which the defendants are accused of violating, has been the butt of much controversy since its inception in fall 2013. Activists and rights groups have cried foul to the law, which requires that demonstrations receive approval from the local police department more than 24 hours ahead of time.
The law allows security forces to use water cannons, batons and teargas to disperse unauthorised protests. If the aforementioned prove fruitless, security forces have the right to the “gradual use of force”, where they can fire warning shots or sound bombs, use rubber bullets and then use birdshots. If the protesters resort to firearms, Article 13 entitles security forces to respond in proportionate measures according to their right to “legitimate self-defence”.