The “spurious charges” brought up against 17 people who testified as witnesses against Egyptian security forces are “a clear attempt” by authorities to “skew the scales of justice” ahead of 4 April hearing, Amnesty International said on Friday.
All those who came forward as witnesses against security forces in the case of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh’s killing are now facing charges of protesting without authorisation. They have also been charged with disturbing public order.
If convicted, the witnesses could face prison sentences of up to five years and fines of EGP 50,000.
Amnesty International added that, by charging witnesses, authorities are resorting to “blatant intimidation tactics” .
“Scapegoating witnesses in such a manner is part of an attempt by the authorities to cover up yet another incident of excessive and lethal use of force by the security forces to crush peaceful protests in Egypt,” said Said Boumedouha, the Acting Director of the Middle East North Africa Programme.
Three witnesses are facing protest charges although they had not been involved in the demonstration. They were, instead, nearby in Talaat Harb Square when security forces began firing birdshots at protesters.
Amnesty International emphasised that Azza Soliman, the founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, is one of the activists who came forward as a witness and is now facing charges.
Soliman had been sitting in a cafe and stepped outside to take a look at the demonstration. “It was only minutes before the security forces started to fire tear gas and shotguns towards the march,” Soliman said.
Another witness facing charges despite not having been present at the protest is Maher Shaker, a doctor who was sitting in a near-by cafe, Zahret Al-Bustan, where Al-Sabbagh was taken after being shot.
“I was far away from the place where the incident occurred…they brought her to the café where I was sitting. I just tried to help because I am a doctor,” Shaker told Amnesty.
On Saturday, 58 local civic organisations and political parties, as well as 44 lawyers and human rights activists condemned the accusation of eyewitnesses in the Al-Sabbagh case.