The sentencing of a lawyer to 10 years in prison for a Facebook post exposes the abuse of Egypt’s new counterterrorism law to silence government critics, said Amnesty International.
On 12 April a court in Alexandria sentenced lawyer Mohamed Ramadan to 10 years in prison, followed by five years under house arrest and a five year ban on using the internet. He was convicted on a series of vaguely worded national security charges including insulting the President, misusing social media platforms and incitement to violence under the country’s draconian counterterrorism law.
“It is utterly shocking that the Egyptian authorities have imposed such a heavy sentence against someone who was exercising his right to freedom of expression. Posting a comment on Facebook is not a criminal offence – no one should face imprisonment for expressing their views, even if others consider their comments offensive,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s campaigns director for North Africa.
“Mohamed Ramadan’s conviction is a blatant assault on freedom of expression and is a chilling illustration of the danger to peaceful critics posed by the authorities’ abuse of the 2015 counterterror law. Instead of locking up people for expressing their views online, the Egyptian government must end its relentless campaign to intimidate government critics.”
Public officials, including heads of state, should be prepared to tolerate more criticism than private individuals. Laws that inhibit legitimate criticism of government officials or heads of state violate freedom of expression.
Mohamed Ramadan was not present in court in order to be able to examine the evidence against him or provide a proper defence. His lawyers had asked court to postpone the case on medical grounds but the judge refused the request and sentenced him in absentia. His lawyers are currently filing a request for a retrial. He was sentenced under vaguely worded provisions in Egypt’s counterterrorism law. Article 29 of the law allows for sentencing of up to 10 years in prison for creating a social media account that promotes “terrorist” activities or harms national interests.