The Egyptian authorities must release activists who were arrested simply for defying the country’s repressive protest law and are due to stand trial on 13 September, said Amnesty International. Prominent women’s human rights defender Yara Sallam and the well-known human rights activist Sanaa Seif are among 22 people who are facing trial on charges of taking part in a gathering aimed at threatening “public peace” and damaging property, among other offences.
“This appears to be yet another show-trial based on scant and dubious evidence that is intended to be a clear warning to anyone who defies Egypt’s protest law,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“The case provides the latest proof of the Egyptian authorities’ determination to quash peaceful protest and stifle all forms of dissent. No one should be detained for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression and assembly.”
“The charges against Yara Sallam, who did not even participate in the protest in question, are completely farcical. She has been kept in detention and put on trial because of her work as a human rights defender. She is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
According to testimonies and information available to Amnesty International, the charges are almost certainly baseless and the defendants are likely to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Amnesty International is calling for the release of all those arrested on 21 June simply for taking part in the demonstration. Anyone against whom there is sufficient evidence of violent criminal activity may only be tried on recognizably criminal charges in proceedings that fully conform with international standards on fair trial.
Yara Sallam had been walking in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis where the protest was taking place on the evening of 21 June with her cousin. She was buying water from a kiosk when she and her cousin were arrested. Her cousin was released the next day but Yara Sallam was kept in detention after security forces discovered she works at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Amnesty International considers her a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released.
The protesters had been marching to the presidential palace when they were repeatedly attacked by groups of men in civilian clothes. The security forces arrested 24 people while dispersing the crowd. One was released and the other, a child, Islam Tawfik Mohamed Hassan, is facing trial before a juvenile court in a separate case.
In an earlier hearing on 29 June, the judge turned down repeated requests by the defence to order the provisional release of all the defendants. He also rejected requests for the handcuffs of male detainees to be removed during the trial. The trial was then postponed until 13 September for the audio-visual evidence to be presented – unnecessarily extending the defendants’ detention for more than two months. Lawyers submitted many requests to expedite the date of the hearing but all requests were denied.
Sanaa Seif’s father, the tireless human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif al Islam, passed away last month. On 28 August Sanaa went on hunger strike to protest the authorities’ refusal to allow her to spend some time with her father during his final days. Eleven other activists including Sanaa’s sister, the well-known activist Mona Seif, are on hunger strike to object to the policy of detaining human rights defenders in the country.
Yara Sallam and seven other women standing trial in this case are detained in al-Qanater Prison. The men are detained in Tora Prison.
The 23 defendants are facing charges of damaging property, displaying force with the aim of terrorizing passers-by and endangering their lives, and taking part in a gathering of more than five people with the aim of threatening “public peace” and committing crimes.
Under Egypt’s Draconian Law Regulating the Right to Public Gathering Processions and Peaceful Protests (Law 107 of 2013), protest organisers must submit their plans to the authorities, who have the power to cancel or reroute proposed demonstrations. President Adly Mansour signed the law on 24 November 2013.