Egypt: Acquittal of Ms. Azza Soliman, human rights lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid (CEWLA)

29/10/2015
Urgent Appeal

New information
EGY 001 / 0315 / OBS 006.6
Arbitrary detention / Acquittal
Egypt
October 29, 2015

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Egypt.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the acquittal of Ms. Azza Soliman, human rights lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid (CEWLA).

According to information received, on October 24, 2015, the Qasr Al Nil Appeal Court confirmed the acquitted of Ms. Azza Soliman along with sixteen other defendants on charges of “unauthorised protesting” and “breach of security and public order”. This decision is final and may not be subject to appeal. The charges were pressed against Ms. Soliman after she went to the police to provide a testimony on the violent repression by the police of a protest commemorating the January 25 Revolution, which led to the death of Ms. Shaimaa El Sabbagh, political activist and women’s rights defender (see background information).

While the Observatory welcomes the dismissal of charges against Ms. Soliman, it condemns the judicial harassment she has been subjected to for almost two years and recalls its concerns about the abusive Protest Law, which bans gatherings of ten or more people without a permit issued by the authorities, and which has led to numerous cases of harassment and imprisonment of human rights defenders.

The Observatory would like to recall that Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah, civil and political rights activist, blogger and member of the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” movement, is still arbitrarily detained since June 11, 2014 under the above mentioned law. Charged with, “organizing a protest without a permit”, “organizing an illegal assembly that endangers public security”, “blocking roads”, “assembling illegally” and “attacking and injuring a public servant”, on February 23, 2015, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years imprisonment, five years of police surveillance, and a fine of 100,000 EGP (approx. 10,000 EUR) [1].

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah and all human rights defenders in Egypt and calls upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately release them and drop all charges against them, as they are clearly aimed at hindering their peaceful human rights activities.

Background information:

On January 24, 2015, Ms. Soliman voluntary went to the Public Prosecution’s office to give her testimony regarding the violent dispersal by security forces of a protest organised on the same day by the political party “Popular Alliance”, which led to the death of political activist Ms. Shaimaa El Sabbagh. Ms. Soliman did not take part in the protest, but was coincidentally in the same area and witnessed the dispersal and the shooting of the activist.

After waiting several hours at the Public Prosecution’s office, Ms. Soliman was finally able to give her testimony, pointing to the responsibility of the police for the death of the activist. Ms. Soliman also filed a complaint accusing the Minister of Interior and security forces of having violently dispersed the peaceful protest.

Upon completion of her testimony, the prosecutor then interrogated her, and informed her that he was going to press charges against her and four other witnesses for “illegal gathering” and “participating in a protest that harmed public security”. Ms. Soliman was released along with the other four, pending investigation.

On March 23, 2015, Ms. Soliman was formally charged with “unauthorised protest”, and “breach of security and public order”. Along with Ms. Soliman, sixteen others were charged, including Ms. Nagwa Abbass, member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.

On March 28, 2015, the lawyers of Ms. Soliman requested from the General Prosecutor to include her as a witness and not as a defendant in the case, however on March 31, this request was denied.

On April 4, 2015, the first hearing took place before the Abdeen Misdemeanor Court. Ms. Soliman’s lawyers requested adjournment, as they had not been able to access the criminal files. The request was granted and the Court adjourned the hearing to May 9, 2015. On May 9, the judge heard requests made by lawyers of other accused and adjourned the hearing to May 23, 2015.

On May 23, 2015, the Abdeen Misdemanour Court acquitted Ms. Soliman on charges of “unauthorised protest” and “breach of security and public order”. However, on May 26, 2015, the Public Prosecution appealed the decision. The first court hearing was due to be held on September 26, but was then postponed to October 24.

On June 11, 2015, one police officer was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on charges of “beating leading to death” of Ms. Shaimaa Al Sabbagh.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Soliman and Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah, as well as against all human rights defenders in Egypt;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Soliman and Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah, as well as all human rights defenders in Egypt;

iii. Repeal the restrictive Protest Law and ensure the full respect, protection and fulfilment of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as recognised by international human rights law.

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular with:

- its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
- its Article 5(a): “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully”
- its Article 6(a), which foresees that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;
- its Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Egypt.

Addresses :

· President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, H.E. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt, Fax: +202 23901998
· Prime Minister, Mr. Sherif Ismail, Magles El Shaab Street, Kasr El Aini Street, Cairo, Egypt. Fax: + 202 2735 6449 / 27958016. Email: primemin@idsc.gov.eg
· Minister of the Interior, General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, Ministry of the Interior, El-Sheikh Rihan Street, Bab al-Louk, Cairo, Egypt, E-mail: moi1@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Ahmed El Zend, Ministry of Justice, Magles El Saeb Street, Wezaret Al Adl, Cairo, Egypt, E-mail: mojeb@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2795 8103
· Public Prosecutor, Counsellor Nabeel Sadek, Dar al-Qadha al-Ali, Ramses Street, Cairo, Egypt, Fax: +202 2577 4716
· Mr. Mohamed Fayeq, President of the National Council For Human Rights, Fax: + 202 25747497 / 25747670. Email: nchr@nchr.org.eg
· H.E. Ms. Wafaa Bassim, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, 49 avenue Blanc, 1202 Genève, Switzerland, Email: mission.egypt@ties.itu.int, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
· Embassy of Egypt in Brussels, 19 avenue de l’Uruguay, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 675.58.88; Email: egyptembassy@embassyofegypt.be

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Egypt in your respective country.

Paris-Geneva, October 29, 2015

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
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