Egypt: Ms. Yara Sallam and 23 other protesters sentenced to two years in appeal

29/12/2014
Urgent Appeal
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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 continued arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Ms. Yara Sallam, Transitional Justice Officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), as well as 23 protesters including Ms. Sanaa Seif, a member of the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” movement and sister of blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah .

According to the information received, on December 28, 2014, the Heliopolis Appeal Misdemeanour Court reduced the sentence against Ms. Yara Sallam, Ms. Sanaa Seif and 22 other protesters to two years’ imprisonment, and two years’ police surveillance. They had been sentenced in first instance on October 26 to three years in prison, to an additional three years of police surveillance, to a 10,000 EGP fine (1,000 euros), and to repayment for property damages they allegedly caused, in relation to their alleged participation in a protest on June 21, 2014 (see background information).

The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing of Ms. Yara Sallam, Ms. Sanaa Seif and the 22 other protesters, and considers that they are targeted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and that their detention and sentencing only aim to sanction their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the authorities to drop all charges held against them, and immediately and unconditionally release them.

The Observatory is further concerned by the handling of the case by the judicial authorities and the numerous breaches to the right to fair trial as well as the lack of evidence against the defendants.

The Observatory recalls that the restrictive protest law has been used by the authorities as a tool to imprison human rights defenders. This controversial law bans gatherings of 10 or more people without a permit issued by the authorities.

Background information:

On June 21, 2014, the police dispersed by using tear gas a peaceful march that was organised in the Heliopolis neighbourhood in Cairo to demand the repeal of the Law 107 of 2013 on demonstrations and public rallies (the “Anti-Protest Law”) as well as the release of those detained under said law. In this framework, the police arrested more than 30 individuals, including Ms. Yara Sallam and her cousin Shehab Fakhry Ismail. It should be highlighted that the two were picked up in the vicinity of the protest between 7 and 8 pm by security forces as they were buying drinks from a local kiosk and not while participating in any demonstration.

Some of the detainees reported insults and ill-treatment, including beatings by “muwatinin shurafa” (plain-clothed police collaborators) during and after the arrest. Those arrested were questioned without the presence of their lawyers, mostly individually, by men in civilian dress who did not introduce themselves or clarify their official positions. The arrestees were asked whether they participated in the protest and were questioned about their political affiliations and opinions about the protest law. According to testimonies, officials pressured them into confessing their participation and threatened to charge them with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and/or the 6th of April Movement. Later the same day, eight of the arrestees were released without charges, including Ms. Sallam’s cousin. On June 22, 2014, 24 were presented before the Prosecutor’s office.

During her interrogation, Ms. Sallam was questioned about the nature of her work and about EIPR’s management.

On June 23, 2014, the Heliopolis Prosecution Office ordered the detention until June 25, 2014 of Ms. Yara Sallam, Ms. Sanaa Seif as well as 21 other individuals on charges of “breaching the protest law” under the “Anti-Protest Law”, “sabotaging public properties”, “possession of inflammable materials” and “taking part in showing off force with the objective of terrorising the public” for their alleged participation in a peaceful march. Another individual was released on medical grounds .

On June 24, 2014, the two women human rights defenders as well as five women protesters were transferred to Qanatir Prison, 15 male detainees to Tora Prison, and one juvenile to Al-Marg juvenile prison. This followed the extension by the prosecution of the detention of these 23 individuals on June 23, 2014 for four days, as well as the release on bail of another one on the same day.

On June 25, 2014, the Heliopolis Public Prosecution transferred the case to the Heliopolis Misdemeanor Court. It mentioned 12 provisions in the indictment order: articles 162, 361, 375 (bis), 375 (bisA) of the Penal Code, articles 1 to 4 of Law 10 of 1914 on Gatherings; and articles 7, 8, 19, 21 of Law No. 107 of 2013 on demonstrations and public rallies. These provisions include: “participating in an unauthorised demonstration whose aim was to stop the implementation of the law and influence the effectiveness of the public authorities during the carrying out of their work”; “organising a demonstration without prior notice as stipulated by the law and participating in a demonstration that breached and threatened public security and the interests of citizens and disrupted transportation and transgressed public and private property”; “using force and violence to terrorise and intimidate citizens”; and “deliberately destructing property owned by the aggrieved party as proven through investigations”.

The 23 defendants in detention were supposed to appear before the court on June 25 after the expiry of their four-day detention. However, the defendants were not brought to court, and the Prosecution instead issued an indictment order, before the defendants had a chance to challenge their pre-trial detention before an independent judicial body.

On June 29, 2014, the trial against Ms. Yara Sallam and Ms. Sana Seif, together with 21 other individuals who had peacefully protested for the repeal of Law No.107 for 2013 on demonstrations and public rallies, started.

Though the session was due to take place at the Heliopolis Courthouse, at the time set for the start of the session lawyers and family members were informally told that the hearing of the case would transferred to the Police Academy inside the high security Tora Prison. They had to rush across the city to attend the trial. Access to the courtroom was heavily restricted: families of the detainees were denied access and defence lawyers and journalists faced difficulties to access the room. One journalist who tried to take a photograph had his equipment confiscated and was removed from the courtroom.

During the hearing, the defence lawyers requested to examine and verify the validity of the evidence presented against the defendants by the prosecution including audio-visual material on the demonstration. The court granted this request, however the request for provisional release of the defendants on bail was rejected by the court.

The judge closed the hearing session and left the courtroom without informing the lawyers about the date of the next hearing. The Court’s security guards then told the lawyers that the next hearing was scheduled on September 13, 2014.

On September 13, 2014, the trial against Ms. Yara Sallam and Ms. Sana Seif, together with 21 other individuals who had allegedly peacefully protested for the repeal of Law No.107 for 2013 on demonstrations and public rallies, was postponed to October 11, by a Heliopolis Misdemeanour court . The hearing was held in the deliberation chambers. Two videos were shown, based on the request of the defendants’ lawyers. The judge tried to identify defendants in the videos shown, however none of the defendants appeared in the videos. In addition, no weapon appeared on the video. The prosecution also submitted a report on a video that was not shown during the hearing. The defendants’ lawyers requested that this video be shown accompanied by an expert report. According to EIPR, a police report claims that a police vehicle was damaged at 9:30pm on June 21, 2014 while most defendants had been arrested earlier. Furthermore, no weapons or other items were seized from the defendants or presented as evidence. All the defendants remained in custody pending trial despite the defence’s request to release them. The session was once again held in private as only the defendants’ lawyers were allowed to attend.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Yara Sallam and Ms. Sana Seif, as well as the 22 protesters above-mentioned and prosecuted for their alleged participation in said march and all human rights defenders in Egypt;

ii. Release Ms. Yara Sallam and Ms. Sana Seif, as well as the 21 protesters prosecuted for their alleged participation in said march immediately and unconditionally, as well as all human rights defenders currently in detention, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to only aim at curtailing their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Yara Sallam and Ms. Sana Seif, as well as the 22 protesters indicted for their alleged participation in said march and all human rights defenders in Egypt;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 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. Ibrahim Mehleb, 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 Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa, 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. Mahmoud Saber, 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 Hisham Barakat 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: embassy.egypt@skynet.be

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

***
Paris-Geneva, December 29, 2014

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

The Observatory, a 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.

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