Egypt : Sentencing of Mr. Alaa Abdel-Fattah together with 24 other individuals including Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman

05/03/2015
Appel urgent
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The Observatory denounces the sentencing of Mr. Alaa Abdel-Fattah together with 24 other individuals including Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman.

New information
EGY 002 / 1113 / OBS 095.7
Sentencing / Arbitrary Detention
Egypt
March 4, 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 sentencing of Mr. Alaa Abdel-Fattah, civil and political rights activist, blogger and member of the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” movement [1] together with 24 other individuals, including Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman [2].

According to the information received, on February 23, 2015, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman to five years imprisonment, five years of police surveillance, and a fine of 100,000 EGP (approx. 10,000 EUR). Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced on charges of “organizing a protest without a permit”, “organizing an illegal assembly that endangers public security”, “blocking roads”, “assembling illegally”, “attacking and injuring a public servant”. Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman was sentenced on charges of “acquiring weapons during a protest”, “blocking roads”, “assembling illegally”, and “attacking and injuring a public servant”. The Court sentenced 19 other individuals to three years imprisonment, three years police surveillance and a fine of 100,000 EGP (approx. 10,000 EUR) for “blocking roads”, “assembling illegally”, and “attacking and injuring a public servant”. The remaining persons who failed to attend the retrial had the first-instance sentence of 15 year imprisonments upheld. The Court acquitted all of the defendants on charges of “theft (see background information). Defense lawyers announced that they will appeal the sentence before the Court of Cassation.

The Observatory strongly condemns the harsh sentence against Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman and the other above-mentioned protesters. The Observatory considers that the sentence aims only at preventing them from carrying out their peaceful human rights activities, and calls upon the Egyptian judicial authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them.

The Observatory recalls that the case of Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah is illustrative of a wider repression campaign targeting human rights defenders opposing the current regime in the country since the “Protest Law [3] was passed in November 2013. This controversial law bans gathering of 10 or more people without a permit issued by the authorities. Based on this law, dozens of human rights defenders have been arbitrarily detained and prosecuted.

Background information :

On November 26, 2013 at least nine members of the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” group, including Ms. Mona Seif, co-founder of the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” movement, nine journalists and seven lawyers were arrested by police forces in Cairo, as they were demonstrating. In an effort to pressure the members of the Constitutional Committee to vote against Article 198 of the draft constitution – an article that allowed for civilian trials before military courts, the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” group had called for protests to be held on November 26, ahead of the vote, in front of the Shura Council (where the committee holds its meetings). Tens of protesters joined the call at 4pm on Kasr Al Aini street, however thirty minutes later, security forces issued a warning to the protesters to immediately end their protest, which reportedly remained peaceful. The protesters refused to leave and security forces opened water canons against them. Security forces and policemen in plain cloth simultaneously arrested protesters and journalists (the Shura Council protest case).

On November 28, 2013, security operatives raided Mr. Abdel Fatah’s residence. Although they produced no search warrant, they searched the premises and carted away computers and telephones. When challenged for not being authorised to conduct a search, they beat Mr. Abdel Fatah and his wife up while their two year-old son slept in the next room. Egyptian authorities issued a warrant for Mr. Abdel Fatah’s arrest after they accused him of incitement and involvement in calls to protest (Shura Council protest case). Mr. Abdel Fatah was then placed under pre-trial detention.

On December 9, 2013, Mr. Abdel Fatah and 24 other individuals were referred to the Cairo Criminal Court with charges of “blocking roads”, “assembling illegally”, “protesting without a permit”, “acquiring weapons during a protest”, and “attacking and injuring a public servant” and “stealing his personal wireless device” in relation to the Shura Council protest case. 23 were released on bail on December 4, 2013. Mr. Abdel Fatah and another individual arrested in the vicinity of the demonstration, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, were detained in Tora Prison. The court did not set a trial date until mid-March 2014.

On January 5, 2014, North Giza Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Alaa Abdel Fatah, Ms. Mona Seif and Mr. Ahmed Abdallah, member of the 6 April Youth Movement and co-founder of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a group which documents and denounces human rights violations to a suspended sentence of one year in prison on charges of “arson”, “theft”, “damage to property”, “violence” and “danger to public safety”. The charges were based on allegations that Mr. Fatah, Ms. Seif and Mr. Abdallah participated in the attack on the campaign headquarters of former presidential candidate, Mr. Ahmed Shafiq, on May 28, 2012 (Ahmed Shafiq case). The jail term was suspended for three years and therefore should any of the defendants be found guilty of additional charges within this time, this one-year term would be added onto any subsequent sentences. The conviction was based solely on the evidence of so-called eyewitnesses who were either agents of the government or persons with criminal records or with criminal investigations pending against them. Furthermore, only one of the said eyewitnesses was available for cross-examination and he testified that he did not see Mr. Fatah in possession of any weapons or committing violence. He also admitted that he could not recognise the other defendants. The three human rights defenders filed an appeal against their sentence.

On March 19, 2014, the prison authorities moved Mr. Alaa Abdel Fatah from his cell to an unknown location. The authorities then failed to explain the rationale of this unusual measure and failed to account for his whereabouts. His lawyer then found out after he met him on March 22 that he was moved by the prison police to a “disciplinary” cell and returned to his normal cell on March 21.

On March 23, 2014, the 16th terrorism circuit of South Cairo Criminal Court [3] ordered the provisional release of Messrs. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman on a bail of LE 10,000 each (approximately EUR 1,042).

An hearing took place on April 6, 2014 during which the Prosecution presented testimonies and evidence against Messrs. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman as well as the 23 other individuals. The defendants lawyers also filed a petition to disqualify Judge Mohammed El-Fikki, the judge presiding the trial. Indeed as Mr. Abdel Fattah had filed against this judge a complaint for alleged election fraud in 2005, the judge lacked impartiality. The case was then adjourned until the court decides on the request for recusal.

On May 17, 2014, the Cairo Appeals Court ruled that Judge Mohammed El-Fikki could continue presiding over Alaa Abdel Fattah´s trial, despite the animosity between the two men. Mr. Alaa Abdel-Fattah was also fined EGP 5,000 (approximately 500 Euros). The next hearing was scheduled to take place on May 25, 2014.

On May 25, 2014, the judge failed to come to the hearing and the case was postponed to June 11, 2014. On June 11, 2014, the 16th terrorism circuit of South Cairo Criminal Court sentenced in absentia Messrs. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, as well as 23 other individuals, to 15 years of prison, a fine of LE 100,000 (approximately EUR 10,420) and five-years of police surveillance following their release on charges of “blocking roads”, “assembling illegally”, “protesting without a permit”, “acquiring weapons during a protest”, “attacking and injuring a public servant” and “stealing his personal wireless device”, in relation to the Shura Council protest case. Messrs. Alaa Abdel Fatah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman together with a third person were detained immediately after the verdict. The three defendants were sentenced in absentia despite the fact that they were present at the Police Academy where the trial took place, though they were not allowed to enter the court room in time for the hearing.

On September 15, 2014, Messrs. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, who are facing retrial on a 15-year prison sentence for violating a protest law were released on a 5,000 EGP (540 EUR) bail along with another defendant. They were released on the same day.

During this same court hearing, the judge presiding over the retrial stepped down at the request of defence lawyers. The retrial will begin once a new presiding judge has been assigned to the case. The recusal was caused by an incident which occurred during the previous court session. Indeed, on September 10, Egyptian prosecutors presented a personal home video of Mr. Abdel-Fatah’s wife dancing as evidence against him. The video was allowed to be shown at the hearing but, following his lawyer’s objection, it was considered by the judge as irrelevant to the case and as a violation of the constitutional right to privacy. The judge referred the video to the Prosecution to investigate those responsible for including it within the evidence. The rest of the evidence presented consisted of video clips showing various protests without scenes or footage of displaying Mr. Abdel-Fatah or any other defendant in the case.
On October 27, 2014, during the first hearing of the retrial, the judge ordered the detention of all those present and postponed the trial to November 11. While all present defendants were transferred to Tora prison, Mr. Alaa Abdel-Fattah’s whereabouts remained unknown. His family later found out that he had been transferred to Tora prison, but separated from the other defendants.

On November 11, 2014, the second hearing of the retrial of Messrs. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, who are facing retrial on a 15-year prison sentence for violating a protest law, was held at Police Academy in Torah.

The court viewed several video evidence presented by the prosecution as well as one video presented by one of the defendants. Among other requests, the defense lawyers requested the following measures to the court : to add to the case the reports filed by the organizers of the protest [4] ; to add reports from mobile companies about the whereabouts of Mr. Alaa Abdel Fattah and the police officer Emad Tahoun5 on November 26, 2013, between 4 and 7 pm ; to file civil compensation claim of 100,000 EGP against police officer Emad Tahoun. The Court accepted the above-mentioned requests, but it denied the request filed to release all defendants on bail. The Court adjourned the trial to November 23, 2014 to continue the viewing of the videos. While the family of the defendants and some NGO representatives were allowed to attend the court room, several friends of the defendants were denied entry, though the same judge had granted everyone entry during the last hearing on October 27, 2014.
Several other hearings were held until February 23, 2015.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to :

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Alaa Abdel Fatah, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Ms. Mona Seif and Mr. Ahmed Abdallah and all human rights defenders in Egypt ;

ii. Release Mr. Alaa Abdel Fatah and Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman and all human rights defenders currently in detention immediately and unconditionally since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to only aim at curtailing their human rights activities ;

iii. Order an immediate, thorough, transparent investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of ill-treatments against Mr. Abdel Fatah and his wife in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and apply them the sanctions provided by the law ;

iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Abdel Fatah, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Ms. Mona Seif and Mr. Ahmed Abdallah and all human rights defenders in Egypt ;

v. 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 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” ;

vi. 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. Nayer Abdel-Moneim Othman, 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.

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