(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Three prominent activists are facing trial in an apparently politically motivated case based on unreliable witnesses and scant evidence, said Amnesty International ahead of a court verdict due this Sunday.
On January 5, a criminal court in Giza, Greater Cairo, is expected to deliver a verdict in a case against 12 people accused of attacking and setting fire to the campaign headquarters of former presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, on May 28, 2012. The defendants include three leading activists who have been critical of abuses committed by the security forces under successive Egyptian governments.
“The Egyptian authorities must not use Sunday’s verdict to punish activists who oppose them,” said Said Boumedouha, acting director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program. “There are reasons to believe the trial is politically motivated. All three activists have denied they were present at the scene and evidence against them is questionable.
“The proceedings appear to be part of an escalating government campaign to silence critics, including supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the affiliated Muslim Brotherhood, as well as secular activists.
“The authorities must not resort to judicial harassment to crush dissent. A conviction that is not based on independent, impartial and adequate investigations and reliable evidence would be unfair. It could also be perceived as aimed at preventing the three activists from carrying out their political and human rights work.”
Two of the defendants, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mona Seif, who are brother and sister, are well known for criticizing human rights abuses committed by security forces and the army during the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and since.
A third defendant, Ahmed Abdallah of the April 6 Youth Movement, has also spoken out against successive Egyptian governments. All three activists played prominent roles in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. They also opposed the candidacy of Ahmed Shafiq, who is regarded by many to be a remnant of the Mubarak regime.
“The three activists have been thorns in the sides of successive governments for their relentless criticism of the security forces, and for that they were pursued by both the generals and Mohamed Morsi while they were in power,” said Boumedouha. “The mere fact they are back in the dock following Mohamed Morsi’s removal is yet another ominous signal of the authorities’ determination to stamp out dissent and deter people from across the political spectrum from speaking out.”
In March, the activists, along with nine others, were referred to trial on charges of arson, theft, damaging property, using violence and endangering “public safety” during an attack on the headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq in the run-up to the second round of presidential elections pitting him against Mohamed Morsi.
The prosecution relied heavily on alleged eyewitness testimony of the head of police investigations, casting doubt on its impartiality and credibility. The six other testimonies used to substantiate charges against the activists included people, many of whom have criminal records or are facing pending criminal investigations. As such, they are more susceptible to pressure and manipulation by the police and prosecuting authorities.
Only one prosecution witness appeared in court despite the defense’s request to cross-examine the other alleged eyewitnesses. This witness testified that he had seen Alaa Abdel Fattah near the scene of the crime, but acknowledged he had not seen him holding any weapons or committing violence. He admitted not recognizing the other defendants.
Despite requests from the defense, no audiovisual or other material evidence linking the defendants to the crime was presented.
Several defense witnesses provided alibis for the accused, testifying that they were not present near the Shafiq headquarters at the time it was attacked.
“An alarming trend has emerged of flawed judicial proceedings and selective justice,” said Boumedouha. “Egyptian courts acquit members of the security forces charged with killing protesters while imposing heavy prison terms on peaceful protesters. If the public’s trust in the independence and impartiality of Egyptian justice is to be restored, the court must judge this case on its merits, adhering to international fair trial standards, and not bow to political pressures.”
Alaa Abdel Fattah has been detained since November 28, 2013, charged with participating in an “unauthorized” protest in front of the Shura Council on November 26. Amnesty International believes he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and assembly. His sister, Mona Seif, was arrested and beaten during that protest, but released hours later without charge. The remaining defendants are at liberty pending the verdict.
The human rights situation in Egypt has suffered a number of recent setbacks. On November 24, the government adopted and immediately used a new repressive assembly law which essentially bans protests without Ministry of Interior approval, grants wide discretionary powers to security forces to forcibly disperse peaceful protests, and treats peaceful protesters like criminals. Those critical of the authorities’ actions found themselves arrested, beaten, and judicially harassed.
Most recently, on January 2, a court in Alexandria sentenced seven activists to two years in prison and heavy fines for participating in an “unauthorized” protest late last year. Four activists are currently in detention. In another alarming incident, on December 18, a group of armed security force personnel, reportedly numbering about 50, raided the headquarters of well known human rights NGO, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, arresting, torturing and ill-treating six people, before releasing five without charge.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.