It was announced on December 9th that 25 people under investigation by the police for a protest held in front of the Shoura Council last month are to face criminal charges. This is part of a wider crackdown on activists and political activity across Egypt under the cover of a new anti-protest law.
The referral of the case to the higher Criminal Court marks a serious escalation on the part of the Public Prosecutor’s office.
On November 26th the well-known and internationally respected activist group, No to Military Trials for Civilians, called for a demonstration in front of the Shoura Council (the Upper House of the Egyptian parliament) to protest the failure of the current draft constitution to legislate against the military court martialing of civilians. The, entirely peaceful, protest was met with serious force by the police, who attacked demonstrators with a water canon and tear gas while arresting as many people as they could. Over 50 people were arrested at random and while several were released that day, 24 were held in custody.
Arrest warrants were later issued for well known activists Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Maher. Though both declared publicly that they would turn themselves in, Abd El Fattah’s home was violently raided on the night of November 28th and both him and his wife were beaten by the police.
Abd El Fattah alone is charged with organizing the protest. All 25 are charged with: breaking the Protest Law by participating in a protest without prior notification, attacking and mugging a police officer, destroying public property and obstructing traffic. 23 of the accused are currently released on bail. Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Abd El Rahman remain in prison.
The referral of the case to the Criminal Court is cause for serious concern. A verdict in the lower Misdemeanours Court is open to two levels of revision: Appeals and Cassation. A ruling in the Criminal Court can only be repealed in the court of Cassation and the process is considerably longer, ensuring an extended detention.
It should be noted that the officers who killed 37 detainees by throwing a tear gas canister into a police transport vehicle in Abu Za3bal jail in August are being tried in the Misdemeanours Court while Alaa and his co-defendants are being tried in the higher Criminal Court on charges of calling for and taking part in a protest against the anti-protest law.
The activist group No to Military Trials have publicly accepted responsibility for the organization of the protest. Indeed, several members of the group were arrested at the Shoura Council protest, yet all were released. Furthermore, on release six members attempted to turn themselves as the organisers of the protest, but the prosecution would not pursue it further. The widely accepted reason being that they are all female activists with high profiles around whom the public relations fallout would have been too severe. This clearly shows the political nature of the prosecution’s behaviour and its intention to intimidate others from further dissent.
Mona Seif, coordinator of the No to Military Trials Group, says:
“It is clear where the invitation to protest came from. It came from No to Military Trials’ social media pages on November 24th. We take full responsibility. All the other people and groups that chose to join did so at our invitation. And although we turned ourselves in and although we faced the same charges the prosecutor’s office has chosen to focus on Alaa as the organizer when he played no part in the organisation and the 24 as if they were the only participants.The right to protest was won with the blood of our colleagues and an illegal law will not take it from us.”
The interior ministry is attempting to set a precedent which allows for anyone to be arrested on the accusation of organising a protest. In 2012 Egypt had more protests than any country in the world.
The Egyptian security apparatus, long the focus of popular anger and civilian efforts to reform it, are displaying many of their regular tactics, chief among them being police brutality and the obfuscation of due process.
The police responded to the Shoura Council protest with disproportionate and unlawful levels of violence. Protestors were beaten as they were arrested and several were sexually assaulted. The police used some officers in uniform, some in balaclavas and others in plainclothes. In detention the beatings continued. When the female protestors refused to be released without the men – aware of the political cover they gave them – they were beaten badly and forced into a police truck. They were then driven an hour south of Cairo and left in the desert at midnight. The 24 men that were kept in detention were beaten in the police station. And though they submitted the name of the principal offending officer, Hossam al Duba, it has not been investigated.
When Alaa was arrested two days later it was by an assault team of twenty officers, some in plainclothes. When Alaa’s wife, Manal, asked to see their search warrant, she was beaten as was Alaa as he was taken away. He was taken to an undisclosed location where he was left on a cell floor, blindfolded and with his hands cuffed behind his back. His family was refused any information about his whereabouts.
THE ROLE OF THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR
Meanwhile, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, long complicit, has now taken on an active role in the obfuscation and obstruction of due process. The office is, by it’s own admission, completely subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. An example: the police that stormed Alaa and Manal’s home took their laptops and phones with them. They did not have a warrant to search the house, let alone confiscate items. The lack of a warrant was confirmed by the prosecution, yet they still handed over the confiscated items to the police. When asked to how they could do this, they replied “because they wanted them”.
Locations for appeal hearings were changed multiple times on court dates. Food, clothes, even insulin, being sent to detainees was stolen. Excuses were made to prevent lawyers from appealing Alaa’s detention, stalling until the case got referred to criminal court so rendering appeal impossible. The police and the prosecution work in unison to make legal, physical and psychological support for the detainees as difficult as possible, all in clear violation of their rights.
Meanwhile, in a separate but related cases, activists from Alexandria to Assiut are being targeted. Activists Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the 6th April Youth Movement, and Ahmed Douma are being investigated for a subsequent protest that took place in front of Abdeen Courthouse on November 30th. The protest was attacked by police with tear gas and shotguns. Maher and Douma are currently in Tora Prison. In Assiut, Hossam Hassan, of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, has been jailed and arrest warrants for at least ten of his colleagues have been issued. In Alexandria four protesters are in prison and Hassan Mostafa and Mahienour al Masry, two of the highest profile activists in the city, were issued arrest warrants on December 9th. All under cover of the new anti-protest law.
ALAA ABD EL FATTAH
The persecution of Alaa Abd El Fattah is a recurring theme in Egypt. He was jailed under the Mubarak regime for 45 days and again by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in 2011 - when he returned from giving a keynote speech at a technology conference in San Francisco to turn himself in. He remained in jail for almost two months, missing the birth of his son, Khalid. He also faced trumped up charges designed to intimidate protest under the Morsi government in 2013 along with popular satirist Bassem Youssef.
When the current arrest warrant was issued Abd El Fattah stated publicly that he would turn himself in on Saturday, going so far as to formally inform the Public Prosecutor’s office by telegram and registered letter. But the police violently raided his home instead.
The only one of the Shoura Council 24 who was not released on bail. 28 years old. Originally from Aswan but lives in Cairo where he works as a security man for the gated community, Rahab Village, in 6th of October. On the day of the protest he was passing by downtown on his way to the bus station to go to work. He happened to be passing at the moment plain clothed policemen were assaulting and dragging two female protestors, so tried to intervene and separate them. This resulted in his arrest. This video clearly shows what happened.
During his interrogation the prosecution noted down that his bag contained: slippers, a loofa, soap and a small broken knife blade. He explained that his work shift is two days long so he needs these items. He didn't deny possession of the blade, saying he uses it to cut salad and food while at work. This is why he was not released with the 23 others.
LINKS: NEW PROTEST LAW
November 26th 2013 Police Violently Disperse Peaceful Protest
November 28th 2013 Human Rights Watch press release regarding violent dispersal of protest
November 29th 2013 Egyptian Activist Arrested Amidst Government Crackdown on Dissent
November 30th 2013 Video: Detainees of the Shoura Council Protest
December 1st 2013 Statement by Comrades from Cairo: We Don't Need Permission to Protest
December 1st 2013 Statement by Comrades from Cairo: We Don't Need Permission to Protest
December 3rd 2013 Video: Outlawing January 25th
December 3rd 2013 Video: The Crimes of the Minister of the Interior
LINKS: ALAA ABD EL FATTAH’S HISTORY OF PERSECUTION
May 8th 2006 Cairo clamps down on dissent
November 2011 Alaa Abd El Fattah: Last Video Before Imprisonment
November 1st 2011 Egypt’s Military May Soon Regret Jailing Alaa Abd El Fattah
November 5th 2011 Blog Post from a New Prison
December 6th 2011 Khaled Abd El Fattah is born while his father remains in jail
March 28th 2013 Alaa Abd El Fattah Faces Trial for Shafiq Headquarters Attack
November 27th 2013 Statement of my intention to hand myself in to the Prosecutor’s Office