CAIRO: The 15-year jail sentence handed down Wednesday to activist Alaa Abdel Fatah and 24 others for violating the protest law will “further chill the climate for free expression in Egypt,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists in a Wednesday statement.
“We call on Egypt’s new administration to stop the crackdown on critical voices, release jailed journalists, and let public debate flow freely,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour stated.
The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Fatah and 24 co-defendants in absentia to 15 years in prison, as well as a 100, 000 EGP ($14,000) fine each, for having violated the 2013 protest law and demonstrating outside the Shura Council in November 2013 against military trials for civilians.
The protest law bans any political demonstration that does not have official permission; organizers must request security forces for a license days before any planned gathering.
“[Alaa Abdel Fatah’s] trial was held based on the protest law which represents a violation to the freedom of expression and peaceful protest,” said a Wednesday statement by Hisham Mubarak Law Center. “The verdict comes within a desperate attempt to eliminate all voices opposing the current regime.”
The lawyer of one of the defendants and the manager of Al-Hakanya Legal Center, Mohamed Abdel Aziz said that there were deficiencies in today’s verdict; “the Judge issued the verdict in absentia, even though the defendants were waiting outside the court since early the morning and were not told that their trial had begun.”
Amnesty International also condemned the sentence, which it described as “an outrageous travesty of justice,” and demanding immediate and unconditional release of activists arrested over peaceful protests
“It’s deeply troubling that, just days into Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s presidency, courts are already jailing government critics. By locking up one of the leading activists in Egypt, the authorities are sending a clear message that they will not tolerate anyone daring to challenge or criticize them,” the statement reads.
Wednesday’s hearing was scheduled to hear testimonies of witnesses for prosecution and screening videos submitted by the prosecution as evidence of conviction, none was heard.
The defendants are also facing charges of rallying, thuggery, inciting violence, resisting authorities.
Abdel Fatah was arrested by the end of November for few months and then released on a 10,000 EGP bail pending investigations into his case.
Abdel Fatah was a symbol of the January 25 Revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, and was also arrested Oct. 30, 2011 following charges he had helped initiate the deadly clashes that took place on Oct. 9 outside Maspiro. He was released on Dec. 25, 2011.
A number of human rights groups announced a solidarity conference Thursday at Press Syndicate to reveal the legal deficiencies committed against political prisoners, the latest of which was Abdel Fatah’s 15 year sentence.