Egyptian blogger among 24 facing jail terms for ‘insulting’ the judiciary
The Egyptian authorities must drop all charges against Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger and human rights activist who rose to prominence during the 2011 uprising, and at least 23 other defendants, who could face up to four years in prison simply for criticizing the country’s flawed justice system, said Amnesty International.
A Cairo criminal court is due to hand down its verdict in the case against a total of 25 defendants, on Saturday 30 September. At least 24 of the defendants including Alaa Abdel Fattah, Egyptian politician Amr Hamzawy, and former Member of Parliament Essam Sultan, have been charged with defamation for their legitimate criticism of the Egyptian judiciary as biased and a puppet in the hands of the state.
“This trial is an attempt to silence criticism of a judiciary that has itself become a source of human rights violations. ‘Insulting’ public institutions or officials is not a criminal offence under international law, and no one should stand trial - let alone face imprisonment - for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Instead of punishing Alaa Abdel Fattah and the 23 other defendants for expressing their opinions, the authorities should drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release them.”
Amnesty International’s research has identified serious due process shortcomings in Egypt’s judiciary. The criminal justice system has handed down mass death sentences and lengthy prison terms to thousands of human rights defenders, activists, lawyers and journalists following grossly unfair trials, while security forces responsible for grave human rights violations enjoy near total impunity. The organization has also found the Public Prosecutor’s office to be complicit in violations by turning a blind eye to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment.
“It is ironic that the Egyptian authorities are persecuting individuals for criticizing the judiciary when there are serious questions hanging over its independence and impartiality,” said Najia Bounaim.
“If the authorities choose to convict Alaa Abdel Fattah and the 23 others on Saturday this will be another nail in the coffin for justice in Egypt.”
The charges against 24 of the defendants, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, stem entirely from their exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International’s analysis of the casefile indicates there is no
credible evidence to suggest that they have incited hatred, violence, or discrimination. The charges against them are based on comments they made in the media and on social media.
Alaa Abdel Fattah is being tried based on a tweet in which he criticized the judiciary as “biased” and implied that judges are “taking orders from the military”. The tweet was in relation to a controversial 2013 trial in which 43 NGO workers were sentenced to between one and five years in prison. The charge against Egyptian politician Amr Hamzawy is based on a tweet about the same verdict which he described as “shocking and lacking in transparency”. Former MP Essam Sultan was charged based on a TV interview in which he described former President Hosni Mubarak’s trial as a “mockery of justice and betrayal to the protesters killed”. Twenty one other defendants were charged based on similar tweets or statements.
Alaa Abdel Fattah spent 45 days in detention in 2006 for protesting in support of judges calling for the independence of the judiciary under President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
“It is shocking that a man who stood side by side with Egypt’s judges to defend the rights of the judges and the judiciary more than 10 years ago, is now facing trial for peacefully criticizing the same institution,” said Najia Bounaim.
Alaa Abdel Fattah is currently in Al-Mazraa prison in the Tora prison complex in Cairo serving a five year sentence after being convicted of flouting Egypt’s repressive protest law by participating in a peaceful protest in 2013 to oppose military trials for civilians. His prison term will be followed by five years subject to excessive probation measures, which amount to deprivation of liberty. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that Alaa Abel Fattah is arbitrarily detained and has called for his immediate release.
Egypt’s Court of Cassation, is due to examine his appeal on 19 October and will either uphold the verdict, reduce his sentence or acquit him. Local human rights activists have organized campaign ahead of this date to call for his release.
“Alaa is one of thousands losing years of their lives in Egypt’s prisons while President Abdelfattah al-Sisi is received warmly by governments across the world, with few questions raised about the rights violations committed by his regime,” Alaa Abdel Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, told Amnesty International.
“But we know that people around the world stand with Alaa and all those unjustly detained in Egypt’s prisons - and we are asking them to join our campaign and make their voices heard to help us #FreeAlaa.”
She also said that during his three and a half years in detention her brother has been denied access to all books and newspapers in an effort to mentally isolate him from ongoing events.