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23 Egyptian activists sentenced to three years in prison

23 Egyptian activists sentenced to three years in prison
Sanaa Seif, one of 23 sentenced to three years in prison for violating the protest law.
Sanaa Seif, one of 23 sentenced to three years in prison for violating the protest law.

Families of 23* defendants sentenced on Sunday to three years in prison for violating the protest law gathered outside court condemning the verdict.

A Cairo Misdemeanour court served prison sentences to activist Sanaa Seif and 22 other defendants arrested on June 21 while taking part in a march calling for the repeal of the protest law and the release of all those arrested on background of the law.

“No comment on the verdict,” said Alaa Abdel Fattah, Seif’s brother, outside court after using a religious expression referring the matter to God.

The defendants have been referred to a misdemeanour court for illegal assembly, vandalism and displaying force.

The defence team will appeal the verdict, said Mohamed Abdel Aziz, director of the Cairo-based al-Haqanya human rights centre and one of the lawyers representing the defendants.

Former interim President Adli Mansour issued the protest law on November 24 to regulate peaceful assembly. The law has long been the epicentre of wide criticism by domestic and international human rights organisations which say it violates international standards for peaceful protests.

“Keep silently watching us get jailed one by one and watching the students get killed one by one until disaster arrives at your doorsteps,” Abdel Fattah said on his personal twitter account shortly after the issuance of the verdict.

Leftist politician and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi was quick to comment on Sunday’s verdict.

“The protest law is unjust on the humanitarian level, void on the constitutional level and stupid on the political level,” Sabahi tweeted. “It did not stop the violence neither did it achieve stability.”

Sabahi said that the youth who took part in the January 25 uprising in 2011 and the June 30 protests in 2013 are the “victims” of the protest law. He added that sustaining the law is a “crime”.

The verdict was also condemned by al-Dostour Party Spokesman Khaled Dawoud, who described it as one of the “disastrous results of the unjust protest law” in a personal tweet.

Among those sentenced is human rights defender Yara Sallam, transitional justice officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Sallam was reportedly arrested with her cousin while buying water from a kiosk in Cairo’s Heliopolis neighbourhood, where the June 21 protest was held.

Sallam remained in detention and faced official charges despite the release of her cousin the next day, which causes human rights watchdog Amnesty International to believe the rights defender is being persecuted for her activism.

“The charges against Yara Sallam, who did not even participate in the protest in question, are completely farcical,” Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, had earlier said. “She has been kept in detention and put on trial because of her work as a human rights defender.”

The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) filed on September 13 a lawsuit at the Supreme Constitutional Court, Egypt’s top court, challenging the constitutionality of articles in the law.

The legislation obliges demonstrators to inform the authorities of their intention to assemble three days prior to their scheduled events. It also gives the interior ministry the right to cancel, postpone or move protests.

Amnesty International described the law as “repressive” and called for the release of all those in detention for “defying” it.

* An earlier version of this article stated 24 defendants were sentenced to jail. The 24th defendant was a minor who has been transferred to a case on his own and is not included.

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Aswat Masriya is a Thomson Reuters Foundation-sponsored website that covers Egypt's transition to democracy. en.aswatmasriya.com

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