Political and human rights movements condemned the conditions of jailed activists Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel; the latter three are believed to have been physically assaulted during their appeal trial on Monday.
A trial date is yet to be set for Abdel Fattah, who has been in preventative detention for over 100 days.
The Abdeen Misdemeanour Appeals Court, meanwhile, postponed the trial of Maher, founder of the 6 April Youth Movement; Adel, a member of 6 April’s political bureau; and Douma, a prominent activist and blogger to 7 April, when a verdict is expected to be issued.
Al-Dostour Party condemned the assault the activists claimed to have faced on Monday, adding that it comes “within a string of violations… against citizens who have been randomly arrested and sometimes tortured by security forces,” including members of parties which assumed an active role in the 2011 revolution and the 30 June protests. The alleged assault was also condemned by Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) Party, which called upon the judiciary to investigate the incident.
According to an Al-Dostour Party statement released on Monday, the activists were assaulted when they protested against being handcuffed in court during their trial session. Yasmin Hosam, one of the lawyers defending the trio, said they were beaten up by 20 police officers and the general in command inside a detention facility before being taken to their trial session.
The activists are being tried inside a police academy, which is illegal, according to Hosam, since the academy is under the Ministry of Interior’s authority. They should be tried inside Abdeen Court, she added.
Douma and Adel sustained “clear” injuries, Hosam said, adding that the trio asked their defence team to withdraw from the trial until an investigation into the incident is held. The defence team was able to document the incident during the trial session; it was referred to the Abdeen Prosecution, which should investigate the activists’ claims. The activists are also scheduled to be referred to the Forensics Authority to report their medical condition to the prosecution.
Ayman Helmy, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Media Centre, said that the court has the jurisdiction to look into the defendants’ claims and verify their authenticity. Helmy added that the Ministry of Interior “doesn’t mind” the investigations into the alleged assault “as long as it is within a legal context”.
The activists were each sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour and fined EGP 50,000 on 22 December 2013.
They are appealing their convictions for protesting without the Ministry of Interior’s approval under the controversial Protest Law, rioting, “thuggery”, using violence against Abdeen Courthouse security personnel and possessing melee weapons.
Hosam stressed that there exists no solid evidence incriminating the political activists. She added that from a strictly legal perspective, the activists should be acquitted.
“We are, however, well aware that most court verdicts recently issued in such cases are politicised,” Hosam said. “If the appeals court ratified their jail sentence, it will be because the counter revolution doesn’t want them to be free in the time being.”
The National Council for Human Rights issued a report in January detailing the “suffering” of activists in detainment and asking the Ministry of Interior to stop mistreating detainees.
The Protest Law was issued by interim President Adly Mansour on 24 November 2013 to regulate the right to peaceful assembly. It has garnered wide criticism from domestic as well as international human rights organisations since then. Several political movements have also criticised the law.
In its Monday statement, Al-Dostour Party called on Mansour to cancel the “unjust” law, “which involves “severe penalties and heavy fines”. The party accused security forces of “violating” the law through the “use of excessive force” when facing protesters.
The legislation consists of strict restrictions on protests, marches and public meetings and requires a prior notice for protests at least three working days in advance; it also allows the Minister of Interior to move, change the route of or cancel assemblies. Articles in the Protest Law also allow security forces to use water cannons, batons and teargas to disperse protesters, as well as “escalatory measures” that would include the use of rubber bullets and metal pellets.
Abdel Fatah and 24 others were referred to the Cairo Criminal Court on 9 December over violating the Protest Law, among other charges, including: blocking roads, illegal assembly, acquiring melee weapons during a protest, and attacking and injuring a public servant and stealing his personal wireless device. Another defendant, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, also remains in detention since November, while the 23 others were released on bail on 4 December 2013.
A group of 11 rights organisations announced their solidarity with Abdel Fattah’s family in the latter’s complaint against the Prosecutor General. In a joint statement released on Monday, the organisations reiterated the demand of Abdel Fattah’s family, calling on the Supreme Judicial Council to “fairly and transparently investigate the double standards exercised by the Prosecutor General when handling complaints filed to the public prosecution.”
The joint statement mentioned a complaint filed by Abdel Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, regarding her detention, alongside a group of other women, when security forces sexually assaulted them and dropped them off at a desert road, therefore “endangering their safety”, during the early hours of 27 November.
They had been arrested from a protest decrying military trials for civilians outside the Shura Council the day before, the same protest which landed Abdel Fattah and Abdel Rahman in preventative detention.
Abdel Fattah’s family had also reported to the Prosecutor General alleged violations the activist and his wife faced while security forces arrested him from his home on 28 November. At the time of his arrest, his wife reported that security forces broke into their house, beat her and her husband, arrested Abdel Fattah and confiscated both of their laptops and mobile phones while refusing to provide a warrant from the prosecution for the arrest and confiscation of the electronic devices.
The organisations said that the public prosecution has failed to investigate the two reported incidents, both of which took place over three months ago; however, it was quick to refer Abdel Fattah to the Criminal Court less than two weeks after his investigation began.
The statement’s signatories included: the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), and the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.
Abdel Fattah had been legally persecuted during the former regimes of Morsi, for allegedly inciting violence against Muslim Brotherhood members, and Mubarak. He was also detained for two months in 2011 under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for allegedly assaulting soldiers during the attacks carried out by army forces against a predominantly Coptic protest outside the Maspero building in October 2011.