The 23 detainees arrested for taking part in an anti-Protest Law march this week should be immediately released and the law should be revoked, said international human rights organisation Human Right Watch (HRW) on Tuesday.
Both HRW and a group of 13 domestic human rights organisations condemned the prosecution’s order on Monday, detaining the 23 protesters for four days pending investigations.
Twenty-four detainees were referred to prosecution on Sunday. They are accused of illegal assembly, possessing fireworks, damaging public and private property, and display of force; the charges were described as “fabricated” in the joint statement. On Monday’s session, the prosecution released one detainee from custody while renewing the detention of the remaining 23.
The signatories of the joint statement said over 30 protesters were originally arrested for taking part in the anti-Protest Law march organised in Heliopolis on Saturday heading for the presidential palace.
The signatory organisations said the protesters were physically attacked by men in civilian clothes, suggesting that the assailants were working under the interior ministry’s supervision.
The organisations said that upon their arrest, the protesters were interrogated by Homeland Security officers in the absence of their lawyers, an illegal procedure. They were reportedly asked about their political affiliations, their opinions on the controversial Protest Law and their choice during the presidential elections.
The 23 detainees include Yara Sallam, award-winning human rights defender and transitional justice officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of the 13 organisations which signed Monday’s joint statement. According to the joint statement, Sallam was interrogated about her work within the EIPR as well as the organisation’s management and activities. The signatory organisations suggested that Sallam remains in detention due to her work with the EIPR.
HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork condemned the interrogation of Sallam in the organisation’s statement.
“Anyone detained for violating the protest law should be free, unless they have been charged with a credible offense,” Stork said. “The detention of Yara Sallam raises concerns that authorities want to intimidate and silence Egyptian rights activists who have bravely criticised this law and other rights violations that have become routine since the military takeover last July.”
Saturday’s march was held on the International Day to Support Egyptian Detainees. Protesters were calling for the repeal of the Protest Law, issued by former President Adly Mansour in November to regulate public assembly, and the release of all those detained on background of the controversial legislation.
The law requires that organisers of any public assembly submit a written notice to the nearest police station at least three working days in advance and gives the interior minister the right to cancel, postpone or change the route of a protest. It has garnered wide criticism from domestic as well as international human rights organisations since then. Several political movements have also criticised the law.
Several protesters and political activists have been sentenced to prison under the Protest Law during the past six months. On 12 June, political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others were sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for violating the Law. Abdel Fattah and two other defendants were arrested shortly afterwards.
Sanaa Seif, Abdel Fattah’s sister, is one of the protesters detained for taking part in Saturday’s anti-Protest Law march.