The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said in a Monday statement that the procedures since the arrest of 24 protesters on 21 June have been “characterised by a lack of transparency and respect for due process rights.”
Among other charges, the two dozen are facing trial for violating the Protest Law, issued by then President Adly Mansour in November. They were arrested while protesting outside the presidential palace to call for the cancelation of the law, which EIPR described as “draconian” and for the release of people detained on the grounds of breaking the law.
A total of 30 people were arrested at the protest but only 24 of them were referred to trial and 23 of those on trial remain in detention, after one was released.
A hearing was held on Sunday and was postponed for September. The exact dates remain unclear, EIPR said, because the “judge and the court administration left without informing lawyers and distressed relatives of his decision.” The trial is expected to be moved to 13 September, but the precise date has yet to be confirmed.
The defence lawyers’ request for provisional release of the detainees was denied and defendants are set to remain in detention until their next court hearing. EIPR said it was shocked at the decision to keep them behind bars. “In recent months, prolonged pre-trial detention has afflicted protesters, activists and others suspected of dissent,” EIPR said, adding that it believes that the decision “amounts to a punitive measure, given the lack of credible evidence linking the defendants to any violent acts, and the low [flight] risk if the defendants were released on bail.”
However, a request by lawyers to see and verify the validity of the evidence against the defendants was granted by court.
The 23 detainees include 15 men, seven women, and one child. The women are being held in Qanater prison and include Yara Sallam, EIPR’s transitional justice officer, and the NGO fears that her “predicament may be linked to her human rights work.” The NGO said these fears are substantiated by the fact that during interrogation she was repeatedly questioned on the nature of her work and the NGO’s management. EIPR believes that Sallam was arrested and indicted on “baseless charges”.
Beyond charges of breaking the Protest Law, the defendants are being tried for allegedly damaging property and displaying use of force. EIPR said it is concerned that the defendants are facing “trumped up charges” of damaging property citing the “absence of any credible evidence” and “inconsistencies in police reports.” One report alleged that the defendants had damaged a police car—reporting a time wherein most defendants had already been arrested.
EIPR said defendants were prevented by authorities from contacting lawyers and families. Authorities at several stages failed to provide the whereabouts of the detainees. Lawyers faced logistical challenges while obtaining the case files and information on court hearing dates and locations.
“The way detention or trials of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and journalists have been conducted recently, denies defendants the right to adequate defence and keeps families and lawyers in the dark sometimes” EIPR said.
EIPR has described the Protest Law as “draconian”. The law has also been heavily criticised on the global stage, with countries, international bodies, and human rights watchdogs having called for its amendment or repeal.
On 17 June, the Administrative Court allowed the referral of the law to Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) for appeal which could be significant for challengers and critics, since the SCC can cancel laws if they do not comply with the constitution. Its rulings are final and cannot be appealed.