By Menna Zaki and Kenneth Changpertitum
Defendants in the Shura Council trial, postponed until 15 September, announced in a Friday statement they would continue their hunger strike until their demands are met.
The defendants in the case currently not in prison started an open-ended hunger strike in early September in solidarity with their fellows in custody, whilst also calling for abolishing of the Protest Law and releasing all political detainees.
Twenty-five defendants have been charged in the case, with 22 released and the remaining three, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Hamada Al-Nubi and Wael Metwalli, kept in prison.
The defendants were sentenced to 15 years in absentia, handed an EGP 100,000 fine and put under surveillance for a period of five years. They were found guilty of violating the controversial Protest Law issued by former president Adly Mansour in November 2013.
In a Thursday statement, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) called for the release of Abdel Fattah who has been on a hunger strike since August. The EMHRN strongly condemned the decision of the Cairo Criminal Court to once again deny him bail.
EMHRN noted in the statement that “the continued denial of Abdel Fattah’s bail requests violates both Egyptian and International Law”.
A number of NGOs have expressed their opposition to the controversial Protest Law especially with the number of hunger strikers, inside and outside of prison, increasing.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said authorities have left no room for objection to the use of preventative detention as punishment and to “unfair” court rulings, other than hunger strikes.
ANHRI has renewed its demands to immediately release all detainees on the backdrop of the opinion and conscience issues. The network also holds the authorities responsible for the safety of those on hunger strike, also demanding an immediate response to their demands.
Amnesty International also called for the release of activists detained under the “repressive protest law” including the renowned activists Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam, a transitional expert in Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR).
Citing its unconstitutionality, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) released a statement Thursday demanding a repeal of the Protest Law.
The law, as noted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a June statement, gives security officials and the Ministry of Interior power to ban any public meetings and protests “on very vague grounds”. Potential punishments include “heavy prison sentences for offences such as attempting to ‘influence the course of justice’”.
The ban includes meetings of more than 10 people in public spaces and can even include electoral campaigning or “smaller demonstrations that would not cause disruption”, HRW said.
In June, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) filed a lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of certain articles of the Protest Law. The centre also called for the law’s cancellation.
General Mohamed Nour El-Din, former assistant minister of interior, said that the Protest Law regulates the act of protesting as it usually hinders people’s interest. It has been issued to serve the people and the nation’s interest, with the law not imposing any restrictions on protesting, he argued.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi defended the controversial Protest Law during an interview in May, asserting that protesting needs to be regulated, but not banned. He said there is a “need to give police space to work”. He said that he is convinced of the importance of freedom, though he is concerned that “freedoms should not lead to chaos that would harm the state”.