Egyptian lawyers launched a general strike Saturday in all courts across Egypt, objecting to increased police brutality and assaults on lawyers, according to Lawyers’ Syndicate Head Sameh Ashour.
“We have an escalation plan that we are not going to announce to the public yet,” Ashour said in statements to Daily News Egypt on Saturday. Ashour asserted that all branches of the syndicate abided by the one-day strike, except ‘some’ individual cases.
The strike was announced following an alarming physical assault by a police officer on a lawyer inside a police station in Damietta last week. The syndicate’s primary demand is an official apology by the Ministry of Interior, the legal institution of police officers.
Last Wednesday, the syndicate condemned the Ministry of Interior’s use of an aggressive tone in its statement: “The Ministry of Interior’s strategies in countering terrorism reflect prostration and hiding in the face of terrorists, therefore neglecting their duty to protect citizens and caring only about the Ministry of Interior’s own safety.”
“Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior insists on maintaining policies that constitute a setback to the revolution of 25 January, such as oppression, condescension, arrogance and bullying of peaceful citizens innocent policies,” the statement added.
The victim, lawyer Emad Fahmy, received eight stitches to the head, an injury which resulted from a shoe being thrown at him by a police officer inside Farscur police station in Damietta. Fahmy also told the media that he was above 50-years-old, and that the officer did not respect him as an older, respectable lawyer.
The Lawyers’ Syndicate emphasised the strike was not aimed at judges and made exceptions for urgent trials, especially cases in which defendants are to receive renewals of their detention periods.
“The police officer who assaulted the lawyer is indecent and neither him nor his supervisors deserve respect,” Ashour stated in Wednesday’s press conference. He also said that lawyers will not let their guard down in front of corrupt and failed police staff, even if assaults on lawyers continued.
Ashour demanded the Minister of Interior be held responsible for the actions of those working under his supervision, adding that the police will never improve without a new restructuring plan.
Ashour said there were no updates from ministry since the decision to detain the accused officer on Thursday for four days pending investigations. Prosecution authorities also referred the suspect to an urgent trial to be held Sunday, according to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.
Meanwhile, ministerial spokesperson Abu Bakr Abdel Karim told different private TV channels that the officer’s mistake was an “individual act that reflects negatively on the ministry, and that any violations against lawyers are unacceptable”.
Abdel Karim responded to lawyers’ demands for an apology by stating that legal measures have been taken to hold the officer accountable. However, he undermined the conflict between the ministry and lawyers by telling ONtv channel that “some branches of the syndicate refused to strike due to their good relations with the Ministry of Interior”.
Al-Dostour Party announced on Friday its solidarity with the lawyers, stating that “they work hard to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens”. The party added that police brutality against lawyers is similar to their abusive treatment of civilian detainees inside police stations.
Prominent lawyer and human rights defender Khaled Ali had stated in an earlier interview with Daily News Egypt that around 500 lawyers in Egypt had received sentences and that violations against lawyers have gradually increased.
“At first, violations were at police stations, now they’ve been transferred to courts. Nowadays we have courts being held at police locations, so there are frictions all the time, plus the frictions between judges and lawyers on the grounds of the limits of defending, lawyers themselves are being referred to investigations by judges,” he stated.
Among the exceptions from the strike made by lawyers’ regarding trials taking place Saturday was the case of lawyer Kareem Hamdy, who died in Matariya police station after being severely beaten, according to the Forensic Medicine report.
An example of abuse against lawyers is the case of Mahienour El-Massry and her colleagues, who were assaulted by police officers inside El-Raml police station in Alexandria, while the victims received prison sentences on charges of attacking the station.
In another instance, lawyers Doaa Mostafa and Ahmed Abdullatif from the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) were detained by security officers of a court in the Fifth Settlement in New Cairo, the Arabic Network for Human Rights’ Information (ANHRI) stated on 25 February 2015.
The lawyers went to attend a case by Nasr City National Security prosecution authorities with defendants, but were prevented from attending investigations as security guards accused Mostafa of insulting them while doing their job. The lawyers’ described the incident as a “crackdown and intransigence” by the security guards for harassing them at the court entrance.
The issue was resolved only when the head of the press syndicate had interfered, as Mostafa reported that the officers verbally assaulted them inside the office they were held in and used the words “human rights’ lawyers” in a negative way, suggesting they were being “punished” for working with NGOs that defend human rights, ANHRI said.