Three prominent Egyptian political activists – Nawara Negm, Mazhar Shahin and Tarek El-Kholy – were interrogated at a court in New Cairo on Wednesday, after which their respective cases were postponed to 15 January.
According to Negm, the presiding judge ordered defence lawyers to leave the courtroom, claiming that they had stormed his office. Negm, for her part, refused to answer questions in the absence of her lawyers. The judge, complaining about demonstrators assembled outside the court building, then postponed trial proceedings to next week.
The summoning of Negm, a well-known columnist and political activist, Shahin, dubbed the “Tahrir preacher,” and April 6 (Democratic Front) member Tarek El-Kholy prompted a number of activists to gather in front of the court building, where they repeated chants against Egypt’s ruling military council.
The three were summoned by prosecutors to answer questions about their respective roles in violent clashes last month between anti-government protesters and security forces outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo. Authorities reportedly received complaints that the three activists had “incited peaceful protesters to clash with army personnel.”
In December, hundreds of demonstrators had staged a weeks-long sit-in outside the Cabinet building to register their opposition to military rule and the appointment of Kamal El-Ganzouri as interim prime minister. On 16 December, the military forcibly dispersed the sit-in, leading to a series of clashes with protesters that went on for five days.
Videos posted on social media websites showed soldiers and plainclothes security personnel violently attacking demonstrators. But Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a statement on 16 December denying claims that military police had instigated the clashes and portraying protesters as armed saboteurs.
The death toll from the army’s crackdown on the sit-in reached 16 – most of whom died from gunshot wounds – while 928 were injured, according to health ministry reports.
The summoning of the activists comes one day after investigators called would-be presidential candidate Ayman Nour, along with revolutionary financier Mamdouh Hamza, to answer similar charges.