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Friday, 18 October 2019

Campaign launched to defend witnesses-turned-defendants in Sabagh murder case

Prominent lawyer Azza Soliman, who says she was a witness and did not participate in the protest, is now a defendant accused of demonstrating without a permit

Reem Gehad , Wednesday 1 Apr 2015
Shaimaa el-Sabbagh
In this Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 photo, 32-year-old mother Shaimaa el-Sabbagh holds a poster during a protest in downtown Cairo. (Photo: AP)
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Egyptian activists are drumming up support for a rights advocate and members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) who were originally witnesses in the Shaimaa El-Sabagh murder case, but were recently listed as defendants for protesting the day she was killed.

El-Sabagh, 31, was killed in a peaceful march, organised by the SPAP, commemorating the martyrs of the 2011 uprising in downtown Cairo in January. A Central Security Forces officer is on trial over charges of shooting birdshot at her, causing her death.  

A wide online support campaign titled "Do not Prosecute Hope" has been circulating online on Wednesday to raise awareness over the group whose first trial session is expected on 4 April.

Dozens of lawyers have joined the defence team and pledged their support.

Thirteen members of the SPAP, including its secretary-general and leading members of the party - all of whom were witnesses in the case - are now on trial for violating the 2013 protest law which outlaws unauthorised demonstrations. Four other people, including prominent lawyer Azza Soliman, are also witnesses-turned-defendants.  

In initial investigations, the prosecution detained Zohdi El-Shamy, SPAP vice-president for political affairs, on suspicion of killing El-Sabagh after he had come forward as a witness to testify on the events that occurred during the SPAP's memorial march. He was released shortly after.

El-Shami told Ahram Online that he did not expect police to deal with such violence during their peaceful march. He stated that the party has maintained a position that police forces themselves did not implement the protest law correctly or "properly warn protesters they were breaking up the march and did not use other legal and milder forms of scattering protesters, but instead used birdshot guns immediately."

"I hope justice will prevail in court," he added. 

Meanwhile, Soliman, head of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, says she was having lunch in a restaurant in downtown Cairo when the march passed and she went out to capture photos and then ended up in the centre of events.

She later gave her testimony voluntarily to police on El-Sabagh's murder, but was surprised when the prosecutor listed her as a defendant.

"Today, after the prosecutor’s decision to change my status, in the murder of Shaimaa El-Sabagh’s case, from a witness to a defendant, I would like to say that I do not regret my testimony," Soliman said in a public Facebook note on 23 March.  

"No matter what the police, prosecution or judiciary do to scare us, I am still full of hope."

Soliman's lawyers said on Tuesday the prosecutor rejected a complaint against the decision to list her as a defendant.

El-Sabagh's death caused a local and international outcry, with many criticising the security forces for using excessive force in dispersing the peaceful march.

Her party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, accused the police of "premeditated murder," while police officials denied that security forces played a role in El-Sabagh’s death.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi referred to El-Sabagh in a speech to police officers as a "daughter," and insisted the perpetrator be held accountable if found guilty.

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