Egyptian lawyers held on Saturday a nationwide one-day strike from attending session in the country’scriminal courts to protest a jail sentence against eight of their colleagues in the southern governorate of Minya last week, Lawyers Syndicate spokesperson Magdy Abdel-Halim told Ahram Online.
“The strike aims to push for an urgent court hearing to release those lawyers in prison,” Abdel-Halim said.
The union decided that the nationwide strike would be held for only one day so as not to negatively impact defendants and clients.
However, the strike in Minya – which first started when the lawyers were sentenced – will continue “even if the jailed lawyers are released,” according to Abdel-Halim.
“We are protesting for justice,” Abdel-Halim said, adding that “we will refer the lawyers, who did not comply with the strike to the syndicate’s disciplinary committee.”
Last week, a Minya Criminal Court sentenced seven lawyers to five years in prison and one lawyer to three years over charges of blocking access to a public facility, preventing a judge from carrying out his duty, as well as insulting the judiciary in a case that dates back to the defendants' protest outside a local court in March 2013.
The 2013 protest came after what the syndicate says was a judge’s handing down of a harsh sentence to some of the lawyers’ clients without hearing the defence.
The lawyers were tried and sentenced by the criminal court despite the fact that the judge who filed the initial complaint against them withdrew his motion. Shortly following the sentence, the syndicate decided to boycott court sessions in all of Minya's criminal courts.
On Thursday, the syndicate board, under the chairmanship of Sameh Ashour, decided to organise the nationwide strike on Saturday.
Ashour said that legal procedures are also being taken to appeal the Minya verdict and suspend its implementation.
However, head of the North Giza Criminal Court judge Hossam Dabbous has denied that a strike is being held, saying in press statements on Saturday that lawyers have attended court sessions.
Dabbous said that if lawyers fail to attend court session, the court would appoint other lawyers to take their place in order to preserve the interests of defendants.
However, a number of lawyers from several governorates say that many criminal courts across the country have postponed their sessions due to the strike.
Alexandria lawyer Mohamed Ramadan told Ahram Online that "five sessions in Alexandria criminal courts were postponed today due to the lawyers strike," which he describes as one of the largest of its kind to be held recently.
Prominent lawyer Montaser El-Zayat said that he attended a trial session in Cairo on Saturday but abstained from working as a show of solidarity with the Minya lawyers.
Fayoum lawyer Mahmoud Hassan told Ahram Online that lawyers in the governorate have also largely complied with the strike.
“Lawyers were bothered by the Minya verdict, so they did not attend [court sessions],” Hassan said, adding that a Lawyers Syndicate employee was present in court to write down the names of any lawyer who would break the strike.
“Lawyers face this kind of harshness everyday and everywhere, and are suffering from the judicial system, which is affecting their job,” Hassan said.
“We went on strike in Fayoum last month for one day after a judge ordered the arrest of a colleague over a regular disagreement.”
Ahmed Abdel-Fattah, a lawyer from the delta governorate of Menoufiya, told Ahram Online that lawyers in his governorate have also adhered to the strike over what he described as “frequent maltreatment” by judges.
Last week, dozens of lawyers staged a three-day strike in Gharbiya governorate in front of the second circuit Mahala Criminal Court in protest over what they described as harsh verdicts against their clients and a lack of opportunity to properly present a defence in court.
A number of lawyers in the coastal city of Matrouh have declared a sit-in inside a court building over what they said was an assault on one of the lawyers by an employee of the public prosecution.
Abdel-Halim said that the nationwide strike sends a strong message that lawyers are united against the harsh verdict given to their Minya colleagues, though he stressed that relations between lawyers and the judiciary is otherwise fine.
Abdel-Gawad Ahmed, a member of the Lawyers Syndicate board and head of the union's freedoms committee, told Ahram Online earlier that the Minya action by the lawyers in 2013 "was not a protest, it was a regular disagreement that should have ended with conciliation; however, the court issued a harsh verdict despite the withdrawal of the complaint."
“To be able to do our job in defending our clients, and to defend justice, we have to achieve justice and safety for lawyers," Abdel-Halim said.
“The possibility of taking further measures will be discussed according to the developments. When the syndicate board meets on 25 March, we will discuss possibly extending the strike to the civil and misdemeanour courts. We may also abstain from paying court fees, but nothing has been decided yet," Abdel-Halim concluded.
Additional reporting by El-Sayed Gamal El-Din