UPDATE 2: Egyptian activist Douma, 229 defendants receive life sentence

Ahram Online , Wednesday 4 Feb 2015

The defendants, accused of violent acts in December 2011, were also fined LE17 million; 39 minors receive 10 years in jail

Douma large
Ahmed Douma, one of the leading activists behind Egypt’s 2011 uprising, attends a court hearing in a case against 230 people including Douma, for taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces, in a courtroom of Torah prison, Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, (Photo: AP)

Cairo Criminal Court sentenced well-known Egyptian activist Ahmed Douma and another 229 defendants to life-in-prison on Wednesday and fined them all LE17 million (US$2.2 million) for involvement in the December 2011 cabinet clashes case.

A life-in-prison verdict carries a sentence of 25 years in jail according to the Egyptian penal code.

Some 39 other minors were sentenced to ten years in prison in the same case.

All defendants can appeal against the verdicts.

Douma, along with 269 defendants, were accused of possessing bladed weapons and Molotov cocktails, assaulting personnel from the armed forces and the police, torching the Scientific Complex in downtown Cairo and damaging other governmental buildings, including that of the cabinet and the parliament.

On 16 December 2011, soldiers forcibly dispersed a three-week sit-in against military rule at the cabinet building. At least 18 were killed and hundreds injured in the violence which spanned over five days, events which are now referred to as the 'cabinet clashes'.

Douma has been a long-time rights activist who protested against the regime of toppled president Hosni Mubarak, the military council in 2011-2012 as well as ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. He is already serving time in prison.

Upon hearing the verdict, Douma clapped his hands in what seemed to be an attempt to protest the sentence in a sarcastic way, sparking an exchange with the presiding judge, who threatened him with an additional three-year prison sentence for court contempt.  

In an earlier session of the same court in December, Douma was sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of LE10,000 for contempt of court after an argument ensued between himself and judge Nagy Shehata, head of the Cairo Criminal Court handling the case. 

The Judge became apparently incensed by a question by Douma on whether he maintained a Facebook account.

Social media users have recently charged that Shehata once maintained a Facebook account in which he openly aired political views denouncing activists and figures from the 2011 uprising as a sign of impartiality against Douma and other defendants.

In Wednesday’s session, Douma defended himself, saying he had filed legal complaints charging that groups of individuals wearing military and police uniforms and stationed on top of buildings around the cabinet at the time of the clashes were responsible for the violence, but they were never questioned.

Douma also denied setting fire to the Scientific Complex south of the cabinet headquarters.

Lawyer reacts

Douma presented his own defence due to the defence team boycotting the trial sessions since December,  Amr Imam, a lawyer from the defence team, told Ahram Online.

The Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate supported the decision of the lawyers defending the prominent activist in their decision to withdraw from his ongoing trial, banning its members from taking the case in their stead.

The lawyers withdrew from the trial after complaining of bad treatment by the court. After the session, the Lawyers Syndicate issued a statement stressing that "it rejects any kind of undervaluing any members of its lawyers from behalf of any judges."

The withdrawal decision came after the court referred one of the defence lawyers, prominent leftist Khaled Ali, to the prosecution for questioning over "fomenting chaos in the courtroom."

One of the main points Douma argued is that he lacked trust in the judges' impartiality; which constitutes legal grounds for change of trial venue, explained Imam.

"The upcoming legal step for the defence is a presenting a motion for moving the retrial to a different judicial district," he said. 

Douma is also serving three years in prison along with well-known 6 of April activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, for organising an unauthorised protest and assaulting security personnel over a year ago.

A protest law, which was passed by the interim government after the July 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, stipulates that demonstrations must be authorised by the police in advance.

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