Verdict expected in trial of 25 Egyptian activists, including Alaa Abdel-Fattah

Mariam Rizk , Sunday 22 Feb 2015

The 25 defendants have been sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail for an unauthorised protest in 2013 and are facing a retrial

Alaa Abdel-Fattah
Leading Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah (Photo: Ahram)

An Egyptian court is expected to issue a verdict on Monday in a case which leading activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah and 24 others stand a retrial on a variety of charges, including taking part in an unauthorised protest in 2013.

The defendants were sentenced in June 2014 in absentia to 15 years in jail and a fine of EGP 100,000 ($13,000), only to be retried after the appeal presiding judge rescued himself from the case in September.

Released on bail immediately after, the defendants were re-arrested as the retrial sessions started in October.

The 25 face charges of rioting, participating in unauthorised protests, possession of knives, disrupting the lives of citizens and exposing them to danger, attacking an employee while on duty and thuggery.

The unpermitted demonstration, on which the defendants were convicted, dates back to November 2013, when a group of activists demonstrated outside the Shura Council near the iconic Tahrir square to pressure the committee writing the constitution at the time into banning military trials for civilians.

The protest was forcibly disbanded by security forces 30 minutes after it started using water cannons and tear gas.

Videos circulated on social media websites and local TV stations showing harsh treatment from the police, who dragged protesters and assaulted them.

According to investigations published by state news agency MENA, security forces "advised" around 350 protesters and asked them to leave while the protesters "insisted to riot and block the road, disrupting traffic and people's lives".

Abdel-Fattah, who was transferred to a prison hospital in January after health complications because of a hunger strike, is charged with attacking a policeman securing the Shura council and stealing his walkie talkie.

The rest of the defendants helped him to attack and beat the policeman, the prosecution said.

At least 50 people were arrested from the protest, two days after the controversial protest law was approved and issued.

Since the protest law was passed, it has brought about criticism from local and international rights groups which deemed it restrictive.

The law mandates that protest organisers need to notify authorities three days in advance of their aims and demands, placing heavy jail terms and fines on those who breach the law. It also gives the police the right of using escalating measures to disperse demonstrations.

Hundreds of activists, including icons of the January 25 revolution, were arrested and tried as per the protest law, among thousands others of Islamists rounded up following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. 

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