April 6: Prosecuted inside and outside of court

Passant Darwish , Monday 7 Apr 2014

The courts have not been kind to April 6 -- sentencing two of its members to jail this week, with another decision pending regarding a future ban of all activities. But the movement has also been prosecuted in the public.

April 6
Members of the April 6 movement shout slogans with activists against the government as they protest against the detention of several members of their movement in front of the Press Syndicate building in Cairo, April 6, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Under the slogan of "Release Egypt," the April 6 movement marked its sixth anniversary by scheduling an unauthorised march to Tahrir Square.

The march was cancelled when the authorities closed off the square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against president Hosni Mubarak, in anticipation of the protest.

However, hundreds still staged a stand-in front of the Journalists' Syndicate to demand the release of political detainees and the cancellation of Egypt's newly issued protest law, which subjects protesters to jail terms and fines for organising demonstrations without prior approval from the police.

Just one day after the group marked its sixth anniversary, an appeal by two of its founding members – Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, both jailed on charges of defying the protest law – was rejected.

April 6 was formed in the spring of 2008, during the process of organising a massive labour protest – also illegal – in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla.

The resulting labour protest was the largest to have ever taken place in Mubarak's 30-year rule, and many argue that it set the stage for the eventual downfall of the dictator in the 25 January 2011 uprising.

Since its foundation in 2008, April 6 has had its ups and downs.

It was attacked by Mubarak's regime – Maher was arrested at the time. The group was then hailed after the 2011 revolution, only to be criticised during the transitional rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Most recently, the movement has been renounced for opposing Egypt's current interim authorities.

April 6 founding members Maher and Adel, along with activist Ahmed Douma, were sentenced last December to three years in prison and fined LE50,000 each. Their charges include organising an illegal protest and assaulting police officers during a demonstration.

Despite the first court ruling, political activists still held hopes that an appeal might grant Maher, Adel and Douma's freedom, or at least lessen their sentences.

The court's decision on Monday to uphold the sentences and reject their appeal dashed what little hopes were left.

April 6 members as well as activists from different political groups have since headed to the presidential palace in Heliopolis for an open-ended sit-in until their demands are met: cancelling the protest law and throwing out the sentences of Maher, Adel and Douma.

Monday's trial was not the only case against April 6. The next one the group will face is a court session filed by a lawyer wanting to ban their activities, accusing its members of "tainting the image of the state and spying for foreign countries". The court is expected to issue its verdict on 28 April regarding whether or not to ban the group.

'Abducted Egypt'

Mohamed Kamal, deputy spokesman of April 6, told Ahram Online that the group has recently chose the slogan "Release Egypt" because "Egypt has been abducted, there is no political vision – in addition to having a political, social and economic crisis in every household."

The slogan also points to the fact that Egypt has over 23,000 detainees in jail, he added.

For Kamal, the current political scene his group has to work in is tougher than the one in the era of Mubarak, who "allowed room for opposition," he said.

The current authorities, according to Kamal, “forgot that they were brought to power on the shoulders of the protesters.”

Prosecution outside court

April 6 members are not only prosecuted inside courthouses but also in the eyes of the people – sometimes the same people who hailed them three years ago after the toppling of Mubarak.

“April 6 has suspicious origins, we know of their trainings in Europe and the United states,” political analyst Amr Hesham Rabie told Ahram Online.

The group has repeatedly addressed such accusations – having a foreign agenda – by strongly denying them and affirming their devotion to Egypt.

Rabie describes April 6's protests as being chaotic and disrespectful of the law.

A group like April 6, Rabie says, cannot exist in a stable state.

“Their expiration date ends with the end of [Egypt’s] interim stage,” he said.

Indeed, until this day, April 6's members continue to face allegations about where they come from and if they work for foreign countries.

Another claim is that April 6 fronted for the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2012 elections when it supported Mohamed Morsi over rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq. However, the group maintained that it backed Morsi not because it agreed with the political philosophy of the Brotherhood but rather to stop a main figure of the Mubarak era from winning the presidency following the 2011 revolution.

April 6 later joined other political movements in calling for early elections during the 30 June 2013 protests against Morsi's rule.

Others argue that the current Egyptian situation cannot stand additional political protests. Political demands are viewed as a luxury when the country is facing a surge of terrorism, with the most recent attacks killing a high ranking police officer and injuring five others when three bombs detonated last week at Cairo University.

Kamal defends his group, saying that protesting is a right granted to citizens, and that the political groups are being used as a scapegoat for the authorities' failure to contain the terrorism surge that started last July following Morsi's ouster.

The interior ministry, according to Kamal, is the one to be blamed for the continuing attacks, not the opposing political groups.

Despite the crackdown on the group and the arrests of Maher and Adel, the group still continues to protest issues like the freedom for political groups and the cancellation of the protest law.

They still don't request permission from the interior ministry to hold demonstrations as they don't believe in a law that limits protests.

The group did not request a permit to protest on their sixth anniversary, nor in response to Monday's court verdict.

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