Political groups call on Egypt's president to pardon jailed activists, revoke protest law

Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 8 Apr 2014

Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma -- prominent activists from the 25 January uprising -- should be pardoned, and the protest law revoked, say Egyptian political parties

From the Left: Egyptian social democratic party member Ahmed fawzy, head of constitution party Hala Shukralla, Egyptian popular current member Hossam Moenes and constitution party member Khaled Dawoud, Tuesday, April 8, 2014 (Photo: Salma Shukralla)

Several political parties and groups demanded on Tuesday that interim President Adly Mansour pardon activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma, whose three-year prison sentences were upheld the day before by a Cairo court.

Speaking at a press conference at the downtown headquarters of the Constitution Party, those present also called on Mansour to revoke the controversial protest law responsible for the three activists' sentences.

The law, issued by Mansour last November, bans any protest that is not pre-approved by authorities. 

Two of the accused, Maher and Adel, are founding members of the April 6 Youth Movement. The third, Douma, is a member of the Egyptian Popular Current, the political group founded by presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi.

All three are known for their role in the 25 January 2011 revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak and also the movement leading up to the 30 June 2013 demonstrations which led to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

"We are here because of the sentence issued against the youths who, together with many like them, are paying with their lives and future … they are the same people who carried the revolution on their shoulders," said head of the Constitution Party Hala Shukrallah.

"We are here to demand a presidential pardon after exhausting all legal means," she added.

The court's decision on Monday to keep the three activists behind bars sparked an angry Twitter campaign against the protest law, with activists complaining of what they say is a crackdown against figures from the 2011 uprising.

"This [protest] law proves that there is an organised attack against the 25 January revolution's figures and also proves that there are truly democratic forces, represented in those who rejected the law from the very start," said Elham Aidarous, of the Bread and Freedom Party, which has not yet been officially registered.

Also present at the conference on Tuesday were representatives from the Egyptian Popular Current, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the April 6 Youth movement and the Freedom for the Brave campaign, a grass-roots effort to free political detainees in Egypt.

Stressing that their demand is not just to release the three prominent activists, the groups also called for the protest law to be completely dropped, with all of its related trials reconsidered.

"The demand for a presidential pardon comes as a step to amend the original mistake of issuing the law in the first place," stressed Hossam Moenes, who hails from the Popular Current and is also a prominent figure in Sabahi's presidential campaign.

Moenes slammed the law as a tool used to crackdown on dissent and not as a means by which the state confronts violence or terrorism, as officials have often argued.

Khaled Abdel-Hamid, founding member of Freedom for the Brave, said that 1,079 people have been arrested under the pretext of the protest law since the demonstrations held earlier this year to mark the third anniversary of the 25 January revolution.

Other than Douma, Maher and Adel, several others are facing up to two years in prison and are awaiting appeals. Others are kept in prison indefinitely through the renewal of the 15-day pre-trial detention period.

Random arrests have been common, Abdel-Hamid further explained.

"Many of the arrested include people who happened to be passing by [protests], some buying things from a nearby store and others waiting for transportation … there are at least 10 recorded cases of students who have been arrested from inside campuses while taking their exams," he said.

Ahmed Fawzy of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party further complained that political parties that stemmed from the 25 January revolution, formed after Mubarak's ouster, are not getting a chance to practice party politics.

"We would like to have the chance to talk about how we would participate in the presidential elections, what our programs are," Fawzy said. "Instead we are constantly talking about arrests and the like."

Fawzy said that the regimes after Mubarak, whether the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) or the Muslim Brotherhood, have not changed their oppressive tactics. 

Fawzy assured that the law would also be legally appealed, adding that the interim authorities have been offered several alternatives to the law, all of which were ignored.

The Social Democratic Party – of which Fawzy is a founding member – was represented in the first government that followed Morsi's ouster, with former prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi and deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din. However, their representatives were removed from their posts in a ministerial reshuffle in March. The party's figures were also widely attacked in the media.

Meanwhile, head of the Constitution Party Shukrallah stressed that the political groups are still seeking a meeting with Mansour to urge him to revoke the protest law and reinvestigate those tried under it.

All means of peaceful opposition will be used against the law, she said.

 "A presidential pardon does not compensate for keeping the law," Abdel-Hamid said.

"The revolution continues and it will succeed even in the long run," he added. 

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