Cairo Criminal Court sentenced activist Alaa Abd El Fattah and 24 others to 15 years jail in absentia, a LE100,000 fine and five years' surveillance on Wednesday, in a trial known as the Shura Council case, raising severe concerns among lawyers and family members.
Abd El Fattah and fellow defendants Mohamed Noubi and Wael Metwally were also arrested outside the Police Academy at Tora prison in Cairo this morning as they were waiting for the judge to give them permission to enter the court, lawyer Mohamed Abdel Aziz, of the Haqanya law firm, told Mada Masr by telephone. He is one of the defense lawyers and attended court on Wednesday.
“It is the most severe known sentencing of defendants under a Protest Law issued last November,” Abdel Aziz said.
The defendants are accused of organizing an unauthorized protest outside the Shura Council in Cairo, attacking a police officer, stealing a walkie-talkie, hooliganism, aggression against police officers, blocking the road, crowding a public place and destruction of public property, state-run website Ahram Gate reported.
They had staged a protest outside the Shura Council, Egypt’s parliamentary advisory body, in Cairo on November 26 to demonstrate against a law that places severe restrictions on protesting and public assembly, as well as an article on military trials for civilians included in the 2014 Constitution.
Abdel Aziz said the ruling shocked him.
“I haven’t seen this kind of ruling before. It’s not legal and confirms the retaliatory nature of the case,” he said. “There was clear collusion between the judiciary and the police with a sentence that was already prepared.”
Abdel Aziz and family members were surprised that a judgment was reached by 9 am, when they were expecting the hearing to start at 10 am.
They believe the defendants were purposefully prevented from entering the court in order to issue a ruling in absentia, and to treat them as though they had fled, despite attending all previous court sessions. They are demanding a re-trial.
Abd El Fattah’s wife, Manal Bahey El-Din Hassan, told Mada Masr that “as long as the defendants and judge were both present outside the court, the judge cannot rule in absentia and the trial has to be repeated.”
“We’re worried that by making them out to be fugitives, or those who fled the scene, the police can to do whatever they like with Alaa and the other arrested defendants, such as torturing them,” Bahey El-Din Hassan said.
The judge, Mohamed al-Feqy, is believed to have a personal vendetta against 33-year-old Abd El Fattah, a well-known blogger and political activist.
Defendants had requested that the judges working on the case be changed, but Cairo’s Court of Appeal declined.
Abd El Fattah demonstrated against Feqy in 2005 on accusations that he was part of a team of judges that rigged the parliamentary elections that year. Feqy’s name had been placed on a black list of judges by the Lawyers' Syndicate.
The activist’s father is the well-known human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif, who runs the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
The court at Tora was due to hear testimonies from the prosecution Wednesday morning, as well as video evidence of the defendants’ alleged crimes. The session had been adjourned from May 25 due to the judge being ill.
The Protest Law, which had been issued a few days before the November 26 protest, was first implemented in the Shura Council case. At the time, 50 people were arrested. They were all subsequently released, except for defendant Ahmed Abdel Rahman, who protesters say was not even demonstrating but instead was simply trying to protect one of the female demonstrators.
Abd El Fattah’s name was added to the case a day after the protest. He announced at the time he would voluntarily hand himself in to the prosecution for questioning, but police stormed his home before he was able to do so, on November 28, forcefully arrested him.
Human rights groups have condemned the Protest Law, which was signed by then president, Adly Mansour. It bans protests without prior police approval from the Ministry of Interior. It was believed to have been aimed at the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization, but has since also been used against secular political activists.