Lawyers in Minya initiated a strike on Monday after nine lawyers were issued prison sentences for defaming the judiciary. Seven have been jailed, and two were sentenced in absentia by the Minya Criminal Court on Sunday. The Lawyers Syndicate has threatened potential nationwide strike action to protest the ruling.
They were issued sentences ranging from three to five years in prison. The charges stem from a lawyers’ protest which took place at a court in Matai, Minya, in March 2013.
Lawyers Syndicate board members are expected to meet with representatives from the Minya branch on Thursday to discuss measures to be taken following the imprisonment of its members, including potential nationwide strike action, according to the syndicate’s website.
Board member Ibrahim Abdel Rahim told Mada Masr: “We are still examining the options with our fellow board members in Minya. Our course of action will be accordingly be determined on Thursday.” He added that the syndicate may choose to escalate or deescalate the situation, depending on the Minya judiciary’s responsiveness.
According to the website syndicate President Sameh Ashour instructed lawyers from the Minya branch to initiate comprehensive strike action before all of the Minya governorate’s criminal courts “until further notice.” It adds that if board members of the Lawyers Syndicate and the Minya Branch Syndicate agree to embark on a nationwide strike, it is expected to commence on March 18.
A statement issued by the syndicate on Monday writes that the strike in Minya has proven “successful” across the governorate, asserting that the right to peaceful strike is safeguarded by the Egyptian law.
It adds that hundreds of lawyers have gathered in their court chambers to announce the strike in solidarity with the imprisoned colleagues. The privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported that courts postponed over 120 cases on Monday alone, as a result.
Abdel Rahim commented: “We were all surprised on Sunday when we found that the court had issued lengthy prison sentences against the nine lawyers. Especially as the judge involved previously had agreed to reconcile with them.” He told Mada that he had agreed to personally drop both the charges and the case he brought against them, and 13 others, in 2013.
The judge, Justice Ahmed Fathy Geneidy, filed charges of obstructing judicial work and insulting the judicial branch of the government against the 22 lawyers after they staged a protest in March 2013. The action followed a verbal dispute between him and a lawyer in the Matai courthouse.
Abdel Rahim told Mada Masr that Geneidy was neither physically or verbally assaulted during the protest, “however, some still considered the protest to have prevented the judge from fulfilling his duties, and their chants to be insulting to the judiciary.”
He added that the sentence and conflict have both been blown out of proportion. Abdel Rahim claimed that the lawyers respect judges and prosecutors alike, “We are all one family, operating within framework of the judiciary.”
However, this heated dispute indicates a strained relationship between lawyers and judges in Minya.
Judge Hefny Abdel Fattah had initially issued life sentences to eight of the 22 lawyers in absentia on August 9, 2015. A ninth defendant was sentenced to three years in prison, and the remaining 13 were acquitted.
The seven who attended the latest ruling have been jailed since Sunday, and face five years in prison. An eighth defendant was ordered jailed for three years, and another for 25 years.
The syndicate’s statement claims that while Minya’s lawyers “all respect the rulings of the judiciary, they will not resign themselves” to such harsh prison sentences.
According to another syndicate statement also published Monday, lawyers are seeking to appeal against Sunday’s sentence. It adds that the syndicate’s Minya branch has formed a strike committee to organize and maintain the ongoing strike and a prisoners’ support committee has been established to assist the families of those in detention.