Defense witnesses testify as Shura Council retrial draws to a close

Witnesses for the defense in the Shura Council protest case testified before the Cairo Criminal Court on Thursday for the first time since their retrial began in late October. The testimonies contradicted the prosecution’s narrative presented in the last court session, as the witnesses questioned the legality of their arrests and accused security forces of committing flagrant violations.

High-profile activist Alaa Abd El Fattah and 23 others are being retried on charges of violating the Protest Law, assaulting a police officer and other charges stemming from a demonstration held in front of the Shura Council building in November 2013.

After the first trial, 25 defendants were found guilty on all counts in June and sentenced to 15 years in prison, as well as a LE100,000 fine. Lawyers successfully challenged the verdict and a retrial was granted, but Abd El Fattah and 19 co-defendants were remanded back into custody on October 27 for “preventative detention” as the retrial got underway.

In Thursday’s session, journalist Mai Saad testified that she was standing on the sidewalk when plain-clothed and uniformed police officers grabbed, beat and humiliated her in the course of her arrest.

The Protest Law stipulates that security personnel must be wearing uniforms when dispersing a protest.

Saad said she and other detainees were taken to the New Cairo police station, where they were again beaten for a significant period of time. The women were then separated from the other demonstrators, loaded into a truck that drove through the streets for several hours and finally abandoned in the desert.

Khaled Dawoud, a spokesperson for the Dostour Party, testified that all of the defendants in the case had been randomly arrested without any evidence that they had participated in violent or unlawful activities.

Furthermore, “according to the Protest Law, there should be gradual escalation of the dispersal process, which never happened during the dispersal of this protest,” Dawoud added.

The prosecution’s contention that protesters had blocked the main road was also untrue, journalist Eman Ouf testified. The demonstrators did not leave the sidewalk, she argued — security forces blocked the road themselves as they formed a cordon around the protesters.

“There wasn’t any appropriate time between the warning of police forces and the random arrests. I tried to run away, but the heavy tear gas and a police officer brought me back into the cordon. I saw a lot of protesters with torn clothes, a woman on the floor. As I attempted to rescue a journalist falling to the ground, we were both arrested. There were altercations between protesters and police due to humiliating women,” Ouf continued.

Ouf went on to corroborate Saad’s testimony regarding the arrest and subsequent treatment of the women detainees.

Activist Nazly Hussein, a member of the No to Military Trials campaign, also alleged that security forces sexually harassed women protesters during the dispersal.

“I was sexually harassed by police. They grabbed my pants,” she testified.

Gamila Ismail, a leading figure in the Dostour Party who helped to organize the protest, said that following the dispersal, she turned herself in at the police station, declaring she had called for the protest and demanding to be treated as a defendant.

However, her plea was never considered, Ismail contended.

“I was among those who called for the protest, and I demand, for the sake of achieving justice, to be detained with those jailed, till a final verdict is issued,” Ismail argued.

The session was adjourned until Sunday, December 14 to hear the remaining witnesses’ testimonies. After Sunday’s hearing, the judge is expected to set a date for closing arguments and to issue the final verdict.

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