Thirty two Tourah Cement Company workers were sentenced to three years in prison by the Maadi Misdemeanors Court on Sunday. They were arrested after security forces broke up a sit-in at the company in May.
The workers faced charges of assaulting a police captain, obstructing justice and using violence to resist authorities. All defendants are currently being held in at the 15th of May prison.
According to lawyer Haitham Mohamedein the defense team will appeal against Sunday’s verdict within 10 days of the verdict.
He told Mada Masr that although the trial was held before justices from the Maadi Misdemeanors Court, they convened at the Tourah Police Academy. The trial, which took place over two sessions was initially scheduled for May 28, however it was adjourned until Saturday after police personnel failed to transport the defendants to the trial.
“The workers’ families and friends were not allowed to attend these trial, and there were no journalists present during,” he added.
They were arrested after staging a sit-in in March that lasted several weeks before it was forcefully dispersed by security forces on May 22. Seventy five security personnel initiated the protest to demand full-time contracts and the retroactive payment of wages as some have worked full-time at the company for up to 15 years on temporary or part-time contracts.
Mohamedein criticized the court for issuing the harshest penalties against the protesting workers. He told Mada Masr last week that the charges are trumped-up and baseless, adding that “the Interior Ministry appears to have decided that it wants to extend the legal proceedings.”
The workers’ defense team and media reports claim that the judge presiding over this trial condemned them for initiating the sit-in, even before the conclusion of the court’s hearings. “A judge should only express their decision while issuing a verdict,” Mohamedein told Mada Masr.
The judge is also reported to have claimed that labor strikes are criminal, despite the fact the none of the charges were related to striking as there had been no work stoppages or slowdowns, and even though Article 15 of the Constitution safeguards the right to strike.
A petition protesting the workers arrests has been endorsed by 12 labor unions, political parties and groups and over 250 individuals. It claims that the detainees were physically abused, treated in a degrading manner and had their personal belongings stolen while in custody.
A worker who had been protesting at the company told Mada Masr last week, on condition of anonymity, that four of the detained workers had been hospitalized. They could not confirm the exact reasons for this, “as we have not been able to speak directly with our detained coworkers since their arrests, and because they were not brought to their court session.”
Mohamedein said that the workers had been “entirely peaceful and nonviolent” and, responding to accusations that they assaulted an officer, he explained that no medical report had been filed or evidence filed.
The protest followed the company’s refusal to compensate the family of a security guard who was killed during an altercation with people thought to be stealing property from company grounds. The company board claimed the deceased security guard was not entitled to any compensation or insurance because he was a part-time employee.
The board’s claim flouted a previous court verdict. In May last year, the workers filed a lawsuit against the company before the Appeals Court, which ruled that they were entitled to the company’s profit-sharing scheme, healthcare and other employment rights.
The recent crackdown on labor-related protests in Egypt has seen security forces break up several sit-ins and protesting workers stand trial. In April police arrested 16 protesting Telecom Egypt workers and December 2016 saw security break up sit-ins at two of billionaire Nassif Sawiris’ companies. In an ongoing case 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company workers are currently standing military trial, accused of inciting workers to strike. The trial has been adjourned 12 times, and is currently scheduled to take place on June 20.
Update: This article has been updated to include recent comments from lawyer Haitham Mohamedein.