Judges in the Aswan Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court recused themselves from presiding over the Nubian activists case on Tuesday, due to suspected issues of impartiality, lawyer Ahmed Rizq told Mada Masr.
The judges said they “sensed discomfort” during the Tuesday court session, although they did not clarify the reasons behind this sentiment. Cited in previous cases, this phrasing is often presumed to imply there was an issue of impartiality affecting the capacity of the judges to preside over the trial.
The case was referred to the head of the court, who will likely determine a different court makeup for the trial. This is conventional procedure in similar cases.
The case dates back to September 2017, when a group of Nubian activists staged a march, dubbed “The Day of Nubian Assembly.” The activists gathered at a singing march to call for the implementation of Article 236 of the Constitution, which grants Nubians the right to return to their ancestral lands. Police arrested 24 protesters, in addition to another activist who was arrested later as he attempted to visit those in detention.
The following month, detained Nubian activist Gamal Sorour joined eight other Nubian detainees on hunger strike, after an Aswan court renewed their detention for an additional 15 days. A few hours later, Sorour went into a sugar coma and died. His death spurred other Nubian activists to protest in the days that followed, when eight of them were arrested and added as defendants in the case.
The defendants saw their pre-trial detention renewed until mid-November last year, when the court ordered their release ahead of the trial.
During the course of the trial, the defense team argued that the prime minister’s decision to refer the case to an emergency court on October 12 last year was unconstitutional, as the decision was issued one day before the state of emergency was declared in Egypt, Rizq told Mada Masr in December 2017.
Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) issued a statement on Monday condemning the Nubian activists’ trial and demanding that their charges be dropped. The signatories also called for “a presidential decree returning the Nubians to their villages along the banks of Lake Nasser, from Al-Shalal in the north, to the Egypt-Sudan border in the south, and compensating them for damages as a result of their forced displacement.”
The statement was signed by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Al-Nadeem Center against Violence and Torture, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Adalah Center for Rights and Liberties, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the Arab Organization for Penal Reform and the Egyptian Center for Rights and Freedoms.
In their Monday statement, the rights organizations also demanded the creation of a state body dedicated to the development of lake Nasser, in line with constitutional stipulations.
Article 236 of the Constitution states that, “the state shall work on developing and implementing projects to return the residents of Nubia to their native areas, and develop them within 10 years as regulated by the law.”
“We further call on the Egyptian state to stop viewing and misrepresenting Nubian activism as separatist or a security threat; and immediately bring the prosecution, maltreatment, and intimidation of Nubian activists to an end,” read the NGOs’ Monday statement.