After the Rabea verdict: How the state’s claim for millions in damages has kept Shawkan, 214 others in prison

After protracted legal proceedings since 2013, the trial of 734 people in the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in dispersal case, which sought to convict pro-Brotherhood demonstrators and hundreds of others on an array of charges en masse, ended three months ago. The final verdict sentenced 75 people to death, 47 people to life imprisonment, 374 people to 15 years in prison and 215 people to five years in prison, including freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, popularly known as Shawkan.

The five-year term that Shawkan and 214 others were sentenced to, however, had already elapsed by the time the verdict was issued in September, given that they have spent more than five years in remand detention — far beyond the two-year maximum stipulated by law — while the case was being tried. While lawyers and rights advocates alike demand their immediate release, they continue to be held in prison, with only vague assessments on how much longer they will remain behind bars.

In conjunction with the prison terms, lawyer Taher Abul Nasr explains to Mada Masr that all of the defendants in the case have been handed a joint sentence in which they have been ordered to pay financial compensation for damages incurred during the protest and its violent dispersal — an astronomical sum estimated to be in the tens of millions of pounds. The 1,456-page judgement on the case outlines that this figure includes damages to private and public properties, as well as a variety of vehicles belonging to security forces.

However, the prosecution has moved for the continued imprisonment of those due for release in lieu of financial compensation — a decision that is automatic by law, Abul Nasr says, because the court has yet to settle on a final figure, and has assumed that, no matter its exact determination, those convicted will be unable to collectively gather the required amount for payment. Given the magnitude of the damages alleged, he says, prosecutors have not seriously considered looking into the possibility of financial remuneration, because doing so would also entail returning to extensive case files.

In cases where imprisonment substitutes compensation due to an inability to reimburse the required amount monetarily, Egyptian law stipulates that the duration of detention ought be either three or six months, Abul Nasr states. He adds that none of the defense lawyers has knowledge of the actual period of imprisonment decided upon for this particular case.

Al-Shorouk newspaper reported on Tuesday that it has obtained a legal document stating that, instead of compensation, an additional 6-month sentence has been handed to those convicted in the case, which should end on February 16, 2019.

A comparison with a similar sentence might serve to shed light on the enormity of the potential final figure in question — in January, the Giza Criminal Court ordered defendants in the Nahda Square sit-in dispersal case to repay damages that amounted to nearly LE40 million. Protests in Nahda, however, were smaller in scale than those that took place in Rabea al-Adaweya Square, which saw a greater loss of lives, as well as more extensive material damages during its dispersal.

Some of the figures parsed out in the Rabea dispersal case judgment are based on witness testimonies and their personal estimates of the value of the damages incurred. Of the range of testimonies gathered, some come from individuals who are employed by public institutions or those who owned private properties that they alleged were damaged during the protest and dispersal.

A week after the dispersal in 2013, the Cairo governor said in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that the cost of restoring the streets and sidewalks around Rabea al-Adaweya Square alone would run up to approximately LE85 million. However, this quote was not included in the case files.

Without specifying amounts, the case files identified public damages as those that were made to the Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque and its adjacent event hall, Rabea al-Adaweya Hospital, the General Directorate of Traffic, Nasr City Secondary School, Abdel Aziz Gawish School and the Al-Azhar University housing administration. The figure also included damages to the lamp-posts, gardens and infrastructure of Rabea al-Adaweya Square and the streets adjacent to it, as well as to two armored vehicles and 42 police vehicles.

In terms of public property, a range of figures are cited in the judgment, including compensation for the clean-up following the dispersal. The General Authority for the Cleanliness and Beautification of Cairo stated that the cost of removing waste and tents after the sit-in exceeded LE300,000, and alleged that the protest and the dispersal led to damage to plants, trees and grass worth LE1,257,000. This amount does not include the cost of re-planting trees, which was estimated to be LE398,000 in Nasr Street, LE66,000 in Abbass Street and LE87,000 in Tayaran Street.

The Public Transport Authority also has claimed a share in compensation for damages. The head of the authority told the court, as cited in its judgment, that the sit-in and its dispersal led to damage to bus stops costing LE935,000. Additional to this is the revenue that the authority claims to have lost as a result of the sit-in, which it said amounted to LE14 million.

A look into the approximated value of private damages in the case judgement reveals a number of testimonies no less astonishing. Among them is the testimony of a private citizen who informed the court that he “went to the dispersal after a family dispute with his mother,” and claimed that the damages he was subjected to were the result of theft, accusing protesters of stealing LE50 from him.

The owner of a kiosk in Rabea al-Adaweya Square accused Muslim Brotherhood figures and protest leaders of damaging his kiosk, estimating the costs to be LE100,000. Meanwhile, the owner of a flower shop located in the square alleged that items stolen from his store amounted to half a million pounds.

The Rabea sit-in dispersal case dates back to the events of August 14, 2013, when police troops supported by military forces were deployed to forcefully disperse tens of thousands of protestors expressing support for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated former President Mohamed Morsi at Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda squares. The violent dispersal left 607 protesters and eight police officers dead, according to figures published by the June 30 fact-finding committee established by interim President Adly Mansour, although other organizations have presented significantly higher figures.  


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