Emergency court jails 22 in Egypt

Twenty-two people were sentenced on Monday by an emergency court in Egypt for their involvement in the violent protests of Mahalla, north of Cairo, in April 2008. The Emergency Supreme State Security Court (ESSSC), which was established under emergency law, flouts basic guarantees for a fair trial and denies defendants the right to appeal.

Monday’s prison sentences, which ranged from three to five years, are the first to be pronounced by the ESSSC since Egypt renewed the state of emergency in May 2008, invoking the threats of terrorism and instability in the region.

Tariq Mohamed Abdel Hafiz Al Sawi, Ali Ali Amin Abu Omar, Ahmed Kamel Ahmed Mohamed Ismail, and Karim Ahmed Al Sayed Al Rifa’y, aged between 19 and 38, and their lawyers told the judges that they had been tortured by State Security investigations (SSI) officers to confess. However, the ESSSC has failed to order an independent investigation and used their confessions to sentence them to three years imprisonment.

Amnesty International has called for all 22 people to be retried by an ordinary criminal court.

“Those sentenced are scapegoats used by the authorities to hide their inability to adequately handle the Mahalla protests and to cover up for their failure to investigate the killing of three people, including a 15-year-old-boy,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy programme Director.

The 22 people are among a group of 49 people tried for their alleged participation in the violent protests against the rise in the cost of living which took place on 6 and 7 April in the industrial city of Mahalla. At least three people, including schoolboy Ahmed Ali Mabrouk, died after being shot by security forces, while dozens were wounded in what appears to be excessive use of force during the protests.

Amnesty International has been calling for an investigation into the killings by riot police of Ahmed Ali Mabrouk, as well as two men, during the Mahalla protests. Such investigations are yet to take place.

Of the 22 people sentenced on Monday, 19, mostly craftsmen in their twenties, were given three years’ imprisonment on charges of theft. Ahmed El Sayed Al Dahan, a driver aged 24, and Mahmoud Abu Bakr El Shenawi, a carpenter aged 22, also received three-year prison terms on charges of possession of firearms. Ahmed Abdel Raouf Hassanein, a 40-year-old unemployed man, was sentenced to five years for assault on police officers and possession of arms.

The ESSSC in Tanta, north of Cairo, acquitted all 49 people of the charges of arson and unauthorized assembly “with the aim of disturbing public order and security”.

“We urge the Egyptian authorities to stop undermining the ordinary criminal justice system by using extraordinary emergency courts that entrench human rights abuses, including torture,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.