Egypt: Activist faces jail sentence on bogus charges

A recent one-year prison sentence handed down against a prominent opposition activist in Egypt is the latest attempt by the government to silence criticism, Amnesty International said today while calling for the conviction to be quashed and for him to be released.

On 15 June, an Alexandria appeals court upheld the conviction against Hassan Mostafa for insulting and attacking a public prosecutor but lowered his sentence from two years in prison to one year with labour.

Mostafa, who denies the accusations against him, was not brought to the hearing on Saturday.

“The conviction against Hassan Mostafa is the latest blow to freedom of expression in Egypt, where we see case after case of opposition activists, bloggers, comedians and protesters facing trial for criticizing the authorities or ‘defaming religion’,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

On 21 January this year, Hassan Mostafa had gone to the Manshiya Prosecution office in Alexandria with a group of lawyers to inquire about the whereabouts of dozens of protesters and passers-by who had been arrested a day earlier.

He was arrested later that day inside the adjacent Alexandria Court complex and charged.

At his first appeal hearing on 4 May – which an Amnesty International delegate attended – defence witnesses testified that, while a verbal altercation did occur inside the Manshiya Prosecution office between the two, Mostafa did not slap or otherwise physically assault the public prosecutor.

At the next appeal hearing on 18 May, two prosecution witnesses also said Mostafa did not slap the public prosecutor.

Only one prosecution witness claimed to have seen the activist slapping the public prosecutor on the right cheek. However, the medical report presented by the prosecution alleged the redness was on the plaintiff’s left cheek.

This was not the first time Mostafa faced detention in relation to his activism. In April 2010, he was detained during a protest demanding the end of emergency laws, which the then-President Hosni Mubarak had kept in place for decades.

“We fear that Hassan Mostafa was falsely charged with assaulting the prosecutor to punish him for his activism,” said Hadj Sahraoui. “The conviction should be quashed and he should be released.”

Hassan Mostafa’s relatives and lawyers said they fear that additional charges are likely to be brought against him in relation to his participation in another protest on 15 January 2013, in an apparent attempt to keep him imprisoned for longer.

Amnesty International has documented several cases of harassment against activists and others seen to be opposed to the government in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood.

On 3 June, opposition activist Ahmed Douma was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for “insulting the President” and “spreading rumours disturbing national security and harming public interest”.

The case is based on a telephone call Douma made to a television programme, in which he called President Mohamed Morsi a “killer” in relation to the deaths of opposition protesters.

Douma was not released on bail pending appeal as expected, as he is facing charges in a separate case.

He and 11 other opposition activists, including  Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Nowara Negm, have been charged in connection with their suspected involvement in violence that took place near the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement behind the ruling Freedom and Justice Party.