Egypt must release three activists jailed under repressive new protest law

Egypt must overturn the convictions of three government critics sentenced to three years in jail for taking part in an “unauthorized” protest and immediately and unconditionally release them, Amnesty International said ahead of the prisoners’ appeal verdict.

Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, both activists with the 6 April Youth Movement, and well-known blogger Ahmed Douma are the first Egyptians to be given jail terms for defying the country’s repressive protest law, adopted in November last year.

The appeal court is expected to issue its final verdict on the activists’ three-year sentence on Monday.

“Jailing government critics on trumped-up charges or for breaching the repressive protest law is part of the authorities’ ploy to silence dissenting voices and tighten their grip on the country,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Amnesty International.

“All three activists are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. As such, they must be released immediately and unconditionally.” 

The three activists were convicted of protesting without permission and “attacking” security forces outside Abdeen Misdemeanour Court on 30 November 2013. This is despite the fact that Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Douma were said to be inside the court at the time of the demonstration, while Adel was seen by witnesses trying to calm protestors outside the court.

Under Egypt’s new protest law, approved by interim president Adly Mansour in November 2013, protest organizers must submit their plans to the authorities three days in advance. 

The law also grants the authorities sweeping powers, including the ability to cancel or reroute proposed demonstrations and to disperse unauthorized peaceful protests using unnecessary and excessive force, including firearms.

“It is a depressing sign that in Egypt, where in 2011 mass protests were the driving force for change, prominent activists are now being thrown behind bars merely for taking part in demonstrations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The three men said they were beaten by security officials during their appeal hearing last month, with Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma showing marks of beatings on their hands, legs and stomach. Mohamed Adel also told his lawyers he was beaten during his arrest and while being held in an unknown location for at least four days following his arrest. 

“The Egyptian authorities must investigate the beatings alleged to have taken place inside the court and during arrest and detention and bring those responsible to justice,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“The increasing reports of torture and other ill-treatment inside Egyptian police stations and prisons are deeply disturbing.”

Scuffles broke out outside the Abdeen court on 30 November when Ahmed Maher turned himself in to the Public Prosecutor, who had ordered his arrest for participating in an earlier unauthorized protest on 27 November outside the Shura Council, of which he was later cleared.

The security forces guarding the court fired tear gas at a group of Ahmed Maher’s supporters who were staging a protest.

According to eyewitnesses and lawyers, Ahmed Maher – accompanied by Ahmed Douma – was inside the court being questioned at the time of the clashes.

Lawyers also said there is no evidence that Mohamed Adel attacked officials. Videos screened during the trial instead show him helping a police officer who was suffering from the effects of tear gas. 

Another police officer testified during the trial that Mohamed Adel had been trying to calm protesters and did not take part in the violence.

The three activists were convicted in December and sentenced to three years in prison with labour and a fine of LE50,000 (US$7,185).