Human rights lawyer latest victim of Egypt’s repressive protest law

The conviction of a human rights lawyer jailed for taking part in a peaceful protest must be overturned, said Amnesty International ahead of an appeal hearing in the case on Saturday 28 June.

Mahinour El-Masry, who is well known in Egypt for her political activism and human rights work, was sentenced to two years in prison last month after she participated in a protest last December. The protest was peaceful, but some of the demonstrators turned to violence after police forcibly dispersed the assembly.

“There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Mahinour El-Masry was involved in violence against the security forces. Her case is just the latest in a series of examples of the Egyptian authorities’ systematic attempts to stifle dissent, including by using the repressive protest law enacted last November,” said Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Mahinour El-Masry is a prisoner of conscience, convicted and sentenced solely for protesting peacefully. She should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Mahinour El-Masry was convicted in her absence in January by the Alexandria Misdemeanour Court to two years in prison, a verdict that was upheld on appeal in February. The verdict was overturned after she challenged the rulings made in her absence and a retrial ordered. She was then sentenced on 20 May 2014 by the Alexandria Misdemeanour Court to two years in prison and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately US$7,000) on charges of participating in an unauthorized demonstration and assaulting security forces.

Amnesty International has reviewed video footage and photographs of the protest and spoken to other participants and a local human rights organization and has concluded that she was not involved in the violence.

On 2 December 2013, protesters demonstrated outside the Alexandria Criminal Court as it was retrying two police officers accused of killing Khaled Said, a young man who died in June 2010 after being publicly beaten by police officers. Security forces broke up the demonstration using a water cannon and tear gas, and arrested a number of protesters and at least one bystander. A member of the security forces was also photographed striking one of the protesters with a baton. Some at the scene then clashed with the security forces, hurling rocks and other objects at them.

The Alexandria Misdemeanour Court sentenced four other jailed protesters, arrested during the protest, to two years in prison last January on charges of protesting without authorization and assaulting the security forces. They included poet Omar Hazek and student Islam Hasanien, who lawyers and protesters say had not taken part in the demonstration. As in Mahinour El-Masry’s case, their verdicts were upheld in their absence on appeal in February.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Egyptian authorities to repeal the protest law. Since the law came into force in November 2013, security forces have arrested dozens of protesters for taking part in unauthorized demonstrations. Many have faced criminal prosecution.

“The protest law allows the Egyptian authorities to ban demonstrations at their discretion and gives security forces a free rein to use force, including firearms, against peaceful protesters – a blatant violation of international law. It sends a clear message that there is no space in Egypt today for activism that is not directly sanctioned by the state,” said Phil Luther.

On 21 June, 23 people were detained in Cairo following a march against the protest law. Among those arrested was Yara Sallam, a women’s rights activist and human rights defender who works for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Sanaa Seif, an activist and the sister of the imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, was also arrested. Both women are prisoners of conscience and should therefore be immediately and unconditionally released.