The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is shocked and outraged by the sentence against its transitional justice officer, Yara Sallam, and 22 of her co-defendants to three years in prison for allegedly participating in a political march.
The charges were largely based on the infamous protest law- a draconian legislation that infringes on Egyptians’ constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression thus allowing for the imprisonment of thousands of suspected political dissenters from across the political spectrum. The sentence comes amid escalating measures by the government that are effectively shutting down democratic means for citizens to voice grievances.
In recent months, trials of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and journalists have been marred by absolute disregard for due process rights and reliance on dubious evidence – frequently limited to police or other security services' reports and extending at times to include anything from private family pictures to popular music videos.
EIPR believes that Ms. Sallam’s indictment and conviction are linked to her human rights work. On the night of her arrest, Ms. Sallam was repeatedly questioned on the nature of her work with EIPR and the organization's management. Her cousin - arrested with her - was released hours later without charge.
Despite the lack of any credible evidence, on October 26, the Heliopolis Misdemeanor Court, held at the Tora Police Institute, sentenced all defendants to three years in prison, an additional three years of probation, and an LE 10,000 fine for breaching the repressive protest law and other trumped-up charges including damaging property and “displaying force”. The charges relate to a political demonstration on June 21, which was forcibly dispersed by security forces aided by unknown assailants in civilian attire.
Since the trial commenced on June 29, the court insisted on keeping Ms. Sallam and her co-defendants in pretrial detention without grounds or justification –a practice that is now routinely used as a punitive measure against political prisoners while awaiting trials thus sending a chilling message that no criticism of the government will be tolerated.
The Heliopolis court disregarded inconsistencies in police reports and the lack of physical evidence and any credible witness testimony. Audiovisual material presented by the prosecution provided no evidence of defendants' engagement in any violent acts. In fact, the court failed to identify Ms. Sallam or any of the defendants in the videos. Further, the court ignored defense's pleadings on the unconstitutionality of the protest law, irregularities in the initial questioning of the defendants, and evidence of violence meted out by security forces and their supporters against the protesters. Defense plans to appeal the ruling.
EIPR fears that all those convicted today were either targeted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly or were bystanders picked-up randomly in the vicinity of the dispersed protest. EIPR hopes that on appeal, the court will rule based on the merit of the case remedying today's highly questionable decision.
EIPR has repeatedly called on the government to repeal or amend the protest law (Law number 107 of 2013) and other legislation severely limiting the right to freedom of assembly and in practice used to clampdown on dissent. So far, all such demands have gone unheeded.