One year behind bars: release Egyptian human rights lawyer Yara Sallam
Today, one year on from the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer Yara Sallam and 22 peaceful demonstrators, the ICJ calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
On 21 June 2014, Yara Sallam, together with award winning human rights defender Sanaa Seif and 21 others, was arrested and detained in the context of a peaceful demonstration in Heliopolis, Cairo.
The demonstrators were calling for the revocation of Law No. 107 of 2013, on public meetings, processions and protests, and the release of all those detained under it. It was forcibly dispersed by security forces and men in civilian clothes.
The ICJ has previously noted that this law is contrary to Egypt’s obligations under international law. It imposes overly restrictive limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and it grants sweeping powers to security forces to disperse non-violent protests, including authorizing the use of lethal force when it is not strictly necessary to protect lives.
On 26 October 2014, the 23 accused were convicted by the Heliopolis Misdemeanour court and sentenced to three years in prison and three years of police monitoring on charges of, among other things, “participating in a procession of more than five people that put public safety in danger with the aim of committing the crimes of assault on people and property and influencing public authorities in their duties by using force and violence.”
Two months later, the Court of Appeal upheld the convictions, while reducing the sentence to two years imprisonment and two years of police monitoring. A challenge before the Court of Cassation is pending.
The trial of the 23 defendants violated their rights to a fair and public hearing under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a key human rights treaty ratified by Egypt in 1982. Their lawyers were prevented from cross-examining witnesses. Members of the public, including family members, were prohibited from entering the courtroom, without any valid reason.
Further, based on its review of the case file and court judgments, the ICJ is also concerned that both courts convicted the accused in the absence of any substantial or credible evidence of the guilt of any of the 23 defendants, and without seeking to establish the personal criminal responsibility of each individual accused.
“The Egyptian authorities must end their campaign to silence human rights defenders and all those suspected of opposing the military and the government through politically motivated prosecutions and trials. To this end, they must immediately and unconditionally release Yara Sallam and the 22 other detainees,” said Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
The content has been published via ICJ Middle East and North Africa