Egyptian pro-democracy activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was sentenced to 15 years in prison this week, along with 24 other activists, for organizing a protest without a permit. All 25 activists were convicted in absentia after being prohibited from entering the courtroom where their trial took place. In addition to jail time, they will face five years of probation and a LE100,000 (approximately EU 10,300) fine. The facts of Abd El Fattah’s case have been twisted by some and misinterpreted by others. Journalists and advocates close to Abd El Fattah prepared the following chronicle in order to set the facts straight.
November 28, 2013: Alaa is arrested and detained
Alaa Abd El Fattah was taken from his home and arrested under Egypt’s newly-approved Protest Law, for allegedly organizing a protest that took place before the Upper House of Parliament, known as the Shura Council, on November 26. Despite the fact that Abd El Fattah had issued a statement promising to turn himself in, a warrant was issued for his arrest by the public prosecutor.
The protest in question, which sought to reject the constitutional stipulations on the military trials of civilians, was organized by the “No to Military Trials of Civilians” group. Members of the group filed this information with the public prosecutor in order to claim responsibility for the event. Yet the prosecutor maintained his assertion and charged Abd El Fattah with organizing the protest, assaulting a police officer and stealing his walkie-talkie. The second and third charges issued allowed the prosecutor to refer the case to the nation’s criminal court, where decisions cannot be appealed.
December 4, 2013: Some defendants are released, others remain behind bars
Twenty-three defendants in the case were released, while Abd El Fattah remained in prison for four months, alongside Ahmad Abd El Rahman. Witnesses and other defendants have repeatedly confirmed that Abd El Rahman didn't participate in the protest, but was just passing by Qasr al-Aini street on his way back from work. He stopped to watch what was happening and when he saw a girl being arrested by a policeman, he tried to defend her. Yet he faces the same charges as the other defendants.
December 9, 2013: Abd El Fattah and Abd El Rahman referred to Egypt's Criminal Court
The case was referred to the Criminal Court. It took four months for the Court to set a hearing date for the case, during which time Abd El Fattah and Abd El Rahman remained in prison. Under Egyptian law, a defendant is typically only held in pre-trial detention if it is believed that he or she has tampered with evidence or threatened witnesses. There has been no indication that either defendant has engaged in this type of activity.
Abd El Fattah’s attorney sought to appeal his client’s detention in December of 2013, but this was denied.
The defendants’ lawyers in the Shura Council case demanded a withdrawal of the court's judges, a legal measure to avoid conflict of interest, since there is a direct dispute between the main judge Mohamed al-Feqy and Abd El Fattah and his lawyer Mohamed Ali Taha. Taha had filed a complaint with the Ministry of Justice in 2005 against Feqy for initiating fraudulent practices in the parliamentary elections. Abd El Fattah had protested in solidarity with Taha at the time, demanding that Feqy and other judges accused of fraud be placed under investigation. But the Court of Appeals rejected the demand for the judge’s withdrawal.
March 23, 2014: Both defendants are released on bail
Abd El Fattah was released from Tora Prison on bail after spending 115 days behind bars, along with Abd El Rahman.
June 11, 2014: Defendants are issued a guilty verdict in absentia
The defendants were told that Wednesday's case would be dedicated to hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence presented by the prosecutor against the defendants. But the judge issued his ruling in absentia in an early session, bypassing witnessing, a statement from prosecutor, and defense statements. Meanwhile, the defendants And El Fattah, Wael Metwally and Mohamed al-Nouby were present outside of the courtroom while the case was taking place. According to their families, the defendants were not allowed inside the court until the session was over. After the sentence was pronounced, they were arrested. The implications of a rule in absentia include handing a maximum sentence and facilitating the immediate arrest of defendants, most notably Abd El Fattah among them.
Speak out for Alaa Abd El Fattah
Tweet and follow the #FreeAlaa hashtag, join the multilingual Free Alaa Facebook group and use these images to join advocates calling for justice in Alaa’s case.
Recent Advox Coverage of Alaa Abd El Fattah
Egyptian Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah Released on Bail March 24, 2014
Award-Winning Egyptian Activists Receive One-Year Suspended Sentence January 10, 2014
Prison Flees: Reflections on Alaa, Activism, and Community January 9, 2014
On Alaa, Learning, and the Struggle January 9, 2014
Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah Arrested — Again November 29, 2013