Alaa Abdel Fattah imprisoned for five years under a colonial-era law repealed 89 years ago

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The undersigned human rights organizations call for the immediate release of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a pro-democracy activist who is appealing his five-year prison sentence on Thursday, October 19th at the Court of Cassation.  Following a trial replete with legal violations while devoid of due process guarantees, Alaa was sentenced using the colonial-era Assembly Law (no. 10/1914), unanimously repealed by the Egyptian Parliament 89 years ago.  The continued enforcement of the Assembly Law to imprison Alaa and thousands of others was documented in “Toward the Emancipation of Egypt”, a report published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS) earlier this year, prompting 32 public figures to file a lawsuit contesting the law’s application. The undersigned organizations demand the Court of Cassation uphold justice and the rule of law, rectify the egregious legal violations that led to the verdict rendered by the Terrorism Circuit, and release Alaa Abdel Fattah until his retrial in front of another court.

In February 2015, in a case known as the “Shura Council Trial,” the terrorism circuit of the South Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 pounds,  followed by another five years of probation. Alaa was convicted of organizing and participating in a demonstration with the intent of committing crimes against persons and property, using force and violence against the security forces, and organizing a demonstration without a permit. Only one of these charges – the organization of a demonstration without permit (punishable by a fine of up to 30,000 pounds)  – stemmed from the Protest Law (no. 107/2013).  The remainder and majority of the charges resulting in Alaa’s 5-year imprisonment all derived their legal justification from the Assembly Law – an obsolete law issued by the British colonial authorities during World War I.

Alaa was sentenced by a court in the judiciary’s Terrorism Circuit, created specifically as a tool to retaliate against political opponents. The appointment of the judges in these circuits is based on ambiguous criteria, neither objective nor geographical, allowing for the appointment of biased judges to issue rulings favorable to the state – in retaliation against human rights defenders and critics of government abuses. The majority of the circuit’s verdicts have been marred by severely disproportionate penalties and flagrant violations of due process, as evidenced by the Court of Cassation’s decisions to retry many of these cases.

From the outset of the trial, the court was clearly biased against Alaa and his co-defendants.   For example, the court manipulated the defense testimony from members of the “Committee of 50” (a constitutional drafting committee) into incriminating evidence for the prosecution. It held the demonstration in front of the Shura Council to be an attack on the state, specifically an attempt to force the Committee to censure the constitutional article allowing military trials for civilians – although the Committee itself had held an open hearing for persons to voice their opposition to the article.

The Egyptian state continues to imprison one of its most prominent pro-democracy activists, as well as thousands of other peaceful dissidents, using a repealed law originally passed by Egypt’s colonial oppressors over a century ago. Egypt’s Court of Cassation must act immediately to redress this historic injustice by rectifying the Cairo Criminal Court’s deliberate legal violations and releasing Alaa Abdel Fattah pending a retrial.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  2. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
  3. El Nadeem Center against Violence and Torture
  4. Andalus Center for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
  5. Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC)
  6. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (MARD)
  7. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
  8. Foundation for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
  9. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  10. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)