US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday the Obama administration is “deeply troubled” by recent sentences handed to political activists in Egypt.
Recent court rulings in Cairo have seen activists charged with breaking the controversial Protest Law passed by the interim government led by Adly Mansour in 2013.
“We are deeply troubled by the harsh prison sentence issued [Sunday] against 23 Egyptians for organising an unauthorised protest,” Psaki said, adding that the activists are able to appeal the ruling. “The defendants were sentenced to three years in prison under Egypt’s highly restrictive demonstration law.”
Psaki’s comments refer to a number of political activists who staged a demonstration in June near the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis. They were protesting against the Protest Law which criminalises protests, marches or gatherings that do not receive prior Ministry of Interior approval.
The activists have been in prison since their arrest in June, and include Sanaa Seif, sister of renowned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and Yara Sallam, a lawyer, former Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher, and award-winning human rights activist.
“Our concern extends to the reports about Mr. [Alaa] Abdel Fattah, whose sentence, which was eventually vacated, we have previously commented on,” Psaki added, referencing the imprisonment of another renowned activist.
Abdel Fattah was ordered into preventative detention Monday along with 21 other defendants also charged with violating the Protest Law.
“We urge Egypt’s leadership to quickly complete its review of the demonstration law and to release an amended version that will enable full freedom of expression and association,” Psaki said.
After Sunday and Monday’s rulings that placed the two cases’ 45 activists in prison, Leila Seif, founder of the 9 March movement and mother of Alaa Abdel Fattah and Sanaa Seif, and her daughter Mona Seif joined a number of the defendants in a full hunger strike (without food or water) and informed the prosecutor of their strike.
Mona and Leila have been on a partial hunger strike for 54 days protesting the activists’ ongoing detention as well as opposition to the Protest Law.
Alaa Abdel Fattah, one of the most prominent faces of the 25 January Revolution, has been imprisoned under every government from Hosni Mubarak to Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. This is the third time he has been sent to prison under the Al-Sisi government.