Prison sentences issued on Saturday against more than 100 young detainees on charges of protesting on 25 April against the Egypt-Saudi maritime border agreement raised public doubts on the legitimacy of their trials and the process.
A number of media figures and political parties, in addition to lawyers who worked on the cases, expressed fury at the speedy trials which resulted in prison sentences ranging from two to five years against the young people.
Ragia Omran, member of the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), explained on Sunday that the judges issued the verdicts in a very short period of time, which leads to questions as to whether the verdicts were just.
Omran, who participated in the defence teams of the defendants in both Al-Dokki and Agouza protest cases, told Daily News Egypt on Sunday that a single judge assigned to the two cases “hardly had time to contemplate the pleadings and evidence”.
“At least 50 lawyers presented their agreements to the court for more than six hours, provided more than 60 documents, but the judge adjourned the session for deliberation which took him exactly 10 minutes. Logically speaking, I do not believe the judge could have possibly absorbed all that information. It’s not humanly possible,” Omran commented.
Additionally, Omran stated that in mass or group trials, the defendants legal statuses cannot be exactly the same, depending on the circumstances of arrests and the investigations conducted regarding each individual.
“Several lawyers presented documents to the court claiming their defendants had not been participating in the protests during the security raid but were actually passing by, but the judge ignored such disparities and incorrectly treated all defendants equally,” according to Omran.
The facts of the case described by Omran pushed her to conclude that the judge did not take time to reflect on the cases, giving the impression that he had “an already established decision” in mind, regardless of the case’s details. “Yet, he heard all lawyers so as to avoid accusations of not letting us speak,” she added.
Rights lawyer Abdelrahman Khogaly also told Daily News Egypt on Sunday that more than 60 lawyers representing the defendants in the two cases delivered arguments and notes over six hours, but it all rang hollow to the judge.
“It was impossible to think that the judge will issue a verdict after all the arguments made, requests and notes submitted. There were no exhibits or witnesses,” the lawyer who works for Nazra for Feminist Studies said.
The judge presiding over two cases issued different verdicts on almost identical cases. “There is no logic in that either,” the lawyer said.
Regarding the fines the judge ordered in the case, the lawyer said the judge is entitled by law to order fines between EGP 50,000 and EGP 100,000 according to the Protest Law. However the verdicts generally can be reduced or annulled following an appeal.
Among the sentenced defendants by Qasr Al-Nil Misdemeanour Court was photojournalist Ali Abdeen. His newspaper Al-Fagr accounted for him being on duty and covering the protests on 25 April.
Abdeen was charged, along with the rest of defendants, with rioting, illegal demonstrating, and incitement against state institutions.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (AHRI) denounced the sentencing of Abdeen, announcing solidarity with the journalist and calling for his release along with other journalists detained for doing their work.
“How could the court issue a verdict against photojournalist Ali Abdeen despite his newspaper’s testimony that he was doing his work,” ANHRI’s statement wondered.
Similarly, MP Anwar Sadat who heads the parliamentary committee for human rights denounced the speedy trials which resulted in jail sentences issued against young people.
“The trials barely took 20 days while we have had many cases that take up to years without any conclusion. Also, we see people who were given final verdicts free to travel and other cases where authorities are not so keen to apply the law on people facing arrest warrants,” Sadat said in a Sunday press statement.
“This undermines the trust in the judiciary, which is supposed to be one of the pillars of the state. If we reach a point where the judicial system is discredited then we are on the verge of chaos,” Sadat added.
Expressing solidarity with the young detainees, Sadat sent them a message in which he said they were the “pride of the nation” and the verdicts issued against them are “honours” for their patriotism and care about the interests of the nation.
Sadat further argued that the young people expressed their opinion peacefully and refrained from using violence, referring to the constitutional right to protest and the right to a space for freedom of expression.
A few political parties also denounced the trials which took place on Saturday. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) issued a press release Sunday critcising the verdicts.
“What happened slams all meaning of democracy and human rights and contradicts what the regime claimed about empowering the youth and that 2016 would be the year of the youth. In fact, this year has so far witnessed the imprisonment of young people and their harassment through security abuses destroying the future of this nation,” the statement read.
Moreover, Medhat El-Zahed, leader of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) said he was shocked by the harsh verdicts issued against young men and women, who spoke out of defence of their country.
“The state is brutally pursuing anybody who opposes the maritime borders agreement including those in the media who portray an opposing opinion,” El-Zahed stated.
As so, El-Zahed warned of the repercussions of such practices, especially in widening the gap between the young and the state, building up anger and turning to violence due to the obstruction of peaceful channels for expression.
The criticism of the trials was also shared by pro-state media figures such as TV hosts Lamees El-Hadidy and Ramy Radwan who both highlighted the absurdity of the trials while law reinforcement is unequally applied to all citizens.
“According to what logic were the young people sentenced because of protesting regardless of the reason for the protest while none of the police conscripts in Sharqeya were touched when they protested and broke into the police station?” Radwan posted Sunday to his Facebook, suggesting the regime is “schizophrenic”.
“Those who haven’t been in detention but were sentenced in absentia now risk arrest based on prosecution warrants to carry out prison sentences,” Omran said.
On Saturday, the Dokki and Agouza Misdemeanour Court sentenced 101 defendants, who were arrested in Cairo during anti-government demonstrations on 25 April, to five years in prison over illegal protesting while 79 of them were also fined EGP 100,000.
Additionally, Qasr Al-Nil Misdemeanour Court on Saturday sentenced 51 defendants who were arrested in Cairo during anti-government demonstrations on 25 April to two years in prison for unlicensed protesting.