Amnesty International has called on Egypt to halt criminal cases against government critics that are “politically motivated” and “based on unreliable witnesses and scant evidence”.
In a statement released on Friday, the global human rights watchdog condemned the upcoming 5 January verdict against 12 people accused of vandalising and setting fire to the campaign headquarters former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq on 28 May 2012.
The accused include well-known blogger and activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Abdel-Fattah’s sister and co-founder of the “No Military Trials” group Mona Seif, and prominent 6 April member Ahmed Abdallah.
“The Egyptian authorities must not use Sunday’s verdict to punish activists who oppose them,” said Acting Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme Said Boumedouha. “There are reasons to believe the trial is politically motivated. All three activists have denied they were present at the scene and evidence against them is questionable.”
Charges against the defendants include arson, theft, damaging property, using violence and endangering public safety during an attack on Shafiq’s campaign office during the second round of the 2012 presidential elections.
During the trial the prosecution relied highly on circumstantial evidence, including eyewitness reports from the head of police investigations and six known criminals, some of whom are facing pending charges, said Amnesty International.
Only one witness appeared in court despite the defence’s request to cross examine the other six. The witness placed Abdel-Fattah at the Shafiq headquarters, but did not see him committing violence or in possession of a weapon.
The prosecution was unable to provide any audiovisual evidence against the defendants.
“The authorities must not resort to judicial harassment to crush dissent. A conviction that is not based on independent, impartial and adequate investigations and reliable evidence would be unfair. It could also be perceived as aimed at preventing the three activists from carrying out their political and human rights work,” said Boumedouha.
Egyptian authorities have increasingly been accused of using the court system to crack down on voices of dissents in the country.
On Thursday an Alexandria Misdemeanour Court sentenced nine activists—including Mahienour El-Massry and Hassan Mustafa—to two years in prison and an EGP 50,000 fine for violating the newly-issued and highly controversial Protest Law. The sentenced are accused of taking part in a protest organised in solidarity with torture victim Khaled Said outside the Alexandria Criminal Court on 2 December. The protest was scheduled to take place during the trial of two former police officers charged with torturing and killing Said.
On 22 December, 6 April Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher, member of the group’s political bureau Mohamed Adel, and prominent activist Ahmed Douma were each sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour and fined EGP 50,000 for violating the country’s recently-passed law limiting public protests.
Three members of Al Jazeera’s Cairo news team were arrested on 29 December facing charges of joining a terrorist organisation, publishing false news harming national security, terrorising people and harming the people’s general benefit and possessing broadcast equipment without licence. The trio’s arrest and subsequent detention has been the subject of condemnation by governments and rights groups around the world.