CAIRO – An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced three prominent human rights figures to several years in prison for spreading false news, in a high-profile case which suggests the government has not reduced its crackdown on dissent.
The State Security Emergency Correctional Court sentenced activist Alaa Abd El Fattah to five years in prison and human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, better known as name of Mohamed Oxygen, at four years each, the mother of Mr. Abd El Fattah, Leila Soueif, confirmed from the courtroom on Monday.
Local and international rights groups have described the charges as politically motivated. Verdicts are not subject to appeal. The government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, which took power in 2014, recently attempted to improve its human rights image, acknowledging that international criticism of its record is damaging its diplomatic position and interests economic. He announced a strategy to advance human rights over the next five years, but critics say there have been few signs of meaningful change – only a posture to divert attention from the crackdown into Classes.
The government lifted the four-year state of emergency, but gave the president and the security services powers that still give them carte blanche to quash protests and control the media. Authorities have released several prominent activists from prison, but thousands remain in jail and courts continue to hand down verdicts against others.
“So-called reforms, like the human rights strategy, are only meant for international consumption,” said Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International researcher on Egypt and Libya.
Egyptian authorities systematically challenge accusations of rights violations, which officials and pro-government media often present as part of a plot to overthrow the state. They argue that exceptional measures were needed to restore stability after the unrest that rocked the state following the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, an autocrat who ruled for 30 years.
Sisi’s government cites ensuring stability and security as crucial to reviving both the Egyptian economy and its international standing. Next year it is hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, and also plans to inaugurate a $ 60 billion administrative capital outside Cairo next year, which it hopes , will attract foreign investment.
After taking power, Mr Sisi, a former army general and defense minister, oversaw a brutal crackdown on civil rights, suppressing political opposition and public dissent, and using force to quell protests. Human rights groups say the crackdown has left hundreds dead and tens of thousands of people jailed.
In May, more than 30 countries, including the United States and its closest allies, issued a very critical statement calling on Egypt to allow activists, the media and others to speak out “without fear of death. ‘intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of retaliation.
The United States recently said it would withhold $ 130 million in military aid from Egypt until the human rights situation improves, a reversal of long-standing American policy.
Amr Magdi, Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch, described recent actions by Mr. Sisi’s government as “the money laundering efforts that Western governments, especially the Biden administration, needed to continue their activities as d ‘habit “.
In the case of the three activists convicted on Monday, Ms. Soueif described a very brief hearing in which the judge was absent and the defendants were held in a cell in the basement below the courtroom. “A court administrator came out and delivered the verdicts like this: ‘Alaa five, Baqer four, Oxygen four,'” she said in an interview.
They were among thousands of arrests in a rare wave of anti-government protests in 2019, sparked by allegations of corruption by a former military aide.
Mr. Abd El Fattah, a software engineer who has become one of the best-known faces of the uprising of 2011, has spent much of the past 10 years in prison.
He was arrested in September 2019 at a police station, where he spent his nights as part of his parole after serving a five-year sentence for illegal protest, according to his lawyers and family.
Mr. el-Baqer was arrested the same day while attempting to observe the investigation into Mr. Abd El Fattah. Mr. Ibrahim has spent much of the past four years in pre-trial detention on various cases. Earlier this year, his lawyers said he attempted suicide after months of no prison visitation.
Mr. Abd El Fattah’s younger sister, Sanaa, also an activist, is currently serving an 18-month sentence for spreading false news and insulting a police officer.
Human rights groups say Egypt’s use of emergency courts, whose verdicts cannot be appealed, and pre-trial detention undermines the country’s claims to respect human rights.
A statement from 10 human rights groups denounced Monday “the continued use of these exceptional courts to settle scores with human rights activists.”
Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, one of the country’s largest human rights groups, said: “Even by the standards of Egypt today, this trial was a travesty of justice. Mr Bahgat himself was recently convicted of disseminating false news and ordered by a court to pay a fine.