Trial Observation Report Concludes: Alaa Abdel Fattah’s Right to Fair Trial is Violated

Egypt, Fair Trial, Freedom of Speech, Independence of the Judiciary, Report, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Solidarity with Human Rights Defenders, Statement, Trial Monitoring

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Full report available here

In a trial observation report published by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Networks (EMHRN) today, international human rights lawyers from Solicitors’ International Human Rights Group (SIHRG) concluded that Egyptian human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah’s right to a fair trial, as guaranteed by international law, has been breached. The EMHRN report provides an in-depth analysis of the numerous fair trial standards that have been violated to date, some of which are outlined below, and recommends the continued observation of his trial.

The EMHRN strongly condemns the lack of respect for fair trial standards in Egypt. We are particularly concerned over the blatant lack of independence of the country´s judiciary, which is increasingly instrumentalised to crack down on dissents, particularly on human rights activists and protesters. The trial of Alaa Abdel Fattah, sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges under Egypt´s controversial Protest Law, is a case in point.

Since its adoption in November 2013, Egypt’s draconian Protest Law has been used to unleash a wave of politically-motivated judicial procedures against dissenting voices, allowing for collective responsibility and disproportionate punishment. The outrageously excessive sentence levelled against Abdel Fattah and his other 24 co-defendants is a shameless example of this practice and illustrates the utter failure of the Egyptian judiciary to secure its independence and establish a judicial culture of fair trial and respect for human rights.

On 28 November 2013, Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others were arrested in relation to a demonstration against civilian trials before military courts organised in front of the Shura Council two days earlier. He was beaten and ill-treated both during his arrest and detention.

On 4 December 2013, 23 of those arrested were released on bail. On 15 March, the case was referred to the Special Chamber of the Criminal Court at Tora Police Academy. On 23 March 2014 Alaa Abdel Fattah’s application for bail was heard, and he was released after nearly four months in prison. Subsequent hearings in the case took place on 6 April, 17 May, 25 May, 6 August, 10 September and 15 September 2014. A hearing scheduled for 22 July 2014 was adjourned the night before it was due to take place. During several hearings, Alaa Abdel Fattah was locked up in a soundproof glass cage, preventing him from listening to the proceedings or communicating with his lawyers.

On 11 June 2014, the Special Chamber sentenced Alaa Abdel Fattah in absentia to 15 years in prison, a 10,000 EGP fine and a five-year probationary period after serving his sentence. While waiting outside the Court, Alaa Abdel Fattah and two other defendants were arrested as soon as the judgment was announced. The other 22 defendants, all facing similar charges, remained free. This raises serious concerns as to the principle that the law should treat everyone equally. It also substantiates the assumption that Alaa Abdel Fattah’s detention may be used as a punishment for his activism.

On 18 August 2014, Alaa Abdel Fattah went on hunger strike to protest against the conditions and grounds of his detention. The Court repeatedly refused his application for bail. On 15 September 2014, the three judges’ panel appointed to this case stepped down and granted Alaa Abdel Fattah bail.

The EMHRN report concludes that Alaa Abdel Fattah’s right to a fair trial has been breached in various ways. In relation to the 11 June in abstentia judgement, which resulted in the continued detention of Alaa Abdel Fattah, “the court has appeared to be partial to the cause of the prosecution,” thus violating the right to be heard by an impartial tribunal, as guaranteed in Article 14 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The proceedings undertaken to date also violate the defendants’ right to a timely trial as guaranteed by Article 14 (3) c ICCPR. The delays have been “undue” and “could clearly have been avoided.”  In light of the lack of public access, the observers find that all the hearings held in this case were in breach of the right to a public hearing as guaranteed by Article 14 (1) ICCPR. Moreover, the report criticises the in abstentia judgment as well as hearings during which Alaa Abdel Fattah was locked in a soundproof glass cage, in violation of his right to be present (Article 14 (3) d ICCPR).

Other fair trial rights that have been violated include the right to prepare a defence (Article 14 (3) b ICCPR), and the right to disclosure of case (Article 14 (3) a) ICCPR). In addition, the observers find the events leading to the in absentia judgment of 11 June “fell so far short of domestic and international standards of procedural fairness, as to amount to a judicial act lacking in legality.”

Finally, in relation to the right to pre-trial liberty (Article 9 (3) ICCPR) “the observers find that Alaa Abdel Fattah’s right to personal liberty and right not to be arbitrarily deprived of his liberty have been breached as well as his right to challenge the lawfulness of his detention without delay.” With regard to the right to fair treatment in pre-trial detention (Article 10 (1) ICCPR), the “observers recommend that the Prosecutor-General investigates, without further delay, Alaa Abdel Fattah’s and Manal Hassan’s complaints of police brutality upon his arrest and the unlawful seizing of their property without a search warrant.”

The EMHRN has repeatedly called upon the Egyptian authorities to ensure a genuine separation of powers. The interference of Egypt’s executive in judicial matters not only undermines Egyptians’ right to a fair trial but also seriously challenges democratic reform in the country. The EMHRN is deeply concerned over the use of the judiciary as a tool for state repression in Egypt.

In view of the above, the EMHRN urges the Egyptian authorities to:

  • Ensure respect for the right to a fair trial as guaranteed by international law
  • Revoke the Protest Law or amend it in compliance with the Egyptian Constitution and international standards
  • Put an end to arbitrary arrests during peaceful demonstrations and to judicial harassment of citizens demanding their right to demonstrate peacefully
  • Release all individuals arbitrarily detained under the contentious Protest Law
  • Ensure consideration for non-custodial measures to avoid the unnecessary use of imprisonment;
  • Ensure that pre-trial detention is used only as last resort in accordance with the conditions established by law, and only for the most serious offences, or where there are serious risks that cannot be mitigated through alternative measures
  • Revoke any judicial decisions and convictions handed down by special courts in the absence of guarantees of a fair trial
  • Ensure respect for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in accordance with international standards

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