Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests, National Security, Political Expression
ECODEFENCE v. Russia
Closed Contracts Expression
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A lower Egyptian court sentenced 23 pro-democracy activists in 2014 to three years in prison in addition to a 10,000 Egyptian Pounds in civil fines each for holding an unlicensed protest, after international calls to free the defendants. The activists include Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, described by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience.” Later the same year in December, an appellate court upheld all the defendants’ convictions, but reduced the sentences to two years each in addition to waiving the fines. Finally, on September 23, 2015, a presidential pardon on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha was issued that resulted in the release of both women, among several other detainees invovled in this protest.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
The defendants’ charges stemed from a peaceful protest which the defendants held near Al-Ettehadeya Presidential Palace where President Al-Sisi resides. The police reacted violently to the march, dispersing the protest and arresting 23 protesters. The government later alleged that the march was not peaceful and had incited violence. Additionally, the prosecution later claimed that the protesters assaulted police offices, stole police communication devices, and destroyed public property near the palace.
This case was initially reviewed by a Cairo Misdemeanor Court where a three year prison sentence as well as a fine of EGP 100,000 was issued on both Sallam and Seif. Later, an appeals court revised the sentence to a two year prison term.
The law under which most of the charges are brought is the Protest Law (Law No. 107 of the Year 2013). This law has been quite controversial since its passage by presidential decree in 2013. It has been subject to severe criticism by Egyptian activists on the right and on the left of the political spectrum.
The prosecution has charged the defendants with violations of the Protest Law, in addition to other criminal charges under Egypt’s Penal Law for “destruction of property, exhibiting a show of force to intimidate passersby and endanger their lives, and participation in an assembly of more than five persons with the objective of threatening public peace.”  The prosecution alleged that all of the charges are supported by incontrovertible evidence, including video recording of the defendants’ acts. However, the video recordings bore no clear relevance to the charges. Moreover, the judge was unable to identify any of the defendants from the recordings.
The defense team had earlier described the lower court’s verdict as “politically motivated.” The defense, in its appellate brief, argued the unconstitutionality of the law and also attacked the reliability of witnesses. However, the appellate court, in its decision to affirm the convictions, refused any attempt to revisit the merits of the case. Further, the Court opined that its power is limited to “mitigating the sentence as the defendants are a group of reckless youth who did not fully appreciate the gravity of their offence against the state.”
On September 23, 2015, a presidential pardon on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha was issued that resulted in the release of both women and several other detainees involved in this protest.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case contracts freedom of expression because it upholds the Protest Law which has been critized by the international community as being too restrictive on the the ability to protest within Egypt.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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