Egypt: Prison sentences against activists, including January revolution icons

An Egyptian court sentences former MP and one of the January Revolution icons Ziad El-Elaimy to five years in prison on false news charge

An Egyptian emergency state security misdemeanor court on Wednesday sentenced prominent activist and former member of parliament Ziad Elelaimy to five years in prison and handed two others four-year jail terms on charges of spreading false news, a judicial source said.

The three have been detained since 2019 and are facing separate allegations over the Hope coalition case, in which authorities accused them of being part group funded by the Muslim Brotherhood to incite revolution and commit violence.

The court also sentenced journalists Hossam Mones and Hisham Fouad to four years in prison on the same charges.

El-Eleimy served as an MP representing the Egyptian Social Democrartic Party in the 2012 Parliament.

The prosecution charged the 13 defendants with crimes including cooperating with a group established in violation of the law, disseminating false news and information about the political and economic conditions in the country in order to destabilize public peace and undermine trust in state institutions.

In June 2019, El-Eleimy, Mones and Fouad and the rest of the defendants in the case were arrested for what the interior ministry described at the time as a hostile plot dubbed ‘Hope Cell’ to “disrupt the national economy.”

In the same case, Activists Mohamed Bahnasy and Hossam Nasser received three years. Meanwhile, Labour activist Fatma Abul-Maaty received a three-year sentence in absentia.

The court also imposed a fine of EGP 500 on all defendants in the case.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed. Unlike ordinary courts, emergency state security court rulings cannot be appealed.

Defense lawyer Khalid Ali said Wednesday’s verdict is not subject to appeal before civilian courts because it was issued by an emergency court. He said the defense would file an appeal to a military court.

The global rights watchdog Amnesty International condemned the charges against the defendants, saying they stemmed from “their peaceful political activities.” It called for President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to quash the sentences and release them.

“These politicians and activists should never have been arrested in the first place and yet they have been convicted and sentenced to prison on charges related to their legitimate criticism of the Egyptian authorities,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s regional research and advocacy director.

The defendants were arrested in June 2019 after they met with political parties and opposition lawmakers to hash out how to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

Colleagues and activists said the arrests were aimed at preventing the formation of a secular coalition ahead of parliamentary elections in 2020 that were dominated by supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The detentions have become one of Egypt’s most high-profile human rights cases.

Wednesday’s verdict by a state security court cannot be appealed. Along with journalist Hisham Foad and political activist Hossam Moeness, who were sentenced to four years, two other suspects received two-year terms, the judicial source said.

Eight human rights groups condemned the ruling, noting that it came despite Sisi’s recent decision not to renew Egypt’s state of emergency and the government’s publication of a national human rights strategy.

“Today’s ruling came to confirm that the government’s anti-human rights policies will remain in place,” the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and seven other groups said in a statement.

Since becoming president in 2014, former army chief Sisi has overseen a crackdown that has swept up liberal opponents as well as the Islamists whose overthrow he had led a year earlier.

Rights groups say tens of thousands have been jailed.

Sisi has denied holding political prisoners and his backers say the measures were necessary to stabilize Egypt.