retour article original
par Alessandra BAJEC
Twenty-one women -including girls as young as 15- were handed down heavy prison sentences by Alexandria Misdemeanour Court on Nov. 27, after being arrested, end of October, for protesting against the military’s July 3 ouster of President Morsi. The Egyptian court sentenced fourteen women –most aged 18 to 22- to 11 years and one month in prison, and seven female minors -15 to 17 years old- to juvenile detention until they reach the age of majority. The tough verdict marks another setback for freedom of expression in Egypt but also an unprecedented step by the new leadership to take women out of the political scene.
Ahmed Shazli, head of the Alexandria branch of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), couldn’t find the words to comment on the verdict when he came out of the courtroom. For him, the sentence essentially okays imprisonment of protesters for expressing dissent, and hints at a comeback to Mubarak styled autocratic regime and oppressive practices. The 21 female defendants were convicted on several charges including damaging public property and stirring violence. In addition, six men –who are said to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Alexandria- were sentenced to 15 years in prison for instigating violence during the protest.
Shazli decided to document the case after he heard about the arrest of the 21 women, which he defined as a violation of personal, civil rights and gender equality, moreover involving under age youth. The young women are part of "7 am", a youth movement launched last month in Alexandria that holds protests in the early morning -before school starts- against what members describe as the military coup that led to Morsi’s overthrow. The girls were arrested on Oct. 31 during a demonstration near Stanley Bridge, on the Alexandria corniche, when protest participants formed a human chain before they were attacked by security forces. They were transferred to the Alexandria Security Directorate, where they were brought before the Public Prosecution. The adult women were sent to the Damanhour women’s prison while the minors were placed in the Defense Care Facility in Muharram Bek. One young man was also arrested but released soon after, as the police reportedly established he had no connection with "7 am" group. Defence attorney Ayman Dally got involved in the case as one of the detainees is his niece. He recollected from testimonies that security forces intervened with six armed vehicles separating demonstrators from the crowd –a well known military tactic- leading to police cruisers to arrest the girls, some of them at gunpoint. Dally pointed out it was a joint operation carried out by the police and army, inviting to watch youtube videos that clearly show that. The general prosecution charged the women with belonging to the recently banned Muslim Brotherhood, promoting ideas of the group, possessing and distributing flyers inciting violence, assembly, threatening violence, obstructing public transport and vandalizing properties. A statement by the prosecutor general claimed the defendants denied the charges against them.
As EIPR representative, Shazli condemned the arrest of 21 women stressing that the right of peaceful assembly is a fundamental right of every citizen. He dismissed the allegations as fabrication of reports by the police, adding that such practices are aimed to exclude women from the public space through direct targeting. EIPR’s director expressed deep concern over the unprecedented mass arrest of female protestors. Dally remembered bizarre incidents following the arrest such as the quick transfer of the women from Alexandria police station to prison, while lawyers were making appeal against their detention –which was then rejected- the sudden appointment of a new judge –by the Minister of Justice- who took over the case, the denied access of lawyers to court at the juvenile facility, or the prolonged custody of the defendants. Alexandria prosecution renewed detention of the women for 15 days on Nov. 12 pending investigation.