Egyptian court orders leading activist free on bail, trial of 545 others proceeds


Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - Page 6

An Egyptian court yesterday released leading left-wing activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah on bail during the opening session of his trial on charges of participating in an illegal and violent protest.

Abdel-Fattah, a prominent youth leader in the 2011 uprising that overthrew former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, was arrested in November last year for taking part in a protest against widened military powers under the new army-appointed interim government.

The interim administration, appointed after the overthrow of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in July last year, has cracked down on both Morsi’s Islamists supporters and his secular opponents.

Abdel-Fattah faces trial with 24 co-defendants, all but one of whom had already been released on bail before the trial. They were arrested after taking part in a protest outside the Egyptian Senate, where a panel was drafting a new constitution allowing the military more powers in choosing the minister of defense.

The protest violated a recently enacted law banning all except police-authorized demonstrations.

Cheers erupted in the courtroom when the judge ordered the release of Abdel-Fattah and his remaining co-defendant on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,400).

His father, lawyer Ahmed Seif, said the acitvist should be freed today, once bail has been posted.

Meanwhile, the judge in one of the largest trials of Morsi supporters on Saturday said he will issue verdicts for the more than 500 defendants after only two sessions, said lawyers who decried the move as violating the norms of a fair trial.

The 545 defendants are standing trial in relation to violence in August last year following the dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protests in Cairo, in which hundreds were killed. In an apparent backlash, police stations, churches and government buildings were stormed by suspected Morsi supporters across the country.

The defendants are accused of attacking a police station, stealing government weapons, killing one police officer and attempting to kill two others, Egypt’s state news agency said. More than 400 defendants are still at large and are being tried in absentia, defense lawyer Khaled el-Koumi said.

El-Koumi said the trial opened with more than 100 defendants crammed in a courtroom cage. He said lawyers asked Judge Said Youssef to delay the case to give them time to review the hundreds of relevant documents, but Youssef declined. Another lawyer began to make a request based on constitutional demands, but the judge interrupted and refused to recognize it.

When the lawyers protested, el-Koumi said Youssef angrily told them they would not dictate his actions and then asked court security to close in on the lawyers.