Egypt adjourns trials of prominent activists

Sana Seif and 22 others are accused of breaching the country’s anti-protest law, a crime that has imprisoned thousands.

Seif's brother, prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, was arrested but subsequently released [AP]

An Egyptian court has adjourned the trial of 23 activists accused of breaching a bar on protests unauthorised by the government, a crime that has put thousands in prison.

The trial will resume on October 16. Among those activists is Sana Seif, a 20-year old who was arrested on July 21 while demonstrating against the arrest of her brother, renowned blogger and human rights defender Alaa Abdel Fattah. 

While Alaa has since been released, Sana remains in prison.

“Sanaa, Yara and Ettehadeyya group to remain in prison till Thursday 16,” Seif’s aunt, activist Ahdaf Souef, said on her twitter account, using a name used by local media to refer to the case, referring to the presidential Ettehadeyya palace in front of which Sana was demonstrating.

“We don’t know what to expect anymore,” Laila Soueif, Seif’s mother and an assistant professor of mathematics at Cairo University, told Al Jazeera before the session started. “We’ve given up on understanding. If things proceed according to logic, it should be postponed, since the case was referred to a new judicial circuit and a new judge. But our lawyers are braced for all scenarios.”

We don't know what to expect anymore. We've given up on understanding.

by - Laila Soueif, Seif's mother

The family was taken by surprise on June 11 when Abdel Fattah was handed 15 years in prison for violating the protest ban. The ruling came down during the first hearing in his case, and Abdel Fattah was sentenced in absentia while standing outside the court, waiting to be summoned.

On September 15, Abdel Fattah was released on bail pending retrial, just weeks after the death of his lawyer and father, pioneering human rights defender Ahmed Seif. Abdel Fattah and Sana Seif were allowed to attend the burial with the rest of the family.

Sana Seif has entered her 44th day of a hunger strike, aiming to pressure the government to release thousands of people arrested for protesting without permission, and to revoke the draconian legislation. Hundreds of prisoners have joined her hunger strike in jails across Egypt, along with hundreds of sympathisers outside of prisons.

“Her weight has dropped to 46kg, which is low. Her sugar levels are between 40 and 60 mg/dL, which are also low. Her blood pressure ranges between 60/80. Her health conditions are obviously weakening,” Soueif said.

Other prisoners have been facing more severe health deterioration. Ahmed Doma, a prominent activist who is challenging his three-year jail sentence for “thuggery” and breaching the protest law, has reached a critical stage. He started eating again after more than a month of a hunger strike that required him to enter intensive care, his family said, citing information from doctors. Doma’s case was djourned until October 18.

In addition, Egyptian American journalist Mohamed Soltan, who’s separate case has been adjourned until Ocober 15, was taken to El Manial University Hospital in Cairo on October 7 after he was denied proper medical attention at Tora Prison. Soltan, who has boycotted all food and beverages for about 260 days, is said to be bleeding from his mouth and nose while frequently losing consciousness.

Soltan was arrested in August 2013 for documenting violations committed by security forces during a crackdown on vigils staged by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Despite being in prison for 14 months, he has not been tried and faces no charges. Appeals for his release have been repeatedly rejected.

Egypt’s anti-protest law, along with a decree allowing the endless extension of pre-trial detentions, have contributed to more than 41,000 people facing incarceration or prosecution.

“Not only [do] the laws need revising, but also the policies of the regime. If the situation in Egypt continues in this manner, if the youth remain targets of oppression, if financial conditions keep getting worse, unwanted clashes are imminent,” Soueif said.

“Some youth will go crazy and resort to violence, something none of us want, but after all, the regime is not differentiating between peaceful demonstrators and violent ones.”

Follow Dahlia on Twitter: @dee_kholaif