Egypt's State Security Emergency Misdemeanor court has issued jail sentences to three prominent human rights activists who engaged in anti-government protests in 2019.
The activists detained were Alaa Abd El Fattah, rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer, and the blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (also known as Mohamed Oxygen). El Fattah was sentenced to five years whilst the others were sentenced to four years each.
The activists have been charged with spreading false news and were among the thousands detained by authorities in protests sparked by allegations of corruption by a former collaborator with the military. Human rights advocates decried the court ruling as "politically motivated" and the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hossam Bahgat, has told reporters:
“Even by the standards of today’s Egypt, this trial was a travesty of justice.”
Bahgat himself has been recently convicted of spreading false news and ordered by a court to pay a penalty, the New York Times reports.
Attempts to whitewash Egypt's image
The New York Times notes that the continued repression persists despite Egypt's attempts to clean its image.
In part Egypt's publicity campaign has been aided by plans to enable the country to host next year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, the COP27, and plans, also next year, to inaugurate a $60 billion administrative capital city outside Cairo that it hopes will attract foreign investment.
Despite these ventures and announcing a strategy to improve human rights, little change has occurred. Whilst the current regime has lifted a four-year state of emergency, the government retains the power to quash protests and control the media. The government has released a number of imprisoned prominent activists however thousands remain jailed and courts continue to issue sentences against human rights activists.
Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, has a notorious record overseeing a brutal crackdown on civil society and suppressing protests once he assumed power. His administration has defended his actions claiming that such steps were needed to quell the unrest caused by the Arab Spring. Al-Sisi came to power in 2011 following the overthrow of the country's then autocratic ruler, President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years.
In May over 30 countries including the United States issued a statement condemning Egypt's repression and call on the government to allow journalists to speak out “without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of reprisal.”
The US followed up these actions by stating that it would withhold $130 million in military aid to Egypt until the human rights situation there improves.
Rights activists have called for further actions and condemned Egypt's continued use of emergency courts, whose verdicts cannot be appealed. They also maintain that pretrial detention undermines the government's alleged commitment to human rights.
Read more from the New York Times.