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Free Yara

 

                               Joint Statement Calling for the Release of Yara Sallam

Dear Colleagues,

This is a joint statement from attorneys worldwide calling for the release of human rights lawyer Yara Sallam and 22 of her colleagues who were arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment, three years probation and a fine for challenging the draconian Egyptian protest law, Law No. 107 of 2013. On December 28, 2014 Yara’s sentence was reduced to two years imprisonment. After reading this statement, we request that you add your name, nationality and then circulate this online petition to your colleagues, in solidarity. This letter will be sent to our the foreign ministries of our respective governments, the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States of America, and the ambassadors to the United Nations of our respective governments. 

The situation for attorneys and human rights defenders in Egypt is dire. It is estimated that security forces have detained at least 16,000 people for political reasons since the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood–led government in July 2013.[1] The detention of these human rights defenders violates human rights, due process and the rule of law.

One such example is the 29-year old lawyer and human rights defender, Yara Sallam. Yara was arrested, imprisoned and convicted, along with 22 others, for her peaceful participation in a non-violent demonstration against the infamous Protest Law.

We are calling for the following:

1.     We call on the Egyptian Authority and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to drop all charges held against Yara Sallam and her colleagues and immediately and unconditionally release them, in line with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Egypt.

2.     We call on our respective governments, the United Nations and the international community to hold Egypt accountable for its binding legal obligations to respect and promote human rights.

3.     We urge our respective international governments, the U.N. and the greater international community not to support the current regime through the contribution of military or development aid, political support or otherwise, unless and until it complies with its binding legal obligations.

Background

In 2011, the Egyptian people toppled a dictatorship, and revolted against repressive policies as they sought to live as dignified citizens in a democratic state. Now, however, the repressive policies of the current regime are doing their very best to silence the masses, and squash any dissent.

Yara Sallam, a 29 years old human rights defender and lawyer, was arrested, imprisoned and convicted, along with the 22 others, including Ms. Sanaa Seif, for her peaceful participation in a non-violent demonstration against Protest Law No. 107 of 2013. On October 26, 2014, Yara and the 22 other defendants were sentenced to three years imprisonment, three years of probation, and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds each. This sentence was reduced on December 28 to two years imprisonment.[2] The charges [3] against the human rights defenders are baseless, and, according to numerous international authorities, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – there were  “serious procedural errors in the trial and arrest of some of the demonstrators, who were exercising their legitimate right to demonstrate enshrined in the Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt.”[4] The detainees have been subjected to pro-longed pretrial detention and as per Sallam’s lawyer there were serious inconsistencies in police reports and the statements of prosecution witnesses. The evidence used to incriminate the defendants is weak and does not stand up under scrutiny, further indicating that the arrest of the defendants is part of a larger pattern of oppression and silencing of dissent that Egyptian authorities are pursuing.[5]

 On December 28, 2014, the Heliopolis Misdemeanor Court released its final decision on the verdict issued against the 23 activists accused in connection with their participation in that non-violent demonstration. [6] As previously mentioned, Yara’s sentence was reduced to two years imprisonment, two years of probation and the fine was eliminated. While this may seem like a victory, it is a shallow one. Yara’s and her colleagues collective imprisonment is still outrageous and in absolute contravention of binding international and regional law, as well as the Egyptian Constitution of 2014.

As a final thought, the outcome of the court’s decision affects not only Yara Sallam and other Egyptian human rights defenders, but it also impacts the promotion and protection of human rights in Egypt on a wider-scale, including Egypt’s adherence to international legal obligations, and its commitment to democratic empowerment and basic human dignity.  

Again, we urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to immediately release innocent human rights defenders and journalists, if not because they were unjustly imprisoned for merely doing their jobs, then for the future of human rights in Egypt as a nation.

 

Citations

[1] Egypt’s Crackdown Goes Deeper than Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera America Online, 24 June 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/6/24/egypt-s-crackdowngoesdeeperthanjazeeraverdict.html.
[2] Mada Masr.com, Lawyer: Prison sentence for 23 is political, available athttp://www.madamasr.com/news/lawyer-prison-sentence-23-activists-political; Egypt Court Reduces Protestor Sentences to 2 years, New York Times, 28 Dec. 2014, available at  http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/28/world/middleeast/ap-ml-egypt-.html?_r=0;

[3] Yara and the others were originally charged with participating in an unlawful protest. She was later charged with vandalism and “displaying force.” Diana el-Tahawy, Justice in Egypt is disappearing – as Yara Sallam’s imprisonment shows, The Guardian, 23 Oct. 2014,http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/23/justice-in-egypt-yara-sallam-imprisonment-president-sisi.  
[4] Press Release, The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), (24 Oct. 2014), available athttp://www.achpr.org/press/2014/10/d231 [hereinafter “ACPHR Press Release”].
[5] ACPHR Press Release, supra note 4; See also Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Free 23 Held for Protesting Protest Law (24 June 2014), Available athttp://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/24/egypt-free-23-held-protesting-protest-law. ;
[6] For more information on the details of Yara’s arrest, imprisonment and conviction, see http://freeyara-freesanaa.net/, orhttp://www.madamasr.com/tags/yara-sallam.

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