Here are five legal issues in the case of the Shura Council protest. Alaa Abd El Fattah is among the twenty-five defendants, who were sentenced on Wednesday to fifteen years in absentia, in addition to five years under surveillance and a 100,000 Egyptian pound fine:
1. Police arrested Alaa Abd El Fattah on 28 November 2013 from his home, the day after an arrest warrant was issued for him from the prosecutor and Abd El Fattah himself issued a statement that he would hand himself in a day later.
He was charged through the Protest Law for organizing a protest in front of the Upper House of Parliament (the Shura Council) on 26 November, to reject the constitutional stipulations on military trials for civilians. However, the protest was in fact organized by the "No to Military Trials" group, which was confirmed by the group`s members who filed this information at the prosecutor`s office to hold themselves responsible. However, the prosecutor insisted on accusing Abd El Fattah for organizing the protest, as well as beating up a policeman and stealing his walkie talkie.
2. Twenty-three defendants in the case were released on 4 December, while Abd El Fattah remained in prison for four months, alongside Ahmad Abdel Rahman. Witnesses and other defendants have repeatedly said that Abdel Rahman did not participate in the protest, but was just passing by Qasr al-Aini Street on his way back from work. He stopped to look at what was happening and when he saw a girl being arrested by a policeman, he tried to defend her.
However, he is facing the same charges as the other defendants.
3. The case was referred to the Criminal Court on 9 December 2013, and yet it took four months to specify a judge for the case, during which time Abd El Fattah and Abd El Rahman remained in prison without trial. Prominent TV host Youssry Fouda said in his show, "The Last Words," that the case represented "a black hole in the judiciary that mocks justice in Egypt."
4. The defendants` lawyers in the Shura Council case demanded a withdrawal of the court`s judges, a legal measure to avoid a conflict of interest, since there is a direct dispute between the main judge - Mohamed al-Feqy - and Abd El Fattah and his lawyer, Mohamed Ali Taha. Taha had filed a complaint with the minister of justice in 2005 against Feqy for initiating fraudulent practices in the parliamentary elections of the same year. Back then Abd El Fattah protested in solidarity with Taha to demand that investigations were conducted into Feqy and other judges accused of fraud. But the Court of Appeal rejected the demand for the judge`s withdrawal.
5. Wednesday`s case was supposed to be dedicated to hearing witnesses and watching evidence presented by the prosecutor against the defendants. But the judge issued his ruling in absentia in an early session, without hearing witnesses, a statement from the prosecutor or the lawyers` defense statements. Meanwhile, the defendants Abd El Fattah, Wael Metwally and Mohamed al-Nouby were present outside the courtroom while the case was taking place.
According to their families, the defendants were not allowed inside the court until the session was over. After the sentence was pronounced, they were arrested. The implications of a rule in absentia include handing a maximum sentence and facilitating the immediate arrest of defendants, most notably Abd El Fattah among them.
[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.]