CAIRO – An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer to five years in prison for his conviction on charges that rights advocates have decried as baseless and politically motivated.
The Misdemeanors State Security Emergency Court in Cairo found Zyad el-Elaimy, a former lawmaker, guilty of conspiring to commit crimes with an outlawed group. That's a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has banned as a terrorist organization.
The court also sentenced journalists Hossam Monis and Hisham Fouad to four years in prison on the same charges. Two other defendants got three-year sentences. All were fined 500 Egyptian pounds (around $32).
Defense lawyer Khalid Ali said Wednesday's verdict is not subject to appeal before civilian courts because it was issued by an emergency court. He said the defense would file an appeal to a military court.
The global rights watchdog Amnesty International condemned the charges against the defendants, saying they stemmed from "their peaceful political activities.” It called for President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to quash the sentences and release them.
"These politicians and activists should never have been arrested in the first place and yet they have been convicted and sentenced to prison on charges related to their legitimate criticism of the Egyptian authorities," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's regional research and advocacy director.
The convicted men were arrested in June 2019 after they met with political parties and opposition lawmakers to hash out how to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections.
In March 2020, a court sentenced el-Elaimy to a year in prison after it found him guilty of “deliberately spreading fake news.”
El-Elaimy was added by a court in 2020 to a list of suspected terrorists for the next five years, a decision upheld by the Court of Cassation — Egypt’s highest criminal court.
A vocal critic of the government, el-Elaimy is a leading activist in the secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He served as a member of parliament after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.