The international community is ratcheting up pressure on the Egyptian government to release imprisoned protesters ahead of the Feb. 10 appeals hearing of three high-profile activists.
The Monday hearing had been postponed from Jan. 8, with jailed Egyptian activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma left to wait in the infamous Torah prison.
“The conviction of three prominent Egyptian activists to three years in prison on charges of holding unauthorized protests and assaulting police officers is of great concern,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Dec. 24. “We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners detained solely in connection with peaceful protests, unless the authorities have solid evidence that they might have been responsible for recognizable criminal offenses.”
Maher was jailed in November for allegedly breaking Egypt's harsh new protest law and assaulting a police officer. Throughout his imprisonment, he has smuggled out more than a dozen letters from his prison cell in Torah prison. The letters have been translated from Arabic and provided to The Huffington Post by Michelle McElroy, a human rights activist and spokeswoman for Maher.
On Jan. 26, the day following the Jan. 25 anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, Maher penned a note entitled “Three Years And The Bloodshed Has Not Stopped.”
Maher, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, wrote:
The third anniversary of the 25 January revolution has passed with a recurring scenario despite the change in roles and the change of faces…
Under a failed protest law of an incompetent regime whose forces did not even abide to its articles when they proceeded to use live fire against the protesters without warning, they have once again proved that their hands are stained with the blood of their own people and that they are incapable of leading the nation. The past few days of violence and unrestricted excessive force have shown the weakness of the current regime, its fear and the nearness of its downfall. One time after another, the solution of a security state is proving to be a failure …
The continuous loss of lives will not lift up the country nor will it build a nation, and the circle of violence and the blood of more martyrs will not give us a state of truth and justice. The state continues to feed divisions, fuel violence, kill and arrest for the security solution is the only solution it knows.
A Jan. 21 note entitled “The Referendum Smells Foul” also cast doubt on the legitimacy and effectiveness of Egypt’s recent constitutional referendum, foreshadowing disappointing outcomes.
“There is not really much of a difference between the manipulation and the fraud which happened in the referendum of 2005 and in the referendum of 2014,” Maher wrote. “The same method and rhetoric, the same abuses, fascism and lies ... All of the money being thrown away over this referendum??!! Aren’t the poor people of Egypt more worthy of that money??!!”
His recent letters also highlight the symbolism of own imprisonment, mocking a democracy that would imprison peaceful protesters.
“Overt advertisements of yes, arresting anyone who says no ... what a democracy," Maher wrote. “Your referendum smells foul.”
The Cairo appellate court previously refused to suspend the three-year jail sentence and $7,186 fines for Maher, Douma and Adel's alleged crimes. McElroy said the Abdeen Misdemeanour Court postponed the initial hearing -- from which it had barred journalists, an observatory delegate from the European Union and Maher’s wife -- in order to hear testimony from the commander of the Abdeen court guards, according to McElroy.
“It could also be assumed that the postponement was seen by many as a way to keep them in prison until after the Jan 25 anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution,” McElroy told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.
While Maher and his allies hold out for a Feb. 10 dismissal of their charges, they remain wary of the tumultuous political climate in Egypt and their chances of victory in court.
"What has occurred since the coup makes optimism difficult. Over 20,000 have been arrested, thousands have been killed and many are unaccounted for," McElroy added later. "I'm optimistic in terms of receiving continued support from human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights people at the United Nations.
"One can only hope."
To read Maher's full letters, click here.