Egypt urged to free activists who defied protest law

Amnesty described the detainees as “prisoners of conscience”

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Amnesty International called Friday for the release of more than 20 demonstrators including two prominent female activists detained in June for defying Egypt’s controversial law on protests.

Security forces arrested the group on June 21 after dispersing a demonstration near Etihadeya presidential palace in Cairo calling for the release of political detainees and scrapping of the law.

Among those held were women’s rights defender Yara Sallam, who Amnesty said did not even take part in the protest, and activist Sanaa Seif, who has been on hunger strike since August 28.

Amnesty described the detainees as “prisoners of conscience”.

“The case provides the latest proof of the Egyptian authorities’ determination to quash peaceful protest and stifle all forms of dissent,” said Philip Luther, head of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“No one should be detained for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression and assembly.”

Luther called the charges against Sallam “farcical”, suggesting she had been detained because of her human rights work.

A day after the arrests, one defendant was released and a minor had his case referred to a juvenile court.

The trial of the remaining 22 defendants is due to begin on Saturday.

They face charges including damage to property and taking part in a gathering of more than five people with the aim of threatening “public peace”.

Egypt issued the law banning all but state-authorised demonstrations last November.

It has led to the jailing of secular youth leaders whose protests led to the 2011 overthrow of long-time president Hosni Mubarak, amid a wider government crackdown on supporters of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who was ousted by the army in July 2013.

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