Ahmed Douma, an Egyptian youth activist who had played a prominent role in the April 6 youth movement, tweeted, “Security forces are arresting me this minute and taking me to Al-Basateen police station.”
Later, he tweeted for the last time as a free man: “I’m now at Al-Basateen police station. I don’t know the charge I’m facing or the reason for the arrest.”
A few days earlier, Douma had participated in anti-military protests outside of Cairo’s Abdeen courthouse, defying a controversial new law banning public gatherings of more than ten people–a law widely regarded as an effort by the military to clamp down on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opponents.
This week, in one of the harshest sentences to date against protesters of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, a Cairo court sentenced Douma, 26, and 229 others in absentia to life in prison and fined him 17 million Egyptian pounds–that’s two million US dollars.
The court also sentenced 40 minors–also in absentia–to 10 years in prison.
The judge who handed down the sentence is Mohamed Nagi Shehata, the same judge who jailed three Al Jazeera journalists, including recently-freed-and-deported Australian Peter Greste and still-detained Mohamed Adel, sentenced hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death.
As can be seen in the video posted by Masr Al-Arabia, when Douma heard the verdict Wednesday, he laughed and clapped in apparent sarcasm, prompting a rebuke by Shehata, who threatened adding additional years to the sentence.
“I am particularly worried about the responses to the verdict against Douma and others,” said blogger/commentator Nervana Mahmoud. “Egypt is so divided, not just between Islamists and non-Islamists, but between those who worship the state and those who worship the activists.
“The first group thinks that because Douma admitted to throwing molotovs, he is a monster. The others portray him as an angel. Douma is neither an angel nor a monster. He is a victim of irrational anger and erratic justice.” – Nervana Mahmoud
“Egypt’s courts have become a tool of repression rather than a pillar of justice, as the life sentences imposed on Douma and his co-defendants make horribly clear,” Robert Herman, vice president of regional programs at Freedom House, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, said in a written statement.
“President El-Sisi and Egypt’s government should focus on building a democratic system rather than on repression that fuels turmoil.”
In its annual world report released in January, Human Rights Watch noted that since the military regained power in Egypt and ousted Mohamed Morsi, security forces have jailed more than 40 thousand Muslim Brotherhood members, as well as secular activists, and handed down death sentences in mass trials which “make no pretense of individualizing proof or providing a meaningful opportunity for a defense.”
“Egypt is at a post-revolution nadir, and right now there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, on releasing that report “The situation for thousands of Egyptians is getting worse by the day.”
In Egypt, “life” sentences amount to 25 years.