After the Egyptian authorities had targeted the protesters against the maritime border agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian judiciary acquitted some of them on February 4, 2017.
A misdemeanor court acquitted on Saturday 12 lawyers who were accused of “spreading false news” by organizing a stand last April against a government deal to transfer two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, reported al-Ahram.
Moreover, the court also acquitted the defendants of charges of illegal gathering and disturbing the public peace.
In this context, Sameh Ashour, the Head of the Lawyers’ Syndicate, who was one of the defendants’ lawyers, argued that his clients could not be convicted of spreading false news – that the islands belonged to Egypt – because the High Administrative Court already confirmed that they do belong to Egypt.
Moreover, Ashour argued that the photos of the lawyers at the stand, which took place outside a court building in the city of Shebin El-Qanater, show that they were protesting on the side of the road, and did not block traffic or cause any disturbance as stated in the police report.
In addition, he also argued that one of the 12 defendants were traveling in Saudi Arabia at the time of the protest, proving that police’ investigations were inaccurate.
On January 16, 2017, Egypt’s High Administrative Court rejected an appeal by the government against a lower court’s decision to stop it handing over Tiran and Sanafir.
The controversial agreement that gave away the two strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia has led to massive criticism and outrage among the Egyptians. Critics, journalists, and activists accused Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of “selling Egypt” to Saudi Arabia in return for financial aid.
In response, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in protests on April 15 (Land Day) and April 25 (Sinai Liberation Day) against the agreement, calling for the “Downfall of the Regime.”
The demonstrations were the first huge movement against the al-Sisi regime that included different political affiliations and groups.
The Egyptian security forces led arrest campaigns of activists and journalists who opposed the transfer of the islands.
Egypt’s courts have fined tens of the protesters while others were handed down prison sentences that ranged from two to five years.
In addition, a court sentenced seven defendants to eight years in prison each and fined them.
However, Egypt Administrative Court voided the controversial demarcation agreement that stipulates the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia. A number of lawsuits were filed in an attempt to nullify the agreement.
At an earlier session, the court called the state to present a copy of the agreement while lawyers presented various evidence, documents, and maps that support their claim that the islands are Egyptian. Khaled Ali- the human rights defender and former presidential candidate- presented to the court an Atlas that he said was prepared by the Egyptian military in 2007 to confirm that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian and fall under Egyptian sovereignty.
In response, the Egyptian government appealed against the administrative court’s nullification of the al-Sisi plan to cede control of the two Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia.
It has repeatedly said that the islands have always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt was merely administering them on behalf of the Saudis since the 1950s.
In the same context, al-Sisi defended the agreement in a televised speech in April, saying that “Egypt does not sell its land to anyone and it does not take anyone’s land.”
Moreover, the Egyptian cabinet assured in a previous statement that the strategic islands are Saudi, adding that Saudi Arabia requested Egypt to protect them in 1950, and they have been under Egypt’s control since then.
The two Red Sea islands, which are strategically significant as they both control maritime activity in the Gulf, are located at the Gulf of Aqaba. The Tiran Island is located in the Gulf of al-Aqaba, about 5 or 6 km from the Sinai Peninsula, and it has a total area of about 80 square km. Sanafir Island lies to the east of Tiran with a total area of 33 square km.