Protecting Women’s Dignity in the Face of Grave Threat
In January 2015, protesters in Cairo, Egypt took to the streets for a peaceful demonstration meant to mark the fourth anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising. Organised by Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the demonstration was set out to be a peaceful march towards Tahrir Square to place wreaths of flowers. It took a turn for the worst when police responded to the crowds with bullets and tear gas. Shaimaa El Sabbagh, a 31-year-old activist and poet was amongst the protesters. She was shot at close range and died from her wounds. Her death was caught on camera and was widely condemned by international and national human rights institutions as an abuse of state power. The images of Ms. Sabbagh’s killing resonated so widely that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for an investigation.
Azza Souliman was amongst those who presented themselves to give evidence on the death of Shaima. Azza decided to voluntarily give her testimony at the Prosecution Office on the night of January 24, 2015, pointing to the responsibility of the police for the death of Shaimaa El Sabbagh. While trying to give her testimony, she was held at the Prosecution’s Office throughout the whole night and threatened with accusations of breaching the Protest Law. She was let go the next morning and published her testimony on her Facebook account.
In March 2015, the Qasr El Nile Prosecution Office decided to change Azza’s status from being a witness of the killing of Shaimaa El-Sabbagh to being a defendant accused of protesting illegally and breaching public order and security under the Protest Law #104 of 2013.
She faced 15 years of jail term and large fines if found guilty of the charges. It was clear that these charges were meant as an intimidation tactic to ensure that state authority through the police or other agencies was not questioned. Preliminary advocacy steps involved media attention and profiling of the case and the gross abuse of human rights that surrounded the killing including the arrest of the witnesses. On October 24th, 2015 after a long winded legal and advocacy battle Azza and her other co-accused were acquitted. Azza has remained resolute in spite of the trauma she experienced and have continue her work as a lawyer and activist protecting the rights of women in Africa.