An Egyptian lawyer who found herself facing criminal charges when she gave eyewitness testimony to a fatal shooting by a police officer is the subject of a 'lawyer at risk' intervention by the Law Society.
Azza Soliman (pictured), who practises in Cairo and is chairwoman of the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, was charged with 'protesting illegally' and 'disturbing public order' after attending a prosecutor's office in January to offer testimony about the shooting of a demonstrator.
Poet and activist Shaima al-Sabbagh died as a result of shotgun wounds while taking part in what Soliman says was a peaceful protest against the government.
Soliman told the Gazette that she had become aware of the demonstration while entertaining friends from overseas in one of Cairo's best-known cafes. 'I started to take pictures through the window and in seven minutes, maybe, the police came close and they started shooting.'
That afternoon, she went to the public prosecutor's office to offer testimony. ‘At first the prosecutor talked to me as a lawyer then began shouting at me. At 3am I finished my testimony then another prosecutor said I was now a defendant,’ Soliman said. She was eventually allowed to go at 7am.
She has since faced two trials: the first acquitted her of all charges, the second, after an appeal by the public prosecutor, declined to hear defence arguments. A verdict is due on 26 September.
Soliman, in London to raise awareness of the 'Fearless' campaign on ending violence against women and girls organised by aid agency ActionAid, said her prosecution shows there is no rule of law in Egypt. 'It is a direct message to scare people,’ she said.
In a letter to the Egyptian prime minister, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said that the Society is concerned that Soliman was tried purely for providing testimony in relation to the shooting.
'We are also concerned that the prosecutor in the case appears to be making decisions on whether to prosecute Ms Soliman in an arbitrary, partial manner and the case against her does not appear to be conducted fairly and in conformity with international norms of a fair trial.'
Soliman said she would not be deterred from her work of helping women gain access to legal advice: ‘I am a fighter. If I am alive I have hope.’