A Call for Justice

Ibrahim El Houdaiby

It was over 12 years ago that I watched CNN to follow the trial of O J Simpson. Although being thousands of miles away, I was still able to see what was going on inside the court room, listen to
persecutor and defence arguments, and read transcripts of that in newspapers. I even remember arguing with family members and friends in Egypt on whether or not he was guilty.

Regardless of the verdict, I sincerely believe that this trial had all foundations and necessary guarantees and requirements of a fair trial. Most importantly: it was held publicly so that people all over the world could follow its procedures.

Today, 12 years later, opposition leaders belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood are standing before asecretmilitary tribunal in Egypt. Sixteen sessions have been held so far, while all journalists, reporters, domestic or international human rights observers have
been denied access. Defendants belonging to the country’s largest opposition group, and the region’s largest Islamist movement with moderate orientation and peaceful approach, are standing before this tribunal despite civilian courts acquitting them four times of all charges brought by the notorious State Security Prosecutor, describing them asfabricated, groundless, and politically motivated.They are standing before the tribunal despite a court’s ruling that found the President’s decision to transfer them to a military tribunalunconstitutional,” as they are civilian opposition leaders who should be tried by civilian courts. The decision to transfer them to military tribunals disrespecting civilian courts’ verdicts was condemned by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Moreover, the case was brought to military tribunal even before charges were prepared. After the third acquittal of the detainees by civilian courts, the regime had no legal excuse to extend their detention, and therefore had to commence trial sessions within a couple of days so that it could keep them behind bars. The regime never attempted to justify that, and the judge (a military officer who has no option but to follow the orders of his seniors; the President and the Minister of Defence) only adjourned the session till charges were prepared in a clear violation of due legal processes.

Forty defendants, including the group’s Deputy Chairman Khayrat El Shater, are facing false accusations of money laundering and financing a ‘banned organisation’. The only witness in the case is the State Security officer who presided over investigations. In his testimony, he
failed to present any substantial evidence to support his claims.

He made some fatal mistakes that should undermine his testimony altogether. This included not knowing the names and professions of some of the defendants, refusing to respond to most of the defence questions and providing contradictory answers for the other questions. He failed to provide a single piece of evidence that would support the charges.
But all this took place behind closed doors. The only people granted access to the court room were the detaineesfamilies. The justification was rather silly; the sessions were being held in a military base which required a special permit to enter. This does not explain why families are allowed to enter without a permit, nor does it explain why civilian opposition leaders are being tried in a military base!! Strict procedures were imposed in order to guarantee that no account of what happens inside the court room would not reach the outside world except through families and lawyers who could be easily discredited.
The motives for all this are patently clear. Mubarak’s regime is suffering eroding popularity due to its political, social and economic failures both domestically and internationally at a time when there is a pressing need to speed up the devilish inheritance plan by which
Jamal Mubarak is expected to take over the presidency from his 80-years-old father despite the strong popular opposition. With mounting public discontent and unprecedented wave of strikes, most recent are raging protests by around 30,000 cotton factory workers protesting unimaginable living conditions resulting from a $27 per month salary, it was necessary that the regime attempts to silence its strong opposition groups by resorting to extralegal measures,and the list is endless.
Ayman Nour, a young articulate politician and a potential opponent for Jamal Mubarak in any upcoming elections was sentenced to 5 years in prison, MP Talaat El Sadat, nephew of late President Sadat and an outspoken parliamentarian was sentenced to one year in prison by a military tribunal, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood activists have been detained and kept behind bars with no accusations, and now 40 influential leaders and members of the group are facing an unknown fate in military tribunal which lacks all basic guarantees of a fair trial. In the past few weeks, four independent newspaper editors were sentenced to prison term after being found guilty of ‘defaming ruling figures’.
Twelve years ago, American courts set O J Simson free, and yet later on had to pay restitution as he was foundliablefor the deaths by a civil suit. The underpinning idea was clear: you need to be certain to take away a person’s freedom, but maybe less certain to
take away some of his money. Today in Egypt, there is an oppressive regime imposing draconian measures against its people and depriving many of their freedom despite the ruling of court of justice, while the vast majority of Western governments, writers and civil society organisations remain silent. Only very few have spoken out and acted against this assault on human rights and democracy. It is high time for those interested in bringing justice and freedom to Egypt to manifest this interest through actions as well as words.

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