What independence?

Judges’ anger at what they say is flagrant interference in their work is growing – Published  on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Mona El-Nahhas, 8 – 14 March 2012.

… Eighty judges signed a letter of complaint about Ibrahim submitted to the prosecutor- general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud who on Monday referred their complaints to the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC).

Cairo Judges Club, headed by Ahmed El-Zend, sent a memorandum to the SJC on Saturday following an urgent meeting of its board, demanding the SJC to conduct an urgent investigation to clarify the facts … // 

… Judges’ anger against Ibrahim began last week when it was widely reported he had pressured the court panel hearing the NGO case. The three man panel of judges, headed by Mohamed Shukri, subsequently recused itself. Sources close to Shukri say the judges had been asked to lift the travel on American defendants in the case. Ibrahim then assigned three judges from the technical bureau of the Appeals Court to examine the request filed by the American defendants’ lawyer for the travel ban to be lifted. Within a matter of hours it was, and the defendants left on a US plane from Cairo Airport.

Magdi Abdel-Bari, who issued the ruling lifting the travel ban, said in a statement on Tuesday that it fully conformed with the law and the constitution.

“The suspects were accused of a misdemeanour which does not require a travel ban. They also gave written pledges to appear before the court at any time,” Abdel-Bari said.

Ibrahim referred the case to another court panel, headed by judge Makram Awwad, on Saturday, and new hearings are expected to begin tomorrow.

Tuesday’s Al-Ahram reported Shukri as saying his court panel felt uncomfortable handling the case. Shukri was reluctant to elaborate, saying only that he was preparing a memorandum citing the reasons for his withdrawal which will be sent to the SJC’s Chairman Hossam El-Gheriani. El-Gheriani is said to deeply resent any political meddling in judicial affairs.

“What happened reveals that while Egyptian judges are independent the judiciary is not,” El-Gheriani said on Monday.

Ibrahim has said in press statements that he asked Shukri to leave the case because his son works as a lawyer for a legal consultancy that has connections with the US embassy in Cairo. Shukri has refuted Ibrahim’s account.

“My son’s career has nothing to do with the US embassy or any of the NGOs.”

“If I left the case for personal reasons,” he asked, “what pushed my two colleagues to do the same?”

Sameh Abul-Yazid and Ashraf El-Ashmawi, the two judges who compiled the initial investigation and referred the suspects to the criminal court, are now said to be considering leaving the case.

Last December security officials raided the offices of a number of human rights organisations and arrested dozens of employees. They were subsequently charged with receiving foreign funds illegally and working without a licence. The organisations include four based in the US, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and a group that trains journalists.

The arrest of the Americans ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Cairo. The lifting of the travel ban on the US defendants has led to speculation that a deal was made between the SCAF and the US administration, something SCAF denies. (full text).

Links:

NGO blunder backfires, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Khaled Dawoud, 8 – 14 March 2012.

NGO crisis on hold, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ezzat Ibrahim, 8 – 14 March 2012.

Little things stopping Saudi aid, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Doaa El-Bey, 8 – 14 March 2012.

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