The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has expressed concern over the recent swathe of controversial judgments issued by the Egyptian courts, including: condemning significant numbers of Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death; giving lengthy prison sentences to protesters, human rights defenders and journalists; and curtailing important fundamental rights such as freedom of expression. The IBAHRI strongly urges the Egyptian government to build a new Egypt with an independent judiciary and prosecutorial function at its core to take heed of the recommendations contained within the 2014 IBAHRI report Separating Law and Politics: Challenges to the Independence of Judges and Prosecutors in Egypt.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented, ‘The recent judgments emanating from the Egyptian courts appear to be politically motivated, focussing on members of opposition forces, protesters and journalists. The IBAHRI’s recent report of February 2014 expressed concern that, although judicial independence is protected as a principle at the highest level in Egypt, in practice and in process the executive is given wide powers over judges, providing scope for abuse. In light of these latest convictions, the IBAHRI reiterates its call to Egypt’s new government to rectify the country’s selective prosecutions, by instituting a meaningful and peaceful transitional justice process that guarantees independence and impartiality.’
The decision of a Cairo Court on Monday 23 June 2014 to sentence three Al-Jazeera journalists – Egyptian national Baher Mohamed, Australian national Peter Greste, and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy – to 10, 7 and 10 years respectively to jail for charges relating to ‘falsifying news’ and ‘terrorism’ has attracted international condemnation. Seventeen further defendants, eleven of whom were tried in absentia, were also convicted on Monday 23 June 2014 for similar offences.
IBAHRI Egypt Mission Rapporteur Amal Alamuddin noted, ‘The Egyptian government should know that the world is watching. Egypt is bound to uphold international human rights standards, including the right to free expression and the right to a fair trial, and its compliance record will be reviewed at the UN later this year. Mass executions following sham trials violate the most fundamental human rights guarantees. Exposing journalists to unjust trials also has a chilling effect on free speech and stunts the development of a fully democratic society. Egyptians now have their fourth government since 2011 and it is deeply disappointing to see one situation unchanged: the arrest, detention and sentencing of opposition elements. The introduction of the 2014 Constitution marked a turning point for Egypt and an opportunity to transition to a system that guarantees accountability and human rights for all; so far, this opportunity is being missed.’
The IBAHRI first raised concern over judicial independence in Egypt after a fact-finding mission in June 2011. The IBAHRI returned to Cairo exactly two years later, in June 2013, to conduct a focussed assessment of this important institution. Its findings, detailed in its report Separating Law and Politics: Challenges to the Independence of Judges and Prosecutors in Egypt, published February 2014, stress that although judicial independence is protected as a principle at the highest level, in practice and in process, the executive (particularly through the Ministry of Justice) is given wide powers over judges, providing scope for abuse.
Most significantly, Separating Law and Politics called on the transitional and future government to rectify the country’s record of selective prosecutions by instituting a meaningful and peaceful transitional justice process that guarantees independence and impartiality. This recommendation followed the delegation’s finding that during the three successive regimes which followed Hosni Mubarak’s fall in 2011, the prosecution of opposition forces has been enthusiastically pursued.
IBAHRI website link to Separating Law and Politics: Challenges to the Independence of Judges and Prosecutors in Egypt: www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=b30a63ae-8066-4b49-8758-c1684be5e9b9
IBAHRI website link to Egypt page: www.ibanet.org/Human_Rights_Institute/Work_by_regions/Middle_East/Egypt.aspx