CAIRO: Human rights groups condemned a recent decision by the Higher Judiciary Council to strip three members of the Egyptian Judge s Club of their right to judicial immunity for calling attention to voting irregularities during recent elections.
“This kind of behavior goes in line with the government s insistence to use the public prosecutor as a tool against reformists and democracy supporters in Egypt, Gamal Eid, executive director of the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), said in a Feb.18 statement.
Over the course of hotly-contested parliamentary elections, held in three rounds last November and December, leading members of the Judge s Club threatened not to monitor run-off elections in protest against alleged voting irregularities.
These were said to include police blockades of polling stations and the use of plain-clothed thugs to threaten voters and judges. In some cases, judges told international media outlets that cases of election-rigging and voter intimidation were rife.
On Feb. 15, three judges who had played a role in what later became known as the judges rebellion were stripped of their judicial immunity by the Higher Judiciary Council. Shortly afterward, they were questioned by the state security prosecutor and charged with insulting and defaming the state.
The accused include the counselor and chairman of the Alexandria Judges Club, the vice-chairman of the Court of Cassation and a member of the club s board of directors.
Many observers say the charges constitute little more than a heavy-handed attempt by Cairo to reign in rebellious judges. It s obvious that the government wants to punish them, said Emad Gad, a political analyst at the government-run Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“Some of these judges spoke to the satellite television stations during the elections, telling them that police were participating in the vote-rigging.
One of the accused, Judge Hesham Al-Bastawisy, deputy head of the country s highest appellate court, told The Associated Press on Feb. 16: I m very appalled that they want to interrogate us for slander instead of investigating and questioning the judges who are accused of vote-rigging.
On Friday, dozens of judges expressed solidarity with their beleaguered colleagues by staging a sit-in protest at the club s Alexandria headquarters. Demonstrators also criticized a recent announcement by the Ministry of Justice to suspend its financial support to judges clubs, estimated at an annual $10.5 million.
According to reports in the state press, protesting judges also condemned alleged attempts by the government to water down a proposed judiciary law, drafted by club members, which would allow for a greater degree of separation between the judiciary and executive branches. Many judges have long pressed the People s Assembly to adopt legislation aimed at bringing the judiciary out from under the control of the government.
Human rights groups, meanwhile, say that – given similar government measures in the past – the recent charges come as little surprise.
“It is not surprising that the public prosecutor who froze investigations on attacks perpetrated against journalists during last May s referendum [on constitutional change] is now questioning judges who defend the right of Egyptian citizens to fair and free elections, stated HRinfo s Eid.
“Had this been a democratic country, these judges would have been honored rather than interrogated. IRIN