MP Haitham El-Hariri, charged with disturbing public order, appeared before court on Wednesday after the House of Representatives approved a decision to lift his parliamentary immunity.
In an exceptional decision, El-Hariri petitioned parliament to lift his legislative immunity in an attempt to bring attention to social justice, as he confirmed to Daily News Egypt shortly before going to court. Petitions to lift the legislative immunity of MP are usually filed by individual claimants or judicial sources.
On Tuesday, the parliament’s official website reported that a 250 majority of the 596 parliament members voted to allow El-Hariri to stand in trial, without the legal immunity that is afforded to parliamentary members by law.
The Alexandria Criminal Court is hearing El-Hariri’s case. The trial was postponed Wednesday and will now commence on 26 March. According to El-Hariri, the court asked him to submit an official document from the parliament stating that his legal immunity has been suspended until the trial concludes.
He is accused of “disrupting public order” following incidents that occurred in June 2013, during which clashes erupted between Muslim Brotherhood members and activists from the Tamarod campaign that was calling for protests against former president Mohamed Morsi.
El-Hariri, who supported Tamarod but claimed not to be directly involved in the incidents, previously told Daily News Egypt ahead of a court session in November, that the court treated him as a parliamentary member, “without him having to ask for legal immunity”.
He explained that the judge did not make him enter the defendants’ cage during the trial, nor did the judge order El-Hariri’s detention. Rather, the judge granted El-Hariri’s release after receiving guarantees that he would attend trial sessions.
El-Hariri is among a minority of parliamentary members who have publicly made efforts to achieve social justice and improve the situation of human rights in Egypt. His father, Ezz El-Hariri, was a renowned opposition MP.
Legislative immunity for parliamentary members is intended to allow them to be protected from prosecution resulting from statements and activities that come about during the course of their parliamentary duty, thus providing a freer and safer space for the parliament to fulfill its legislative task.
According to article 113 of the Egyptian constitution passed in 2014, unless caught in the act of a crime, parliamentary members are immune to legal prosecution. A parliamentary member can request parliament to wave this immunity and allow the judiciary to take legal action against a member.
“The parliament cannot fulfil its duty without guarantees of independence for its members, to ensure that they do not come under pressure by the executive authority,” stated a report by the parliament’s legal unity, available on its official website.
Scenarios where parliamentary immunity is applied include the arrest of members, searches of their places of residence, and interrogations by investigative authorities. The report further emphasised that immunity is not for personal gain nor a benefit granted to individuals, but is, rather, a system to safeguard public interests.
Currently, parliamentary members are reviewing the internal organisation chart and are seeking stricter procedures governing petitions to lift the legal immunity of members. The proposed amendments will include regulations such as a requirement that any petitioner will be obliged to present comprehensive documents to prove the seriousness of their claim, whether criminal or civil, against any MP.
El-Hariri’s request is unusual in Egypt where there remains the possibility that legislative immunity can be misunderstood as a licence to commit violations with impunity.
On Tuesday, an MP apologized to a journalist working for Al-Watan newspaper, after assaulting him inside the parliamentary hall. The journalist had tried to obtain comments from MP Tawfik Okasha, when MP Mahmoud Khamis brutally assaulted him.
The Press Syndicate responded by asking journalists to suspend parliamentary coverage, condemning such assaults on reporters. It revoked its decision after Khamis’ apology, followed by a general apology to journalists by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Al.