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14 June 2006

The following statement was issued by three independent United Nations human rights experts:

“The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, today expressed grave concern over recent attacks against the judiciary in Egypt and the severe repression of demonstrations organized by civil society in support of the judiciary.

The experts also expressed their serious concern with regard to the Egyptian Government’s decision to transfer two Deputy Heads of the Court of Cassation, Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham al- Bastawissi, to the Disciplinary Council. They note that on 19 May 2006, the Disciplinary Committee cleared Judge Mekki of all charges but found Judge al-Batawissi guilty of disparaging the Supreme Judicial Council and talking to the press about political affairs, thereby exposing him to be dismissed from the judiciary if he commits another offense and preventing him from accessing future promotions. Concern is also expressed that the Disciplinary Council is headed by the Head of the Court of Cassation (appointed by the Minister of Justice) and possesses the power to dismiss judges.

The independent experts are gravely worried that this decision represents a means to punish Judge al-Batawissi for exercising his right to freedom of expression with regards to the allegations of widespread electoral fraud during the parliamentary elections of 2005 and deter other judges from further action in favor of judicial reform.

In particular, the independent experts are disturbed by the fact that this decision may aim at deterring the other judges whose immunity has also been lifted from continuing their calls for amending the Judicial Authority Law to guarantee the impartiality and the financial and administrative independence of the judiciary.

The experts note the concerns expressed by a number of Egyptian judges at provisions included in the proposed Judicial Authority Law which reportedly may undermine the independence of the judiciary by providing the Minister of Justice power to determine the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council, to appoint the Head of the Court of Cassation and to decide the budget. Such control of the Supreme Judicial Council allows the Minister to influence that body's decisions on the appointment, promotion, transfer and discipline of all judges. The experts note that Judicial Authority Law will be submitted to the Parliament this week and call on the Government to ensure that the judges’ proposals are taken into consideration and sufficient time is given to members of Parliament to appropriately consider their views.

The experts also expressed alarm regarding the excessive use of force displayed against judges, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society in general during their peaceful protests in support of the independence of the judiciary and the two investigated judges. In particular, the experts were informed that on 18 May 2006, during a peaceful demonstration law enforcement agents arrested and struck dozens of protesters and over 240 members of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and the “Kifaya”, in Cairo and Alexandria and deprived several journalists of their cameras and beat them. In previous peaceful demonstrations, a judge was severely injured by police officers on 25 May 2006. Following another peaceful demonstration in support of the independence of the judiciary, severe beatings by security agents were reported, in particular political activist Karim al-Sha`ir was repeatedly beaten before and during his custody and Mohamed al-Sharqawi was beaten and tortured during custody.

The disciplinary decision of the Government, the proposed Judicial Authority Law and the violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators constitute interference with the independence of the judiciary and a violation of the freedom of opinion and expression and right to protest guaranteed by relevant international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, which guarantee these rights to judges, human rights defenders and journalists.

The independent experts reiterate the concern they already expressed to the Government on different occasions in the past few months, but in relation to which they have received no response. They reaffirm that judges are, like other citizens, entitled to freedom of opinion and expression, belief, association and assembly, and that they are free to exercise these rights in particular in order to represent their interests, to promote their professional training and to protect their judicial independence. They urge the Government to take all appropriate measures to guarantee both these freedoms and the independence of the judiciary, which is a fundamental safeguard for justice and for the protection of the human rights of all people in Egypt”.

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