Mahmoud Al-Khudairi’s release on bail is the latest chapter of the ongoing “insulting the judiciary” saga that has plagued Egypt since the revolution. According to MENA, the former vice president of the cessation court paid EGP 3,000 to be released, while he faces a charge of accusing judges of election fraud.
Al-Khudairi is part of a wave of such cases, which have been levelled more frequently since then revolution, said Hoda Masralla, a lawyer in the criminal justice unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Masralla claims increased activity in the court system led to more commentary on judges’ actions.
Recently Reem Maged, the TV host of Baladna Bel-Masri, was charged with insulting judges and letting the guests of her show do the same. Fellow TV host, Hala Sarhan, was similarly charged and both hosts have been released on bail with investigations pending, reported Al-Ahram.
The past two years in Egypt have caused judges to pass many controversial judgements, including those regarding the constitution, the deaths of protestors, and the culpability of authority figures.
At the same time, one of the promises of the Egyptian revolution was the ability to speak out. Standing in the way of this promise is Article 186 of the Egyptian Penal Code. This article is vaguely worded and has been used to criminalise anyone who is seen as being overly critical of a judge. Frequently, the cases are brought by the judges themselves who felt offended.
“It’s about their public image,” said Masralla. “As an individual the judge should be subject to criticism of their work, without having a law to protect him.”
“In fact, we don’t have the exact term ‘insult’ in the Article ,” continued Masralla. EIPR and other organizations have worked to change Article 186, and surrounding articles that criminalise criticism of other figures such as parliament and the president, because it stifles freedom of expression.
“We’re requesting rephrasing of some of the text because they are too broad. We want to make them more specific and narrow, and hence minimize criminalisation,” said Masralla. “We base this on more democratic nations that say constructive criticism is a must and [this] should be clarified in the text.”
The articles also contradict the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory. Article 19 of the convention specifically states that freedom of expression should include the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media.”
Al-Khuhairi’s trial has the added twist of his previous involvement in the judiciary independence movement.
Explained Masralla, “there are two currents within the judiciary. There is the one for judiciary independence and the one that belongs to the Supreme Judiciary Council.” The two currents are in conflict, with the Supreme Judiciary Council being accused as belonging to the old regime and Al-Khudhairi’s judiciary independence movement accused of being too political and stepping outside the realm of the law.