In his first televised interview, Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zind tackled a wide array of issues related to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and Egypt’s judicial sector.
Appearing on private TV channel Sada Al-Balad Sunday with Ahmed Moussa, many of Al-Zind’s statements and announced plans sparked major debate regarding their legality among numerous parties.
In an official press release on Monday, the State Council – the highest judicial authority in the country – lashed out at Al-Zind’s statements, in which he criticised the council’s comments on the amendments to the Penal Code,.
Following reviews on the bill between late December and early January, the State Council’s legislative unit sent back the bill to the cabinet for further review due to its unconstitutionality. The amendments to Article 227 of the Penal Code, which were made by the Supreme Judicial Council in July 2015, attempted to introduce changes to the regulations for summoning witnesses by allowing the court to select the witnesses testifying on the behalf of the defendants.
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According to the State Council, this would violate Articles 96 and 97 of the 2014 Constitution and the Supreme Constitutional Court decisions, which oblige the court to summon all witnesses requested by the defendants without restrictions.
Al-Zind said, during the TV interview, that the judiciary is about to issue new laws to “expedite justice”. The articles of those to-be-proposed law are related to the “prolonged” litigation processes, adjourning verdicts, summoning witnesses, in addition to forensic medicine reports, according to Al-Zind.
“The defence of terrorist Brotherhood members exploit the legal articles, which gives them the right to listen to witnesses’ testimonies, as a way to stretch out the trial duration,” he said.
The State Council perceived the statements as a blatant interference in its judicial role, highlighting legal articles that clearly outline the council’s jurisdiction in general, and in relation to Al-Zind’s statements in particular.
Mahmoud Raslan, head of the legislative unit at the State Council, told Daily News Egypt: “Those words should not be coming from a justice minister; he is supposedly aware of the judicial roles.”
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“The legislative unit does not support his initiative to achieve quick litigations, as it mainly reviews laws according to their constitutionality, rather than focusing on a specific group or interest,” he added.
Moreover, during the same interview, Al-Zind also discussed the unrest in Sinai and police and military casualties, attempting to forge a link between those attacks and his role as a justice minister in an even more controversial statement.
“I will only be at ease when I retaliate [by] killing 10,000 Brotherhood members and supporters in retaliation for each [killed] soldier,” he said.
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The statement raised widespread concern, not only from the Brotherhood’s side, but also from independent rights groups and TV hosts, questioning the legal basis of such an action.
The Heliopolis Centre for Political Studies and Human Rights Researches (HPHR) filed a report on Saturday to the Prosecutor General against Al-Zind for his “seditious discourse” in the aforementioned statements. The centre called for an extensive investigation, demanding that the necessary legal measures are taken against him.
Managing Director of HPHR Tamer Al-Sherif told Daily News Egypt: “Al-Zind’s hate speech could lead to substantial strife and even put Egypt’s foreign relations at risk.”
“Whether we agree with a law or not, the judicial power is the official authority mandated to decide on laws, and those statements are simply irresponsible,” he said.
During the three-hour interview, Al-Zind further denied taking a stance against journalists. “Whoever speaks about jailing journalists is insane, as jailing journalists violates the constitution,” he said. “I am not against journalists or any national faction in Egypt.”
Under the rule of former justice minister Saber Mahfouz, a bill was drafted, entitled the Unified Press Law, which included substantial changes of the regulations for the press and media in Egypt. The draft law included launching two new entities: the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, and the National Press Institute, aiming to regulate the content, permission procedures and code of ethics within the press and media.
It also banned arbitrary expulsions for journalists or assaults against them during work, and guaranteed the access to social insurance for all press organisation employees. In terms of the media, it stipulated the right to penalise any channel that violates the press code of ethics, as stated in the law, or that fails to obtain the required permissions for broadcasting.
Khaled Al-Balshy, head of the Freedoms Committee at the Press Syndicate, told Daily News Egypt: “We were surprised by Al-Zind’s statements on a different version of the bill than the one initially agreed upon with the past minister.”
According to Al-Balshy, a substantial change took place in the bill following Al-Zind’s appointment, in particular related to the roles of the two new aforementioned institutions. He stated that the stipulations, as stated by Al-Zind, turn the institutions into governmental entities, rather maintaining independence from the executive branch of government.
“This reflects Al-Zind’s intention to create a stranglehold over the press and media in Egypt, especially after he has sued several journalists,” he said.
Since his appointment in May 2015, Al-Zind has sued and fined six reporters and editors from the Al-Ahram, Al-Masryoon, and Sout Al-Oumma newspapers, on charges of “defaming him”. He also filed three lawsuits against newspapers of publishing false news about him.
The syndicate is currently re-launching negotiations with the legislation unit of the State Council to review the original version of the bill.
Regarding the outstanding issue of the funds alleged to have been smuggled by former regime figure, Al-Zind said he agreed with fugitive businessman Hussein Salem to give back EGP 10bn to Egypt in return for settling all financial corruption cases against him. His stance towards retaining the funds is explicit, he said, further claiming that funds will not be returned except through reconciliation with the former regime figures.