CAIRO: After a trial that dragged on for more than a year, Ayman Nour was sentenced, early Saturday, to five years in jail by an Egyptian court.
Nour, chairman of El-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, was accused last year of forging all but 14 applications out of the 2,000 needed by law to declare his political party legal. Nour, however, will appeal to the Cassation Court against what he calls an unjust sentence, say his lawyers.
The court convicted five other co-defendants from El-Ghad Party, one of whom – tried in absentia – received 10 years in jail. The other’s sentences ranged from three to five years.
According to legal reports, some of Nour’s co-defendants had confessed that they forged the official documents upon Nour’s command. One co-defendant, however, claimed that he was pressured by security to testify against Nour.
A statement issued by the party following the sentence alleged that the judge and members of the judiciary were “hostile towards Nour and his defense attorneys.
Only a few of Nour’s defense attorneys were allowed to witness the sentencing. Howeida Mansour, one attorney who was prevented from entering the courtroom, said “Everyone knew the sentence beforehand; they will convict him. It is a matter already decided by the court long ago.
According to Mansour, by oppressing Nour, the regime has turned him into a “national hero in the eyes of the Egyptian people and the international community.
Before the trial went into session, Nour’s attorneys claimed that security officials scanned the courtroom for explosives, “a move that has never preceded a court case before. It is unheard of, calimed Mansour. Many members of the press who attempted to attend the trial were shoved and harassed at the door. Photographers were violently herded into a corner once inside the courtroom. Security personnel constituted the majority of the trial attendees.
Nour was President Hosni Mubarak’s strongest competition in this year’s presidential elections, earning around 8 percent of the votes. However, in the latest November parliamentary elections his party performed poorly and Nour lost his house seat.
Two weeks before the Saturday trial, Nour went on a hunger strike, protesting detainment without conviction. Human rights groups, both local and international, have regarded the premature detention as an omen of how the court decision would go. The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary had claimed, in a press release published Monday last week, that putting Nour in custody before the trial gave away “the court’s premeditated tendency to convict Nour.
Chaos filled the court halls, as the sentence was announced. Gamilla Ismail, Nour’s wife and party spokeswoman, started shouting along with her family, “Down with the [government] . We seek sanctuary in God.
During the trial, around 300 El-Ghad supporters stood by the courthouse chanting the Egyptian anthem. The diverse group of supporters, wearing orange scarves, T-shirts or caps, waved their orange banners that read: “Together we build a tomorrow.
Groups of El-Ghad supporters gathered by the Cairo courthouse the night before the trial. The sit-in attracted around 30 fully loaded trucks of security and riot police, who cordoned off the courthouse until the case was over the following morning. The supporters, who performed the night prayer in unity in a nearby mosque, kept to the streets until the next morning, where more supporters joined them.
During the night, one supporter claims, they “were pushed and harassed several times.Women were specifically targeted.
Ismail joined the night sit-in to read a written statement allegedly sent by Nour himself to members of the sit-in. In the statement, Nour predicted his indictment and asked his supporters to struggle peacefully for his cause “without using violence, or even bad-mouthing the government or the justice system.
Nour’s supporters were outraged by the court’s decision. When they heard the final sentence, many of the supporters burst into tears and a few passed out. The rest chanted: “God is greater than tyrants, while others loudly cursed the regime.
“His voice will never die and we will continue on the path he paved for us, said Yasmine Abdel-Aziz, a zealous El-Ghad member and supporter.
Aida Seif El-Dawla, human rights group leader, who was present at the scene, adorned in black, silently wept over the “the liberal leader.
Shortly after the sentence was pronounced, Ismail joined the protestors shouting: “Down with Mubarak.
She appealed to the protestors to be calm. “We must not let them win.You must not give the dogs of the regime [referring to the riot police] a reason to touch any of you . Don’t be sad. God is with you, said Ismail in a loudspeaker as she stood on top of her Black Jeep Cherokee, surrounded by crying and wailing supporters. Ismail asked supporters to head to the press syndicate Sunday evening for a peaceful protest.
Protestors later marched peacefully to Bab Al-Shiria, the district Nour had represented in the outgoing parliament, chanting “Nour! You are the true leader of this nation.
Some shouted, “We succumb to God’s judgment, but not to Mubarak’s.
The march occasionally blocked traffic and attracted other pedestrian reactions.”He was the man who was going to get us jobs, said one booth owner referring to Nour, as he watched the marchers.
“He made projects for the youth, helped widows and orphans. He gave out computers and established a free cultural club for our area, said Inshirah Mandour, a housewife and a Nour sympathizer.
“He gives people jobs and housing, provides them with health care, and pays school fees for children from his own money. He sent 25 people to Hajj [Muslim pilgrimage] at his own expense, said another supporter.
“The president is retaliating against him. According to Mandour,” This is a dispute between Nour on one side and the president and his son on another.
Many regard the final sentence a “direct defiance to the U.S. State Department who has on many occasions supported Ayman Nour and linked his case to the state of reform and democracy in Egypt.
Last Friday, a U.S. editorial in The Washington Post called upon the American president to interfere in support of Nour, by cutting annual U.S. monetary aid to Egypt. “The United States provides Mr. Mubarak s [government] with $1.8 billion in military and economic aid; without that money for his generals it s doubtful the aged president could remain in office, read the inflammatory editorial.
The editorial claimed Nour’s case had no “gray areas ; he held neither extremist views nor a threatening ideology.
“We will never give up and we will continue to protest, says Ihab El-Khouli, Nour’s principle attorney. “This is a strictly political case. It is not just a plot against Ayman Nour; they are targeting the whole movement.