CAIRO: Human rights activists are appealing to judicial authorities for a retrial of opposition MP Ayman Nour due to irregularities in the initial investigation and trial.
“A retrial should be carried out as quickly as possible, said Bahieddine Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, in order to address the serious legal breaches made in his first trial.
Nour s lawyers presented a petition for retrial to the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal, on Feb. 18. Nour, a leading opposition figure and head of the nascent El-Ghad Party, was tried along with six others and convicted in December of having forged signatures on party documents. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Human rights activists say that among the irregularities in the case was the lifting of Nour s parliamentary immunity.
“Article 99 of the Egyptian constitution protects members of parliament from criminal investigation, said Nour s chief defense lawyer Amir Salem. Nour s immunity was lifted a full 11 days after the investigations had been launched.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the judge consistently refused to grant most defense requests for access to relevant documents, such as samples of the alleged forgeries. He further refused a request to subpoena the minutes of a key meeting at the Ministry of Interior s Public Audit Bureau, which initially gave rise to the accusations. Additionally, one of the defendants, Ayman Ismail Hassan, retracted a statement incriminating Nour in the trial s second session, saying that he had been coerced by security agents, HRW reported.
Activists have repeatedly claimed that the former MP is being held on trumped up charges. There s no question that Nour s conviction last month was politicized, and that the National Democratic Party-dominated government is behind it, said Salem.
The government, meanwhile, denies the charges. This is not a political court, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in a recent interview with U.S. weekly Newsweek. It s not a state-security court. This is an ordinary Egyptian criminal court. Nazif added: Because I know Ayman, I know he forged those papers.
According to rights activists, though, the conviction is little more than an attempt to stifle political opposition. The government consistently overlooks key legal considerations in order to kill the emergence of active opposition at the root, Salem said. The lack of judicial independence is inherently linked to the overall lack of democracy.
A response to the petition is expected within the next two weeks.
The Court of Cassation is said to be more independent than its state-security or civil counterparts. There s no doubt that the second trial would be more independent than the first, Hassan said. The trial, if carried out, would be at a higher level, and judges would be less likely to give in to government pressure.
In a separate case, U.S.-Egyptian activist Saadedine Ibrahim was tried and convicted on two separate occasions on charges of tarnishing Egypt s image abroad and receiving illegal funds. In 2002, however, he was cleared of the charges – which critics also said were politically motivated – by the Court of Cassation.
Nour ran against President Hosni Mubarak in September 2005, in Egypt s first-ever multi-candidate presidential elections, garnering eight percent of votes. In parliamentary elections in November, however, he lost his long-time seat in the Cairo district of Bab Al-Shaariya to a rival NDP candidate, amid accusations from independent monitors of vote rigging and intimidation.
A powerful businessman, Nour has been active in politics for several years. He broke away from the ailing opposition Al-Wafd Party in early 2004 and retained his seat in parliament as an independent. In October 2004, he formed the El-Ghad Party, which has a centrist liberal platform. The party runs a newspaper and has garnered considerable support in a short space of time. IRIN