CAIRO: The Sixth District Court in Dokki heard the first session of the case between Alexandria Judge Abdel Fattah Mourad and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) over the weekend, in a hearing that group activists described as encouraging.
In early March Mourad filed a case with the State Council Court to block the website of HRInfo and 20 other organizations or individuals. In a March 2 interview with state-run daily Rose Al Yousef, Mourad alleged that the groups in question “tarnish the reputation of Egypt and insult the Egyptian president and “pose a threat to the national security, stability and supreme interests of Egypt and Arab countries.
Among those Mourad wants to see banned are El Ghad Party, the Kefaya National Movement for Change, and the Iraqi News Agency.
HRInfo claims that Mourad’s accusations are driven by a personal vendetta against the organization after it began preparing to sue him for copyright infringement.
They claim that Mourad plagiarized more than 50 pages of his recent book, “Scientific and Legal Principles of Blogs on the Internet, from a report the group published entitled Stubborn Adversary: The Internet & Arab Governments.
The judge violated our copyrights and when we exposed this he filed a lawsuit to block HRinfo s website and 20 others, said the group in a statement. This campaign does not only target HRinfo but targets all those who support it. We will not give up our rights. This judge plagiarized large parts of our report and paraphrased some sentences for a book he sells.
Mourad, who has written many other books on law and society, rejects the charges. The Daily Star Egypt could not reach the Judge for comment by press time.
According to Gamal Eid, the Director of HRInfo, at the beginning of the hearing Mourad requested a closed trial, with a ban on media coverage, which the court denied. He then launched an attack on human rights activism in Egypt.
“[Mourad] said that human rights organizations that receive funding from abroad are a kind of terrorist organization because they insult the president, Hosni Mubarak, and harm the country of Egypt, said Eid.
After that, Mourad quickly turned his attention to the plagiarism charge, which is the subject of an entirely separate lawsuit, says Eid.
“When Judge Mourad started to talk about our report, he told the court that he referenced our report in his book 27 times, Eid said. “The court told him that he was bringing up a completely different legal issue, so they asked me to speak on behalf of HRInfo to comment and tell him our side of the story. So I did.
Hussein El-Sawy, a lawyer representing the state, was also present to argue against Judge Mourad. Technically, the lawsuit is between Mourad and the Ministry of Interior, and demands that they block the websites. As such, HRInfo is a third party bystander in the case of its own site.
In an unusual turn of events, El-Sawy was present to defend the government against the suit, and also implicitly to defend a coalition of human rights organizations which usually take an antagonistic stance towards the regime.
According to witnesses present at the hearing, El-Sawy argued that it is technically impossible to completely block or ban a website because the site can quickly be re-launched on a proxy server. In addition to being impossible to fulfill Mourad’s request, he told the Court that trying to do so would be a waste of the Ministry’s time and resources.
The Court asked both Mourad and lawyers for HRInfo to prepare legal briefs outlining each side in the case. In addition, Mourad was asked to submit a copy of his book and HRInfo a copy of their Internet report, and each will be entered as evidence. No court date has yet been set on separate charges filed by Mourad against Eid and bloggers Alaa Seif and Manal Hassan. The Judge has accused both of defamation and insult.
In the meantime, HRInfo continues to petition the Judges Club to remove Mourad’s judicial immunity so that he can be prosecuted for copyright infringement. It is unclear how the events of Saturday’s trial will effect the separate plagiarism case.
The 20 other groups named in Mourad’s lawsuit are all organizations or private individuals who have been publicly supportive of the plagiarism case against the judge. They claim they are being punished for voicing that support.
The case is being closely watched by human rights groups, and has raised concerns about the regime’s commitment to freedom of expression. For many it has become a showcase for the abuse of power, and how far one influential man will go to avoid prosecution on charges of plagiarism or other petty crimes.
The next hearing on Mourad’s request for the blocking of the human rights websites and blogs will be held on May 5 in Dokki’s Sixth District Courthouse.