International labor groups condemn conviction of labor leader Kamal Abbas

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CAIRO: A string of international labor and human rights groups have come out in support of Kamal Abbas – the director of the shuttered Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS) – condemning a recent court decision which sentenced him and a freelance journalist associated with his group to one year in prison.

The two were convicted of defamation and public abuse after writer Mohamed Helmy published an article on corruption at the 15th of May Youth Center, where he was a member of the board. The story was published in Kalam Sanay’iya, a magazine published by the CTUWS.

Last week, the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) issued a statement expressing its “most serious condemnation of the conviction.

The group, which represents 168 million workers in 153 countries, accused the government of orchestrating the convictions as part of its broader crackdown on opposition groups and independent media.

“We are very concerned about this latest attack on the CTUWS, said Guy Ryder, ITUC general secretary, in a statement released to the press. “We are particularly concerned that these prison sentences follow a long tradition of repression of the CTUWS, an independent civil society organization committed to defending trade union and workers rights in Egypt.

“We cannot accept that the CTUWS be intimidated through the courts or otherwise for actions that are perfectly legal and legitimate, he added.

In addition to the ITUC, statements of support have poured in from a number of European organizations.

A coalition of the three largest Italian trade unions sent a letter to President Hosni Mubarak urging him to “ensure that CTUWS is not persecuted and demanding that “this particular case could be reviewed.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network also issued a statement “expressing its deep concern over the case.

The conviction has attracted particular attention and anger from rights groups because in between the publication of the corruption accusations and the two men’s September conviction, an investigation launched by the Governor of Cairo revealed the charges against the youth center management to be true.

After the investigation, Cairo Governor Abdel Azim Wazir ordered the entire board of the center to be disbanded and singled out Chairman Mohamed Mustafa Ibrahim for particular censure.

In an ironic twist, it was Ibrahim who filed the case against Abbas and Helmy, and on Sept. 30 the Helwan Misdemeanor Court ruled in his favor.

“The article that we published about the 15th of May Youth Center was based on facts and research which proved the corruption, Abbas told Daily News Egypt. “Those complaints and facts were all accurate and legitimate, and eventually led to many of the problems at the center being solved.

“Ibrahim filed his suit against both the writer and I before it was clear to everyone that the facts were true, and before the problems there were solved, he added.

In a statement released to the media, the CTUWS expressed “extreme concern at what it called an “unbelievable sentence.

The group says it plans to appeal the conviction at a court session scheduled for Dec. 29, and both Abbas and Helmy remain free until the appeals have been completed.

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