CAIRO: The trial of eight Sudanese men, charged with involvement in the murder of Malea Fealjour Bekam and injury of Nasser Bil Leel, who is also a defendant, began Tuesday in the New Cairo Criminal Court.
The defendants, known as the “AUC 8, are aged between 19 and 24. Victim Bekam was fatally stabbed and Bil Leel seriously injured when a street fight between Sudanese youths erupted outside the American University in Cairo (AUC) on June 15, 2007 as the university celebrated World Refugee Day.
According to the “Fair Trial for the AUC 8 website (http://auc8.blogspot.com), more than 80 men of Sudanese appearance present in the downtown area where the incident took place were arrested afterwards.
One of these men was Elamin Abbass Mohamed, a 20-year old who had arrived from Khartoum less than a month before the incident to attend an aviation course with Egyptair.
Elamin appeared visibly upset during the court proceedings. His brother Mohamed told Daily News Egypt that Elamin is not guilty: “He’s crying because he’s been wronged. He has nothing to do with what happened.
All of the men arrested in June were released except these eight defendants. They have now been in Tora prison for over six months, their detention renewed every 45 days according to the Emergency Law, under which the case is being tried.
The defendants have no right of appeal under the Emergency Law and face charges which carry penalties ranging from one to 25 years imprisonment.Fatma Idriss, a development worker and friend of one of the defendants, has been active in their defence. She says that there exist clear flaws in the prosecution’s case.
“The case is completely made-up. It contains a lot of contradictions. Even someone not specialized in the law can see this, she told Daily News Egypt.
Elamin’s brother echoed this sentiment.
“Elamin was arrested after he, Essam [Eddin Jubbara, the second defendant] and Abdalla [Hassan Abdel Karim, the third defendant] got out of a taxi on Qasr El-Aini Street. When they were arrested, they were headed towards AUC and had their passports with them. Why would someone who has just committed a crime head towards the place where the incident took place, and why would they be carrying ID with them? he said.
According to the Fair Trial for the AUC 8 website, even the victim’s mother maintains that the eight men are not guilty.
“The police know that this is something to do with the gangs from south Sudan. This violence has been happening since 2003. Elamin has nothing to do with it, Mohamed explained to Daily News Egypt.
Inter-communal violence between unemployed Sudanese youths who are unable to attend Egyptian schools and cannot afford private institutions has emerged as a growing problem in recent years.
The defence team said their case will focus on the contradictions and shortcomings in the case against the men and, in particular, the police report on the incident.
In today’s hearing, the defendants appeared briefly before the judge in his inner chambers before being returned to prison.
Speaking after the hearing, lawyer Ali El-Habet said he was optimistic about the case.
“I asked the court to postpone proceedings so that we can prepare our case, but requested that the delay not be too lengthy because the defendants’ families are bearing the burden of supporting them financially. The court approved the request.
At the next hearing, scheduled for March 5, defense witnesses will testify. The defense witnesses had come to court Tuesday but the absence of a court-approved interpreter (all three witnesses are English-speakers) prevented them from testifying.
Supporters of the defendants (who preferred to remain anonymous) told Daily News Egypt that they think the police handling of the incident, and the fact that the case is being tried under Emergency Law, reflect a sensitivity to tension within the Sudanese community that emerged after the 2005 Mostafa Mahmoud protest.
On Dec. 30, 2005 nearly 30 Sudanese protestors were killed near Mostafa Mahmoud mosque when Egyptian riot police violently broke up a three-month protest they had been holding outside Cairo’s United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
The Egyptian police were widely criticized for the methods used to disperse the protestors.