CAIRO: The Abbaseya Appeals Court Sunday again adjourned to July 13 the trial of Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Dostour.
Popularly known as the “president’s health case, a court in March found in favor of the prosecution’s claims that articles published in Al-Dostour in August 2007, which alleged that President Mubarak is in ill health, had a detrimental effect on the Egyptian economy.
During Sunday’s hearing, Eissa’s defense team argued that a procedural error at the start of the trial last year invalidated the whole proceedings.
The charges – of “publishing false information of a nature to disturb public order or security – were originally sent to a state security court before the classification of the case was changed from state security to ordinary criminal misdemeanors.
Defense lawyer Samir Hafez argued that the failure to send the case back to the public prosecution office (after the decision was made to change the court hearing the charges) constitutes an infringement of the Criminal Procedures Code.
Hafez pointed to the very different composition, and procedural rules, of exceptional state security courts, and said that it is not within the mandate of these courts to transfer a case to a different tribunal.
The prosecution responded by saying that the defense argument was based on a flawed legal premise.
The prosecutor argued that the court’s jurisdiction was not at issue and that the manner in which the case was transferred had in no way violated criminal procedures rules.
Defense lawyer Mohsen El-Bahnasy told the court that Article 188 of the Penal Code under which Eissa is being tried, is unconstitutional because it reverses the burden of proof, placing the onus on the defendant.
In so doing, he said, the article violates several articles of the Egyptian Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
El-Bahnasy also said that the imprecise and unclear terms used in Article 188 are another reason for which it is in violation of the constitution and the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, of which Egypt is a signatory.
He called on the court to send the case papers to Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court for a ruling on the constitutionality of the disputed article.
When asked by Judge Hazem Waguih why the defense had not raised either of these issues – the procedural error surrounding the transfer of the case and the unconstitutionality of Article 188 – in earlier hearings, defense lawyer Essam Sultan argued that the court’s rejection of all three of their previous demands had forced them to adopt these new tactics.
In previous hearings the defense made three demands: that the state security investigations officer who brought the charges be brought before the court; that they be allowed to submit preparatory papers which elucidate the drafting, context and meaning of Article 188; and that a committee of media experts be formed to give its professional opinion on the charges brought against Eissa.
All of these demands were rejected by the court.
“We insist that we be given the right to present our defense in another session and that our argument that the error in the transfer of the case undermines the entire proceedings be considered, Sultan said.
The court accepted the defense’s demand and scheduled the next hearing for July 13, 2008 when, in addition to the hearing of defense arguments, the verdict will be pronounced.