CAIRO: Journalists, attornies and the families of Al-Salam 98 ferry victims gathered Wednesday at the Journalists’ Syndicate to discuss their action plan following the controversial Sunday verdict at a Safaga court.
The court had acquitted the main defendant, former MP Mamdouh Ismail, the ferry owner, as well as four others. The Captain of the Saint Catherine ship was handed a six-month jail sentence and fined LE 10,000 for not offering to help the sinking ferry.
“The verdict issued last Sunday [in favor of Mamdouh Ismail] ignored all the evidence and the testimonies of witnesses during the long-running trial which prove him guilty, said Yasser Fathi, one of the lawyers in the defense committee.
Fathi said that the defense committee, which includes volunteers, will form a national committee to speak on behalf of the victims’ families.
“The committee is national-political committee including public figures, opposition and independent MPs as well as representatives of political parties, he said.
In addition, within the next 72 hours the committee plans to launch a website in cooperation with a group of online journalists.
The site will contain all the information on the case to show the world the extent of corruption in Egypt and provide a forum for citizens to express their opinions.
When Fathi announced that the victims’ families will refrain from voting for anyone who supported Mamdouh Ismail, attendees broke out into applause and started cheering.
He referred to the “National Democratic Party, which is full of all this corruption, and all its representatives.
Fathi, however, denied having any plans to take the case to the International Criminal Court despite local press reports claiming otherwise.
A few hours after the verdict was pronounced, Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud issued a statement saying that he will appeal the ruling, and called for a retrial.
Mahmoud said he wanted a retrial because of “violations in documented records, corruption in investigation, shortcomings in validating and arbitrary conclusions, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.
Fathi confirmed that they are currently undertaking all procedures to restart the investigations and re-interrogate the witnesses and officials involved “including those inside and outside Egypt.
Outspoken journalist and opposition MP Mostafa Bakry said, “This is not a day of grief but a day to insist on serving justice hold those who caused this crisis and those who helped them to account.
“How can Mamdouh Ismail remain in the country for two whole months without being questioned and without losing his political immunity as a member of the Shoura Council and without being prohibited from leaving the country? He was left to flee the country with his son and entire family, if was sure of his innocence, then why did he leave the country and why didn’t he attend the trial? he asked.
When the floor became open for questions, one man stood up and shouted, “We don’t want Gamal Mubarak, he is the reason for all this corruption . we don’t want him, every single MP should join forces with the Muslim Brotherhood and demand change.
“This is a wrong and unfair verdict by all means, an angry Sharkawy Helmy Abdel Hamid Hassanein, a survivor who had lost his father in the ferry accident told Daily News Egypt.
“This is an insult to all the victims of this disaster; I’m shocked and surprised by this verdict. I feel as if I’m in a jungle, he said, adding that the justice committee Fathi spoke about was the only hope of justice for them.
The gathering was not restricted to victims’ families and civil society activists and lawyers, but included ordinary Egyptians who felt strongly about the case.
“This verdict was manipulated by politicians; no one can rule in favor of a man who killed more than 1,000 people and orphaned hundreds of children, said Om Tarek, a housewife who wanted to show her support for the families.
“I’m not optimistic at all with what we are doing. This isn’t the first or last time such a miscarriage of justice takes place . they’re just letting us talk, that’s all, said one female journalist who choked up on her words.
Fathi said that the defense committee has officially filed a request for the Minister of Justice and Minister of Interior to move the trail to a Cairo court. He explained that holding the trial in Safaga was done deliberately to prevent the majority of families, activists and media from attending it.
“This is not a trial for the right of 1,034 martyrs, but a trial for the right of a nation, said Bakry.