CAIRO: The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) presented a report detailing the government’s “eight-year oppression of the judiciary.
The report which covers the period from 2000 to 2008 describes “the executive authority’s attempts to control the judiciary, judges as well as the serious violations of judicial independence, and the abuse of judicial bodies which this has resulted in.
ACIJLP says that there was “unprecedented interference by the executive authority – represented by the Minister of Justice – in judicial affairs during the monitoring period.
This interference took the form of “interference in judicial proceedings, abuse of judges’ right to physical well being, violation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of association as well as violation of their right to provide the guarantees of a fair and just trial.
Ordinary judges continued to be stripped of jurisdiction in favor of exceptional courts such as military tribunals and emergency state security courts – widely criticized as failing to provide guarantees of a fair trial. The renewal of the state of emergency in 2008 for another two-year period ensured the continuation of this policy, the report notes.
The report is also critical of the amendments made to over 60 articles of the Egyptian Constitution in 2005 and 2007, reserving particular criticism for the amendment made to article 76 which, it says, imposes impossible to meet conditions on presidential candidate hopefuls who do not enjoy the backing of the ruling National Democratic Party, the majority parliamentary bloc.
Equally, the 2007 amendment to Article 179 (which introduced counter-terrorism measures) which it says “further endangers citizens’ rights and freedoms and restricts guarantees of judicial protection.
The amendment to Article 88 of the Constitution has, the report says, “rendered judicial monitoring useless . Speaking during a press conference to launch the report at ACIJLP’s Cairo office, the center’s director Nasser Amin predicted “serious irregularities during the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections as a result of this.
Government interference in the composition of the courts traditionally associated with the “protection of rights and freedoms has undermined their role, the report says.
It points to the decision to appoint individuals not drawn from courts’ general assemblies (as was previously traditionally the case) to key positions such as president of the supreme constitutional court as evidence of this.
Attacks on the judiciary also take a more personal form, the report says, pointing to Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marei s “ridiculing, offending and defamation of judges .
“In addition to the Minister of Justice s statement that a large number of judges and heads of court are inefficient, he ridiculed and offended senior judges, such as describing the head of the Judges Club using completely inappropriate terms, the report reads.
Amin said that “no other Minister of Justice has treated judges as badly as the current minister .
The report links “government aggression against the Judges Club with the Club s refusal “to submit to the Ministry of Justice s plans to make it merely a social association.
“On the contrary, the Club pursued an effective campaign calling for real judicial independence and consolidation of judges right to freedom of expression .
In 2005 the Judges Club published a report alleging irregularities during the September 2005 elections. It subsequently led an inquiry into allegations of electoral fraud made during the November 2005 parliamentary elections. The Club s campaign attracted widespread popular support.
“At the time the Club launched its campaign Egypt was demoralized politically, and people thought that the Judges Club would be a force for change, Amin told the press conference.
Amin suggested that political groups adopted the campaign with both “good and bad intentions , adding that the Muslim Brotherhood s (MB) backing of it was “ill-intentioned, and aimed at proving to the government the extent of the MB s reach, that its influence is not confined to university campuses.
Amin added that while judges’ demand for independence continues, the role of the Judges Club has abated following its recent elections, held earlier this year, when the reformist current was voted out.