By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: A court ruling sentencing veteran labor unionist Kamal Abbas to six months in prison is a continuation of the practices of the ousted regime, the activist told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
The verdict issued in absentia by the Helwan Misdemeanor Court found Abbas, general coordinator of the Center for Trade Unions and Worker’s Services (CTUWS), guilty of “insulting a public officer.”
Abbas faced this accusation after he interrupted former head of the official Egyptian Trade Union Federation during a speech at the International Labor Organization (ILO) last June.
Abbas accused Ismail of being part of the ousted regime and criticized the official workers union, accusing it of not representing the Egyptian workers.
“This is the attack of counter-revolutionary forces against activists, whether labor activists or political activists, and a continuation of the practices of the ousted regime,” Abbas told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
He cited a similar court verdict sentencing him to one year imprisonment in a case triggered by a conflict with the official trade union.
“The verdict tells us that ousted regime figures can still have an impact after the revolution, using the same old practices,” Abbas said, considering it a flagrant crackdown on freedom of expression after he expressed his opinion freely in a conference of an international organization.
“Our friend Kamal Abbas attended the conference as a representative of the Independent Trade Union Federation (ITUC) delegation,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC in an official statement released March 1.
Abbas said the verdict, issued in absentia in a preliminary court, was appealed and a hearing has been set for April 8.
“We can’t accept this judgment. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. We are urging the authorities to drop all the charges,” Burrow said.
“Following the Egyptian revolution in February 2011, the ITUC gave the authorities every chance to respect fundamental workers’ rights. Our patience has run out,” she added.
This was not the first time Abbas and labor unionists have been targeted since the ruling military council took over power following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
A law passed last March criminalized labor protests that disrupt the work process, drawing criticism from rights organizations that deemed the law as a flagrant crackdown on syndicate laws in Egypt.
The Egyptian Union for Independent Syndicates (EUIS) said in a statement released in October that the crackdown on labor freedom has continued since the military council took over power, with dozens of labor activists and union leaders arrested or assaulted either during protests or after forming independent labor unions.
Ten labor protesters were referred to general prosecution last June in the first implementation of the law to criminalize labor protests. The prosecution imposed a bail of LE 10,000 for each, which was later revoked.
The 10 protesters included five farmers, three workers at Al-Nasr Company for Cars, and two Al-Azhar students who were protesting in front of the Cabinet with charges of insulting public servants, blocking traffic, illegal gathering and threatening national security.
Other crackdowns ranged from firing workers for forming independent unions, temporarily detentions for protesting, or individual attacks on union leaders.
“Passing the Law of Syndicate Freedoms will solve all these issues since it will protect labor rights,” Abbas said, adding that the law was passed by the Cabinet earlier and rejected by the ruling military council.
“The law is now being discussed in the parliament and we hope it will be passed very soon,” he said.