Rights group asks Egypt to stop retaliation for anti-torture proposal
June 7, Beirut: Egyptian authorities should drop the charges brought against a human rights lawyer and the investigations against at least two judges over their role in proposing an anti-torture law in March 2015.
On March 3, 2016, an investigative judge charged Negad al-Borai, head of a law firm that held workshops preparing the proposed law, with offenses that can carry up to 25 years in prison in relation to those activities. Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council, meanwhile, appears to have ordered an investigation into Hesham Raouf and Assem Abd al-Gabbar; judges who worked with al-Borai to draft the proposed law, for their role in the project, the law firm said.
“In today’s Egypt, not even members of the judiciary are safe and independent from the security-minded arms of the state,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The authorities should be investigating those who torture, not those who are trying to improve Egypt’s laws and bring them in compliance with international norms.”
Authorities have interrogated al-Borai, the head of the 74-year-old United Group law firm, five times since April 2015, most recently on June 5. The interrogations focused on his role in the anti-torture draft law as well as other activities and funding of his law firm.
Judge Abd al-Shafy Othman, appointed by the justice minister to investigate al-Borai’s case, declined to provide al-Borai with an official copy of the charges against him. But al-Borai has said they include: establishing an unlicensed entity with the intent of inciting resistance to the authorities, implementing human rights activities without a license, receiving foreign funds without permission, and spreading false information for the purpose of harming public order.
During the June 5 session, Judge Othman presented al-Borai with a report from the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency that alleged he has been conducting human rights activities, receiving foreign funds and promoting non-violence culture with the purpose of bringing down the state, the United Group said in a June 6 statement. It said the National Security report’s evidence merely consisted of al-Borai’s articles in al-Shorouk, an independent newspaper, and Facebook posts about the crackdown on human rights groups in Egypt.
Having charged al-Borai, the authorities could arrest him at any time and hold him in pre-trial detention, Human Rights Watch said. So far, the investigative judge has simply demanded that al-Borai guarantee his appearance for questioning by providing a certified address. The charge of illegally receiving foreign funding carries a potential 25-year sentence, under an amendment to the penal code decreed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in September 2014.
Judge Othman called Judge Raouf, the president of the Cairo Appeals Court and a former assistant justice minister, and Judge al-Gabbar, the vice president of the Cassation Court, the highest appellate court in the country, for interrogation on June 4. But the two judges have not yet been charged with any offense. Judge Raouf
The Oslo Times/HRW