|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
5 - 11 July 2001
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Militants freedIN AN UNPRECEDENTED move, authorities released two leading members of the country's largest militant group, Al- Gama'a Al-Islamiya, this week after serving 20 years in prison for their roles in the 1981 assassination of the late President Anwar El-Sadat, reports Khaled Dawoud.
Hamdi Abdel-Rahman and Ismail El- Bokl had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, and should have been released five years ago, but were kept behind bars, like dozens of other militants, because the Interior Ministry considered them a threat to security. In order to keep them in prison, the Interior Ministry invoked the Emergency Law, in force since Sadat's assassination. Human rights groups and Islamist lawyers have repeatedly complained that hundreds of militants are detained -- also under the Emergency Law -- without trial despite numerous court orders to release them.
According to Islamist lawyer Saad Hasaballah, Abdel-Rahman is a member of Al-Gama'a's collective leadership, known as the Shura or Consultative Council. Abdel-Rahman and El-Bokl were among the first imprisoned leaders to make what is now known as the cease-fire initiative. In July 1997, six jailed Al-Gama'a and Jihad members appealed to the group's expatriate leadership to order a halt to all anti-government attacks. Some hardline members of the group refused to heed the call initially and declared responsibility for the massacre of 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in Luxor four months later.
Following reported factionalising within the group, Al-Gama'a officially announced a cease-fire in early 1999, and called upon the government to respond positively to their initiative by releasing hundreds of prisoners. Abdel-Rahman and El-Bokl were among the first leading militants to be released.
Suicide outEGYPTIAN investigators probing the 1999 EgyptAir crash off the eastern coast of the United States vehemently denied allegations published recently by Newsweek magazine that they privately acknowledged that co-pilot Gamil El- Batouti had probably committed suicide and took the plane down with him, reports Amira Ibrahim. The magazine said it obtained this information from US intelligence agencies which secretly monitored communications between Egyptian investigators in Cairo and Washington.
"I believe these intelligence agencies were, in fact, monitoring the dreams of the American investigators," said Shaker Kelada, a senior EgyptAir investigator. "I challenge any agency to produce a tape of the alleged conversations."
The doomed EgyptAir Boeing 767 took off from New York in October 1999 bound for Cairo, but crashed in the Atlantic shortly after takeoff. While American investigators sought to prove that El- Batouti brought down the plane deliberately, Egyptian investigators insist that a possible mechanical failure of the Boeing 767 elevator panels (the tail's moveable components which control the plane's vertical movement) was behind the tragedy.
Back to courtTHE STATE Security Prosecutor's office announced on 27 June that it would seek the re-trial of Sherif El-Filali, a 34-year- old businessman accused of spying for Israel. A State Security Court announced two weeks earlier that it was convinced that El-Filali had spied for Israel and yet decided to acquit him because he voluntarily confessed to his activities before the investigation began. A date for the new trial is expected to be announced soon.
Since El-Filali was tried according to the Emergency Law, in force since 1981, the prosecutor's office is entitled to seek a retrial if it does not approve of the sentence handed down by the court. Defendants tried according to the same law cannot appeal their conviction and may only seek the pardon of the prime minister, described by the Emergency Law as the "deputy military governor."
When El-Filali was acquitted on 13 June after a six-month trial and nearly 10 months in detention, the State Security Court said it was convinced that he had spied for Israel. However, it decided to acquit him because he voluntarily informed the National Security Department, on his return from Spain last year, of his suspicions that a Russian co-defendant (who was tried in absentia along with El- Filali and sentenced to life imprisonment) sought to recruit him to work for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
Disco trialTHE PROSECUTOR-GENERAL decided last week to put on trial before a State Security Misdemeanours Court 52 suspected members of the so-called "New Lot's People" group. Security forces had arrested 55 Egyptian men -- three of them were later released -- in May at a Nile-boat discotheque in the upper class district of Zamalek on suspicion of deriding religion and performing immoral sexual acts.
The list of charges against the group included accusations of "propagating deviant beliefs, misinterpreting Qur'anic verses, practising immoral sexual acts and performing prayers that went against the precepts of religion."
The defendants, who include doctors, engineers, students as well as artisans, face up to five years imprisonment if convicted.
Amnesty International reacted by saying that it is "gravely concerned about the detention of 55 Egyptian men allegedly for their sexual orientation" and described group members as "prisoners of conscience."
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