Hands off the judges
"My responsibility is to the due process of the law and I will not allow Tahrir Square or any other consideration to influence my decision." These words, spoken by Judge Mohamed Fathi Sadeq, president of the Cairo Criminal Court, show the kind of pressure our judiciary faces today.
Will we be able to protect judges from the public mood, or should we ask them to "tailor" their rulings to public taste? The country seems divided on this issue. We don't know which is more important: to maintain the integrity of the judiciary or to stick it to big shots of the old regime and police officers accused of killing protesters.
So far, any verdicts seen as "too lenient" on figures of the old regime are met with public uproar. Even judges who see no reason to hold the defendants in custody during their trials have had their decisions challenged by angry crowds.
Should our courts base their rulings on public opinion polls? This farcical question is not as rhetorical as it seems. Judges who preside over the trials of the big shots of Mubarak's regime must be terribly aware of what the public wants them to do. Right now, the public is not interested in justice so much as it is in seeing heavy sentences handed out. A not guilty verdict is almost certain to bring angry crowds to the streets. Judges who have ordered some defendants freed while their trials were still underway are painfully aware of the consequences of their decisions.
Sadly, no one in the government seems interested in standing up for the judiciary. Whenever the public voices indignation over the potential release of former officials facing trial, the government assures the public that the individual in question would remain behind bars pending the end of his trial. The opinion of the judges looking into the case is thus compromised, so are the judges' ability to assess the case on the merit of evidence.
We all know that the ousted regime cared little for the independence of the judiciary. This was wrong, and it was one of the reasons for the 25 January Revolution. But now we're doing the same thing.
In Suez, the public was incensed when a lawyer demanded, a few weeks ago, that the criminal record of those killed in demonstrations be revealed. Angry crowds protested in Cairo when another lawyer asked for Fathi Sorour to be freed until the end of his trial.
When a judge ordered seven officers accused of killing demonstrators released for the duration of their trial, protesters threatened to torch the Suez Security Department building and police stations and to block shipping in the Suez Canal.
Our public doesn't seem to be in a mood for trials. Kangaroo courts handing out death sentences would do just fine in this country of much-awaited democracy.
Another example, Sheikh Ahmed El-Mahallawi, the imam of the Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria, recently said that all officers who fired their guns during the revolution must be put to death, their motivation and the circumstances of their actions notwithstanding.
Oddly enough, some writers and even senior judges seem to agree. May God help those judges who still want to do the right thing.