Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 April - 1 May 2012
Issue No. 1095
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Could be whipped

The reasons for the detention of an Egyptian lawyer in Saudi Arabia are vague

After it was alleged that Egyptian lawyer Ahmed El-Gizawi had been detained in Saudi Arabia for defaming Saudi King Abdullah on Egyptian TV, the Saudi ambassador to Egypt on Tuesday claimed that El-Gizawi was arrested in the kingdom for possession of illegal drugs.

Before the drug revelation, efforts were in full swing early this week to release El-Gizawi. Egypt's Foreign Ministry followed up with Saudi authorities the case of El-Gizawi who is currently in Saudi custody facing a one-year prison sentence and 20 lashes for allegedly defaming King Abdullah.

"The foreign minister has urged the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah to free El-Gizawi," ministry spokesman Amr Rushdi said on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr is monitoring the issue from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa where he is attending an emergency meeting on the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, Rushdi added.

However, in a surprising development, Ahmed Kattan, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Egypt, categorically dismissed what he called "false media allegations" concerning the detention of El-Gizawi (whose name on his passport is Ahmed Mohamed El-Said Tharwat) by Saudi authorities.

"The whole story is a complete fabrication," Kattan added in a statement released by the Saudi Embassy late on Tuesday. "No Saudi court has passed a sentence or one of flogging against the detained Egyptian expatriate," Kattan said.

Kattan pointed out that El-Gizawi was detained last week by border control officers in King Abdul-Aziz International Airport after they discovered what was described as big quantities of Xanax pills in his possession, which is listed in the Kingdom as a controlled drug. El-Gizawi was allegedly hiding thousands of Xanax pills in cans of powdered baby formula, and in two protective frames of the Quran.

When the drugs were confiscated, El-Gizawi was handed over to the Drug Control Authority, which referred him to the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution after the Egyptian Embassy in Riyadh was informed, the statement added.

Kattan stressed that when El-Gizawi arrived at the airport, he was not dressed in the ihram clothes (the prescribed attire for omra or small pilgrimage) after he obtained a visa to enter Saudi Arabia to perform the omra.

Kattan added that Saudi laws and regulations do not permit the authorities to put a non-Saudi citizen on trial in absentia for acts committed outside its territory.

Kattan highlighted that the case would be settled under Saudi laws and regulations. Accordingly, the accused shall have the right to have a criminal defence attorney, and to have representation from the Egyptian embassy.

Before the statement on El-Gizawi's drug possession was issued, Egypt's presidential candidates and human rights activists urged the government to move swiftly to secure the release of El-Gizawi.

Presidential candidate Mohamed Selim El-Awwa demanded that Saudi authorities issue a prompt statement clarifying the reasons for the detention. He called upon the ruling military council to contact the Saudi authorities immediately to seek El-Gizawi's release.

Presidential hopeful Khaled Ali said the detention of El-Gizawi was a "humiliation of Egyptians' dignity", adding that the ruling was enforced while El-Gizawi was not told about the lawsuit filed against him or the verdict against him, which denied him the right to defend himself.

Members of parliament filed several motions regarding the detention. During the Monday evening session, Speaker Saad El-Katatni said he urged the Foreign Ministry to move swiftly to help El-Gizawi and to overturn the verdict which was issued against him in absentia.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said the detention of El-Gizawi was a violation of his right to freedom of movement and personal safety, saying that El-Gizawi was denied his right to a fair trial.

The political group Free Front for Peaceful Change has criticised the detention of the Egyptian lawyer promising to escalate the case by presenting a draft law to the Islamic Cooperation Council. The law would be called "Protection of Muslims visiting Al-Kaaba".

The group said in a statement that "this is an abuse of Egypt's sovereignty inside and outside the country."

Egyptian activists also held several protests on Tuesday outside Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Cairo and the Saudi Consulate in Alexandria.

There has been no official response from the Egyptian or Saudi authorities.

Political activists ascribed the detention to the little appetite Saudi Arabia has had for Egypt's 25 January Revolution and the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak as president for fear that the Arab Spring of revolutions might reach its doorsteps.

El-Gizawi was sentenced in absentia for defaming King Abdullah. He was arrested after he entered Saudi territory last week.

He filed a lawsuit in the South Cairo Court against King Abdullah on behalf of Egyptians detained in Saudi Arabian prisons without court rulings.

According to the initial reports, El-Gizawi is to receive the 20 lashings tomorrow, Friday.

His wife, who was with him when he was arrested, was allowed to perform omra with the rest of the accompanying group. They arrived at Jeddah Airport on Tuesday at 6am. She is scheduled to return to Egypt Saturday 28 April.

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