Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Presidential peacemaker

Intervention by the president and a mutual understanding ended the crisis between lawyers and the Interior Ministry, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

A week-long crisis between lawyers and the Interior Ministry that erupted following an assault on a lawyer in Damietta last week has apparently ended, with some help from the country’s president.

“The intervention of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to resolve the dispute between lawyers and the police was commendable and led to a solution to the crisis,” Lawyers Syndicate head Sameh Ashour said in a press conference held Tuesday afternoon.

In an attempt to calm things down, Al-Sisi said offences by security personnel against lawyers would be treated as individual acts, according to the official Middle East News Agency (MENA).

“I address all state institutions to please take care of things despite everything we are facing,” Al-Sisi said in a public appearance on Sunday to inaugurate a number of development projects, addressing Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar.

“I apologise to every Egyptian citizen who has been insulted, because of the direct responsibility I have. I say to our sons in the police and anyone working in government institutions that they should be careful because they are dealing with human beings. Their job requires them to tolerate the burden,” Al-Sisi added.

Initiated by their syndicate, Egyptian lawyers launched a general strike on Saturday in courts across Egypt, protesting against increased police brutality and assaults on lawyers. The strike was sparked by last week’s incident in which lawyer Emad Fahmi was allegedly assaulted while at work in Faraskour police station in Damietta. Deputy Sheriff Ahmed Abdel-Hadi used his shoe during the attack. Fahmi was taken to hospital and received eight stitches.

Officials at the Lawyers Syndicate were quick to accept Al-Sisi’s apology. Ashour praised the presidential move, saying it was an indication that Egypt is on the right track. In a statement on his official Facebook page, Ashour thanked Al-Sisi, deeming his apology as a victory “in upholding the dignity of lawyers”. He also said the syndicate, which mobilised attorneys to protest against the police, will avoid escalation “to honour Al-Sisi”, who he praised for apologising for the incident.

During the press conference, Ashour justified the escalation. “There was laxity and a lack of awareness in dealing with the crisis and how to resolve it until the president’s intervention which showed his precise understanding of the crisis.”

“We don’t want to challenge the police; we want to support and assist them while performing their role. However, due to the return of some police individuals to the police culture prior to 25 January Revolution in terms of arrogance, oppression and committing violations, we [the Lawyers Syndicate] had to react,” Ashour said.

In its response, the Interior Ministry said lawyers would from now on be treated well and would be welcomed by Abdel-Hadi in the police station, Ashour said.

On Sunday, Abdel-Hadi was sentenced to three months in jail and LE3,000 bail for attacking Fahmi. He was also ordered to pay LE5,000 in compensation for assaulting the lawyer without legal justification. Fahmi was also sentenced to one month in prison and LE1,000 bail after being found guilty of insulting a public employee while on duty.

The syndicate’s primary demand was an official apology by the Ministry of Interior. In its statement issued on Wednesday last week, the syndicate condemned the Ministry of Interior’s aggressive tone. “The Ministry of Interior insists on maintaining policies that constitute a setback to the revolution of 25 January, such as oppression, condescension, arrogance and bullying of peaceful citizens,” the statement said.

In various private TV channel phone-ins, Interior Ministry spokesman Abu-Bakr Abdel-Karim said that the officer’s mistake was an “individual act that reflects negatively on the ministry, and that any violations against lawyers are unacceptable”.

Abdel-Karim responded to lawyers’ demands for an apology by stating that legal measures have been taken to hold the officer accountable.

The incident is the latest in a series of assaults by police against lawyers, perceived by the Lawyers Syndicate as “a systematic campaign”. Their latest protest dates back to an incident in which lawyer Karim Hamdi was found dead in his cell in Matariya police station on 24 February.

A group of lawyers protested in early March, demanding a transparent investigation into Hamdi’s case. In April, two National Security officers charged with torturing Hamdi to death in Matariya police station were referred to trial. Forensics concluded Hamdi “had suffered broken ribs and severe internal bleeding in the brain commensurate with being beaten”.

Rights lawyers routinely refer to Matariya police station as the “slaughterhouse”.

Also in March, 63-year-old lawyer Imam Afifi reportedly died in Matariya Public Hospital after he was severely beaten while in detention at the police station.

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