Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Following Morsi’s steps

The case of the inmates who escaped from Wadi Al-Natroun raised questions about the legal status of President Morsi who was in the jail at the time, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 7 February judge Khaled Al-Mahgoub, head of Ismailia Appeals Court, asked the Ministry of Interior to provide the court with a detailed report regarding prisoners who escaped from Wadi Al-Natroun jail on 29 January 2011. Thousands of inmates fled Wadi Al-Natroun, north of Cairo, where dozens of Islamist figures were held. Some 234 prisoners from a total of 430 were set free, among them 34 members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), including seven members of the MB Guidance Bureau, heads of MB administrative bureaus, and senior figures of the MB from various governorates. Mohamed Morsi, who was to be elected president of Egypt 18 months later, was among the prisoners who escaped.
Al-Mahgoub also summoned the Wadi Al-Natroun prison warden to provide testimony about the incident. Preliminary investigations revealed that masked armed men stormed the prison and forced a large number of prisoners to escape. The prisoners managed to escape without sustaining any injuries and were all in good health.
Prisoner Attia Mohamed has submitted an appeal to the court contesting being re-sent to jail. According to Mohamed, “I did not escape from jail. It was a group of people who attacked the prison with bulldozers and managed to let all the prisoners out. Morsi was also among the prisoners who fled. He became a president and I am being tried for being forced to escape. This is unfair,” said Mohamed.
The warden of Wadi Al-Natroun took the court by surprise on 10 February when he said that the original suspect, a drug dealer, was not the same person behind bars. “The original prisoner received presidential pardon No 218/2012 on 4 October of last year. At the same time, I wasn’t the prison warden when the prisoners escaped. I was appointed in August 2011,” said the warden.
Accordingly the court has postponed the lawsuit to 3 March to summon Essam Al-Kousi, who was the warden of Wadi Al-Natroun when prisoners escaped, to testify. Also the court requested a detailed report on the way in which the prison was stormed and destroyed before prisoners were set free.
Mahmoud Al-Sakka, a professor of criminal law at Cairo University, believes that prisoners who escaped on 29 and 30 January 2011 must return to jail to continue their sentence. “Political detainees as in the case of Morsi should not be jailed once more as they were imprisoned by the previous regime due to differences in political views and did not commit any crime. Since the previous regime fell, they have the right to be free,” said Al-Sakka.
More than 20,000 prisoners of the country’s 80,000 escaped jail during the 18-day uprising which led to the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak. They were being held mainly in five prisons — Abu Zaabal, Al-Marg, Fayoum, Wadi Al-Natroun and Qena. At least 120 prisoners died during the jailbreaks. Most of those who escaped were captured and sent back to jail, however, a few thousand are still on the loose.
Al-Sakka pointed out that most prisoners who escaped are criminals and criminals cannot be set free. “Only if the prisoner was pardoned upon a presidential decree can he be freed from jail.”
Fawzia Abdel-Sattar, professor of law at Cairo University, agrees with Al-Sakka and added that concerned authorities in the country cannot leave prisoners free under the claim of imitating the president. “When Morsi was first jailed, he was imprisoned for political reasons, as he was a veteran member of the MB and the government at that time jailed mostly MB members, ostensibly to protect the country’s national security. But the case of other prisoners would not necessarily be the same,” said Abdel-Sattar.
Each case, according to Abdel-Sattar, has its own circumstances. “Lawyers along with judges and courts are the only authorised officials who can decide the fate of prisoners who have fled after examining the circumstances of his imprisonment. If he has committed a crime then he should be sent to prison and be punished for escaping. If he did not commit any crime and was innocent or was imprisoned for political reasons, then it is the judges’ right to rule according to their own beliefs and understandings,” added Abdel-Sattar.

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