Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Judges await their fate

Decrees sacking dozens of judges for their political stands await presidential endorsement, reports Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 28 March the Higher Disciplinary Council of the judiciary forced 33 judges to go into retirement on charges of practicing political activities. During the same session held at the downtown headquarters of the Higher Judiciary House, the council acquitted 23 other judges of the same charge for lack of evidence.

The ruling, which backed a previous decision issued in March 2015 by a lesser-degree council, is final and cannot be appealed.

The dismissed judges were charged with publicly siding with a political faction after signing a statement on 24 July 2013 which supported Mohamed Morsi three weeks following his ouster as president. The statement sums up their views regarding the 30 June 2013 mass protests and what they described as Morsi’s ouster by the army. Morsi was a member of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The 28 March decision came just one week after another final ruling which sacked 15 judges on charges of founding the ‘Judges for Egypt’ movement, in violation of judiciary law. The movement came into being when it released a public statement announcing Morsi’s victory in the 2012 presidential elections before the Higher Election Committee (HEC) officially announced the results.

Following the issue of the final disciplinary penalties, the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) informed the Lawyers Syndicate of the names of the dismissed judges. Syndicate Chairman Sameh Ashour issued a decree dismissing the 48 sacked judges from the syndicate for lacking “good standing”.

Interviewed by the daily independent Al-Masry Al-Youm on 29 March, Ahmed Al-Khatib, one of the 33 dismissed judges who were dubbed the Rabaa Statement Judges, denied having any political affiliations or joining any political entity. “The names of a large number of the dismissed judges were wrongly listed in the case,” Al-Khatib said, adding that he and others apologised for not signing the Rabaa statement. Al-Khatib accused former justice minister Ahmed Al-Zend of deliberately involving them in the case to “get rid” of his old foes. Al-Khatib, a reformist judge who since 2005 has been fighting for the independence of the judiciary, was reportedly not on good terms with Al-Zend during Al-Zend’s chairmanship of the Judges Club which ended in 2015. To settle old accounts with his rivals at the club’s elections, Al-Zend inserted their names in the complaint he filed to the prosecutor-general in 2013, according to Al-Khatib’s narration. Al-Khatib asked President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to re-consider the dismissal decrees of the judges and to stop what he called a “judiciary massacre”.

The complaint filed by Al-Zend in July 2013 included the names of the so-called 75 Rabaa statement judges, whom he accused of violating Article 73 of the judiciary law that prohibits judges from carrying out political activities that would affect their neutrality. The prosecutor-general referred the complaint to the SJC to investigate the accusations. The SJC then referred it to the Justice Ministry which appointed an investigative judge to look into the case. The investigative judge referred 56 judges to an eligibility authority after excluding 19 other judges from the case. A first-degree ruling was passed in March 2015 against the Rabaa statement judges. The dismissed judges contested the ruling before the Higher Disciplinary Council of the judiciary, arguing that investigations with them were marred by several legal loopholes.

The decrees dismissing 48 judges in less than a week were condemned by 12 legal NGOs. In a statement issued on 29 March, the NGOs called upon Al-Sisi not to endorse such decrees which they termed “a new massacre of the judiciary”. They said the situation was reminiscent of 1969 when former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser illegally sacked around 200 judges including the then chief justice of the Court of Cassation Adel Younis after receiving reports from top security bodies which accused them of harbouring hostile sentiments towards the 23 July regime.

The 12 NGOs said they considered the recent dismissal decrees “a message for judges to withhold their opinions except when expressing approval of the current political administration,” and criticised the lack of specific criteria which define conditions for dismissing judges.

In their statement, the rights groups maintained that judges declaring their opinions on political matters was not new and gave examples of judges participating in both the 25 January and 30 June revolutions. “Such penalties are aimed at settling old accounts with whoever opposes the current regime,” the statement said.

Hoda Nasralla, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, criticised the double standard in dealing with judges expressing their political views. “While referring 48 judges to retirement for allegedly practicing politics, the disciplinary council took no action against other judges who have kept on talking to the media and giving their opinions regarding cases already heard in court,” Nasralla told Al-Ahram Weekly. “On the contrary, some of them are promoted and assigned top state posts so long as their statements do not clash with the regime,” she added.

“Referring judges to forced retirement for signing a statement expressing their political views flagrantly violates Article 8 of the UN’s basic principles on the independence of the judiciary which states that members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly,” the statement said.

The NGOs statement made it clear that the practice of political activities literally means running or voting in elections and founding or joining political entities. “Talking about politics or public issues is not something banned for judges. If so, let them question every judge who violates such a rule,” Nasralla added.

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