Egypt Sentences Sociologist to 7 Years in Quick Verdict

Egypt Sentences Sociologist to 7 Years in Quick Verdict

New York Times, May 22, 2001

 

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR

 

CAIRO, May 21 Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent sociology professor accused of defaming

Egypt, was convicted today and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that human rights

organizations say raises serious doubts about Egypt's ability to meet international standards for a fair

trial.

 

The three-judge panel of the Supreme Security Court pronounced the sentence 90 minutes after

defense lawyers, who were still submitting briefs, had finished their summations. The judges had been

expected to deliberate for several days if not months over the thousands of pages of evidence

submitted.

 

"This case is a farce," said Negad Borai, the former chairman of the Group for Developing Democracy,

a shuttered civil rights organization. "Egypt does not want real democracy. The state wants us as

puppets in its big show of paper democracy, and if we decide otherwise, it knocks us down."

 

Mr. Ibrahim, who holds both American and Egyptian citizenship, along with 27 others linked to his Ibn

Khaldun Center for Development Studies closed by the government last June were given

sentences ranging from seven years to one year, suspended. The charges included disseminating false

information harmful to Egypt, accepting foreign donations without government permission and

embezzling donated money. Mr. Ibrahim, 62, pleaded not guilty to all charges.

 

"This is politically motivated and the sentence is politically dictated," Mr. Ibrahim told The Associated

Press on a mobile phone as the police escorted him from the courtroom. "It is a struggle and it will go

on. I do not regret anything I stood for."

 

The specific reason that Mr. Ibrahim was singled out for arrest and prosecution has baffled rights

activists here and abroad.

 

The center, which Mr. Ibrahim founded some 12 years ago, had delved into sensitive topics like

electoral fraud and tensions between Egypt's Muslim majority and Christian minority. In addition, Mr.

Ibrahim was an outspoken advocate of independent elections, and the center had planned to monitor

parliamentary elections last fall. Mr. Ibrahim also wrote a satirical magazine article about Arab leaders

grooming their sons to succeed them, which mentioned the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

 

Mr. Mubarak has said in interviews that he had nothing to do with the case, and Egyptian government

officials in general refuse to comment. At one point last year, Osama el-Baz, a senior presidential aide,

denied that the charges were politically motivated, saying that Mr. Ibrahim was being investigated for

violating the law.

 

Mr. Ibrahim's wife, Barbara, an American academic working in Egypt, staggered from the courthouse

in the arms of supporters and expressed shock at the verdict. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think

that it would be a long prison sentence," she said.

 

In Washington, the American government voiced disquiet about the verdict. "We are deeply troubled

by the outcome and we have some concerns about the process that resulted in this sentence," said

Gregg Sullivan, a spokesman for the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs bureau.

 

In the ruckus after the sentences were announced, the judges did not even explain on which counts Mr.

Ibrahim had been found guilty.

 

International human rights organizations condemned not only the sentence, but also the court

procedures. Although Mr. Ibrahim's lawyers said they planned to appeal the sentence within 60 days,

no appeal is permitted of a case decided by the Supreme Security Court.

 

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said lack of appeal violates the norms of justice

laid out in international conventions that Egypt has signed. The two groups issued a joint statement

questioning the hastiness of the verdict.

 

"The speed with which the verdict was reached raises grave concerns about how seriously the defense

team's evidence some of which was still being submitted today was considered," the statement

said. "We fear that the decision to convict had already been made prior to the conclusion of the trial."

 

 

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company