Charge of ‘insulting judiciary’ given wide interpretation in Egyptian courts
Judge Mohamed Shereen Fahmy - YOUM7 (Archive)
By HANAN FAYED

CAIRO: “Insulting the judiciary” has been a common charge in Egypt, where dozens have been sentenced for the “crime” and many others banned from traveling as part of pretrial procedures.

Jailed jihadist Adel Habara received his fifth prison sentence for “insulting the judiciary” Sunday, jailing him for seven years in total, Youm7 reported.

“There is a difference between defendants who insult judges during hearings to disrupt the trial, and people who legitimately criticize some court decisions in the media and who did not affect the judicial system in any way,” Mohamed Mahmoud, a lawyer at the (ANHRI), told The Cairo Post Monday.

Several Islamists and secular personalities have been investigated for “insulting the judiciary” since the June 30 Revolution the toppled former President Mohamed Morsi. Although their cases have not been referred to a court yet, they have been banned from traveling outside of Egypt.

Political science professor at the American University in Cairo Amr Hamzawy and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah along with other prominent Islamist leaders, preachers, media personalities and journalists are among those banned from traveling.

Mahmoud, who attended investigations with four of the accused, said their comments on court rulings on Internet blogs and TV shows did not “insult” or “incite” against the judiciary, nor did they interrupt the course of any trial.

“The accused have been banned since January, and thus far have not been referred to a trial to be found guilty or innocent. Meanwhile, a travel ban against them continues to halt their activities,” Mahmoud said.

Earlier in September, the Court of Administrative Judiciary turned down an appeal filed by Hamzawy to allow him to travel.

Islamist defendants sentenced for insulting the judiciary

Habara’s five sentences were handed down during his ongoing trial on the killing of 25 young conscripts in North Sinai in August 2013; 34 other defendants are involved in the case. The soldiers, who were plain-clothed and off-duty at the time of their shooting, were forced out of microbuses while heading back to their hometowns.

In the Sunday session, Habara called the presiding judge of the trial, Mohamed Sherin Fahmy, a “heretic.” He previously called him an “apostate,” and “unjust.”

Hazem Salah Abou Ismail, a radical Islamist preacher who engaged in politics after the 2011 January 25 Revolution, was also sentenced to one year in prison in January and again in April by Fahmy on charges of forging his late mother’s nationality.

Abou Ismail allegedly hid his mother’s dual citizenship to be legally able to run for president in 2012. Prior to his exclusion from the elections for that reason, he reportedly had collected over 100,000 endorsements from State Notary offices nationwide. The 2012 elections law set 30,000 endorsements as a minimum to officially be part of the presidential race.

The trial of Abou Ismail, who was arrested a few days after President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, has been tense since it began.

“I am not before a real judiciary,” “I will not answer any procedural questions,” “You listen to me when I speak, and do not call my name without a title,” are only a sample of Abou Ismail’s comments to the bench.

Judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef sentenced Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mohamed el-Beltagy to one year in prison with labor in April for insulting the public prosecution during the Ithadeya incident trial. The case stems from events that occurred in December 2012 and resulted in the deaths of at least 10 protesters and a journalist outside the Ithadeya presidential palace.

Beltagy said he was not in Cairo during the demonstrations, which protested Morsi’s declaration of immunity for his presidential decrees. Beltagy said in comments during the trial that the prosecutors were “accomplices and conspirators,” and called the trial a “scandal.”

Judge Shabaan al-Shami sentenced 21 Brotherhood defendants to one year in prison for the same charges in April as they were in a hearing in their trial for allegedly organizing a major prison break during the January 25 Revolution. They turned their backs to the judges and banged on the glass dock after the judge convicted co-defendant Safwat Hegazy, an Islamist preacher, with an insulting the judiciary charge because he called the judge by his first name in objection to the judge addressing Morsi without a title.

Morsi, who is involved in the same trial, was not sentenced. He did not turn his back to the judges, according to Al Jazeera.

Lawyers also charged 

Judge Mohamed Shahin sentenced lawyer Nasser el-Hafi to a year in prison, albeit with a 20,000 EGP ($2,790) bail, and fined lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud the same amount in September for insulting the Constitutional Court.

The two lawyers have defended Muslim Brotherhood leaders in other trials. They were sentenced for having claimed that the Constitutional Court issued the ruling that effectively dissolved the People’s Assembly in June 2012 before deliberating the case.

Brotherhood lawyers criticized the charge, saying that it leaves no room for defendants to defend themselves.

“The viewpoint of the Brotherhood lawyers is quite logical, and some judges are too strict and apply that charge where it should not be. There are, however, other means to defend oneself other than yelling and cursing,” ANHRI lawyer Mahmoud said.

The glass dock, which now serves as a holding area for defendants in some Egyptian criminal trials, does not allow sound in or out. It was not a part of the Egyptian court system until Brotherhood defendants kept chanting and yelling in the first hearings of their trials. Now two main courts—the Police Academy and the Policemen’s Institute—use the glass dock, according to Mahmoud.

“I am entirely opposed to the glass dock. It has not affected just Islamist defendants, but also all defendants who are tried in these two courts,” he said.

In a case that dates prior to the January 25 Revolution, a sentence against Momena Kamel, a former parliamentarian from the dissolved National Democratic Party, was upheld in June for slandering a judge inside a polling station in 2010. She was sentenced to a month in prison and a fine of 10,000 EGP ($1,390).

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