Deporting foreign convicts: a political response to global pressure?
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi - YOUM7/Essam Elshamy

CAIRO: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will have the executive power to order the extradition of foreign convicts and suspects to their home countries according to a new law approved by the State Council’s legislative committee presided over by Judge Magdy al-Agaty Saturday, which has raised debates among legal experts and politicians, and concern that the president may be pressured by foreign powers to release prisoners.

The president will be allowed the power after consulting with the attorney general and with the approval of the Cabinet regarding the foreign suspect or convict in question. Foreign political refugees will not be considered for deportation under the new law.

The decision must also be in compliance with international protocols signed by Egypt on cooperation regarding foreign criminals, according to the text of the law published by Youm7 on Nov. 1.

However, the idea of allowing foreign criminals or suspects to return to their countries has some concerned the new power if acted upon is too similar to a presidential pardon, and that it may erode Egyptian sovereignty and judiciary authority in having the final say concerning crimes committed on Egypt’s soil.

“Such a law stabs the independence of our state, which should have control over putting suspects on trial,” former State Council President and legal expert Judge Mohamed Hamed el-Gamal told The Cairo Post Monday. He said the president is allowed to grant a pardon only after the court has had its final say. “This guarantees the independence of the judiciary,” Gamal added.

Democratic Generation Party (El-Geel) head Nagy el-Shehaby told The Cairo Post Monday that he reviewed the law and is concerned because it also applies to suspects, not just convicts. Gamal for his part said he believes this could lead to unconstitutional interference by the presidency with ongoing trials and investigations.

As a result of the State Council’s new law, the president’s executive authority is also under question. According to constitutional article 155, the president can grant a convict a pardon or a reduced sentence only after approval from the Cabinet and the Parliament. The new law for extradition skips over parliamentary consent.

“The law to be adopted violates the Constitution on two points: the executive power and the independence of the judiciary system,” Shehaby told The Cairo Post. According to the Constitution’s chapter on the judiciary and public prosecution, their total autonomy over legal cases is guaranteed.

Egypt is part of INTERPOL and has a protocol with Arab League states that obliges involved countries to hand over foreign fugitives upon a request from their country of origin only if the crime was committed in their country of origin.

New law may stem from Marriott Case

But why is the State Council bringing up this new proposal as opposed to just continuing to allow presidential pardons? Many suspect a direct link to the Marriott Case involving jailed Al Jazeera journalists following statements made by Sisi during a meeting with Arab journalists on Oct. 20.

On June 23, 2014, Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen, and Peter Greste, a dual Australian-Latvian, were sentenced to seven years in prison for their alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood while covering the events of June 30, 2013 and the Rabaa al-Adaweya and Nahda Square sit-in dispersals a month later. Their colleague Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“The best way to deal with some foreign journalists who commit violations is to deport them,” Sisi said in the Oct. 20 meeting. He is currently not allowed to grant a pardon to the jailed journalists before a final ruling, and the court is yet to hear an appeal on the original verdict.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was reported to have told Sisi in a June phone call following the original verdict that Greste’s release would be “a public relations coup” for the then newly inaugurated Egyptian president. Latvia, an EU and NATO member, also expressed its concern over the sentence, according to Latvian public broadcaster LSM. Canada for its part called the sentencing of Fahmy “disappointing.”

‘A free pass for criminals’

“So the State is submitting to international media pressure,” Shehaby said. “Are we going to give influential foreign countries the liberty to do whatever they wish with Egypt, and then if their citizens are arrested or charged, a global media campaign becomes a free pass for criminals?”

On the other hand, Nabil Zaki, the official spokesperson for the Tagammu Party, seemed aligned with Sisi’s approach. “Concerning journalists, I believe the best punishment for a foreign journalist who violates media ethics or tells lies about Egypt is to ban them from their resources in Egypt by sending them away,” Zaki told The Cairo Post Monday.

While Zaki said he was in favor of the law only in crimes related to journalism and the international controversy they cause, he strictly opposed any action that would facilitate a foreign criminal from escaping justice. On the other hand, Shehaby argued that this would be unfair for Egyptian convicts.

Press statements point to the political perspective of the new law. On Sunday, Al-Shorouq news quoted unnamed judicial sources saying the law was a reaction to several diplomatic requests by countries that do not enjoy protocols with Egypt, and that “most of the [detained foreigners] are a political burden on Egypt; their deportation will do us good.”

Additional reporting by Hazem Adel.

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