Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said that the sentencing of human rights defender Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years' imprisonment is "alarming."
The Supreme State Security Court sentenced Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, and 27 co-defendants to between one and seven year prison terms. Charges included accepting foreign funds without authorization, disseminating false information harmful to Egypt's interest and embezzlement.
"We believe that the charges against Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim were politically motivated. This trial falls in the context of a number of blows intended to muzzle civil society in Egypt," said the organizations in the joint statement.
Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and his co-defendants have been tried before a court that "fails to meet international standards of fair trial," the international organizations said today.
Contrary to international standards for fair trial, defendants facing trial before such a court do not have the right to appeal against the verdict before a higher court on the substance of their case. Any challenge to the verdict before the Court of Cassation can only be based on procedural grounds.
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.
"We fear that the decision to convict had already been made prior to the conclusion of the trial," said the organizations.
Further concerns arose during the pre-trial and trial proceedings, including interrogation of witnesses without the presence of a lawyer. Among them was Nadia 'Abd al-Nur who was interrogated for more than two weeks following her arrest without her lawyer present. After the trial began, defense lawyers were only given a short time - a matter of hours - to examine the numerous trial documents.
Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the other defendants, the majority of them being staff members of two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies and the Egyptian Women Voters' Support Center - have been tried on a variety of charges. According to the indictment these include receiving unauthorized funding, forgery and bribery stemming from their work to promote voter participation and election monitoring in connection with national parliamentary elections that were conducted in October and November 2000.
Over the course of June and July 2000, activists of the two NGOs, including Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, were arrested and detained for days or weeks without being formally charged. By the end of August 2000 all detainees had been released from custody. The trial against the 28 men and women began on 18 November 2000 and was attended by a number of foreign and Egyptian journalists and foreign observers, including an Amnesty International delegation. Subsequent hearings were all observed by delegates from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.