Egyptian authorities should release activist scholar Saadeddin Ibrahim and
three colleagues immediately and unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said today.

A Supreme State Security Court sentenced Ibrahim and his co-defendants to lengthy jail terms in May following an unfair trial. The Court of Cassation is scheduled to hear their appeal on December 19, but can only rule on points of law and not on any substantive matters of fact or evidence.

In a 20-page backgrounder released today, Human Rights Watch documented numerous irregularities in the trial, concluding that it was unfair at all stages of the proceedings. The backgrounder, "The State of Egypt vs. Free Expression: The Ibn Khaldun Trial," also sharply criticized the state of emergency decrees under which some of the charges were brought, and the treatment of the defendants at the time of their arrest and initial detention.

"The conviction of Saadeddin Ibrahim on spurious charges, without any effective right of appeal, reflects nothing but shame on the government of President Hosni Mubarak," said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "It's time for the government to do the right thing by releasing him and restoring his civil rights."

Ibrahim, a sociology professor and head of the independent Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of receiving foreign funds without prior official permission, disseminating false information damaging to Egypt's stature abroad, and fraud. Three colleagues received two-year sentences with labor on the fraud charge, while two other defendants received five-year sentences with labor on separate charges of bribery and forgery.

"The Ibn Khaldun case demonstrates the Egyptian government's profound intolerance for peaceful dissent," Stork said. "This trial was intended to silence Dr. Ibrahim, punish those who dared to be his associates, and intimidate any other Egyptians who might think about criticizing policies in politically sensitive areas."

The "false information" that Ibrahim was accused of disseminating concerned election fraud, government intimidation of voters and political candidates, and discrimination against Egypt's minority Coptic community. The court characterized this information as "lies" despite extensive evidence regarding its factual basis.

The state's decision to prosecute Ibrahim came a day after he announced that he planned to proceed with monitoring of the 2000 parliamentary elections, despite his initial arrest and six-week detention without charge.

Human Rights Watch said that the prosecution had presented evidence in court concerning forgery and bribery charges against Magda Ibrahim al-Bey and Muhammad Hassanein 'Amara, and said they should be afforded a retrial on those charges consistent with international fair trial norms or released.

The Court of Cassation, if it upholds the defendants' appeal, can only refer the case back to the Supreme State Security Court and order a retrial before a different panel of judges but following the same procedures. "This will only prolong the effective denial of the defendants' right of appeal," Stork said.