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The seven-year prison sentence handed down July 29 to human rights defender Dr. Saadeddin Ibrahim is intended to silence real or potential criticism of the Egyptian government, Human Rights Watch said today. The sentence followed the retrial of Ibrahim and twenty-seven others before the Supreme State Security Court. Ibrahim, director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, was once again found guilty, including on the count of accepting foreign funds without authorization. Nadia 'Abd al-Nour, the Ibn Khaldun Center's chief accountant, who was originally sentenced to two years of imprisonment on a fraud charge, was handed down the same sentence today.

Human Rights Watch called for their immediate and unconditional release, and for Ibrahim to be allowed to travel abroad for urgent medical treatment.

The verdict comes on the heels of a new law of associations passed by the Egyptian parliament last month, giving the authorities draconian powers to dissolve non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by administrative order and without recourse to a court of law, and to interfere unduly in their internal affairs.

Two other Ibn Khaldun employees who had earlier received two-year prison terms for fraud, Khaled al-Fayyad and Usama Hammad 'Ali, received one-year suspended sentences on this occasion and are expected to be released shortly.

Two defendants sentenced in the original trial to five-year prison terms on separate bribery and forgery charges, Magda Ibrahim al-Bey and Muhammad Hassanein 'Amara, were sentenced on retrial to three years of imprisonment. The remaining original sentences against twenty-one other defendants who had been handed down one-year suspended sentences remained unchanged, as did a two-year prison sentence passed in absentia on another defendant, Marwa Ibrahim Zaki.

"The retrial of Ibrahim and his co-defendants was as manifestly unfair as the original trial," said Hanny Megally, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "The guilty verdict has done nothing to dispel our conviction that the case against Ibrahim and his colleagues has been politically motivated from the start."

As in the original trial, the defense team was denied adequate time to prepare its case, and some defense lawyers have stated that they were denied access to certain key documents altogether. The presiding judges, as in the original trial, consistently failed to respond to applications by defense lawyers for leave to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation under which two of the charges against Ibrahim were brought.

The presiding judge also failed to respond to pleas for proceedings to be suspended to enable Ibrahim to travel abroad for medical treatment. Ibrahim suffers from a degenerative neurological condition and his health has deteriorated significantly during his incarceration. Appeals to the Egyptian authorities to lift the travel ban imposed on Ibrahim prior to the start of this second trial fell on deaf ears.

The judges' written ruling, detailing the reasoning behind their verdict, must be issued within thirty days of the conclusion of the trial, after which the defendants are given up to two months in which to lodge an appeal.

Contrary to international standards for fair trial, the Ibn Khaldun defendants were denied the right to appeal against the original verdict on points of substance. Their challenge before the Court of Cassation was restricted to procedural points. However, according to Egyptian law, an appeal against this second verdict can be mounted on the substance of the case as well as on points of law.


Saadeddin Ibrahim, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, was director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies until its closure by the Egyptian government in June 2000. The center's activities ranged from minority rights to civic empowerment, including voter registration campaigns and election monitoring.

In May 2001, the Supreme State Security Court sentenced Ibrahim to seven years in prison and six co-defendants to prison terms ranging from two to five years with labor. Twenty-one other defendants were handed down one-year suspended sentences and released. The authorities shut down both the Ibn Khaldun Center and an affiliated organization promoting women's voting rights, the Hoda Association. On appeal, the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial, which opened before the Supreme State Security Court on April 27, 2002.

Ibrahim was first arrested on June 30, 2000, together with two of his associates, Nadia 'Abd al-Nour and Usama Hammad Ali. Others were detained over the following days. They were held in detention without charge and interrogated for up to six weeks and then released on bail. None of those who had been detained was charged, but an unspecified case against them remained "pending."

At the time of the arrests, the Ibn Khaldun Center was working on a voter education project and a project to monitor upcoming parliamentary elections. In September 2000, immediately after Ibrahim announced that he intended to proceed with the Center's plans to monitor and report on Egypt's forthcoming national elections, which were held in October and November 2000, state authorities formally charged Ibrahim and his colleagues and referred the case to the Supreme State Security Court.

The trial opened on November 18, 2000, and concluded on May 21, 2001. Ibrahim was convicted of receiving donations without prior official permission, disseminating false information designed to undermine Egypt's stature abroad, and defrauding the European Union. Four of his associates were convicted of assisting in the perpetration of fraud. All five were acquitted of the conspiracy to commit bribery. Two others, a one-time employee and a policeman, were convicted of offering and accepting bribes and forging official documents.

Human Rights Watch monitored the trial closely. It concluded that the trial was manifestly unfair at all stages of the proceedings, and that the court undermined the ability of the defendants and their lawyers to mount an effective defense. The defense was denied access to key documents, and to the prosecution memorandum detailing its case against the defendants, until four months into the trial. When access to thousands of pages of documents was finally granted to defense lawyers, it was limited to a single session of several hours, and permission to photocopy any documents was denied. The minutes of the trial proceedings were incomplete, and defense lawyers were denied access to official summaries of proceedings. The presiding judge consistently failed to respond to defense challenges of constitutionality of relevant statutes, and to consider all documentation submitted on behalf of the defendants prior to reaching their verdicts.

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