Egypt's highest court has demonstrated its independence and good sense by acquitting Dr. Saadeddin Ibrahim and several associates of all charges against them, Human Rights Watch said today.

In today's ruling, the Court of Cassation effectively reversed the convictions handed down against the defendants in two earlier State Security Court trials on charges that included defaming Egypt, accepting European Union funding without permission, and forging electoral documents. A full verdict detailing the court's reasoning is expected in approximately one week.

"The high court's decision demonstrates that Egypt's independent judiciary can deliver something like justice when confronted with trumped up charges and unfair procedures," said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The government would do well to reconsider any further use of the state security court system, which is hopelessly tainted by its politicized nature."

The government arrested Saadeddin Ibrahim and twenty-seven others and closed the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in June 2000. At the time, the center was working on a voter education project in anticipation of national elections in October and November 2000. In May 2001, Ibrahim and six others were convicted and sentenced to prison in a State Security Court trial that the Cassation Court voided on procedural grounds. The government chose to prosecute the defendants in a second trial that also resulted in convictions in July 2002. The Court of Cassation quashed this verdict in December 2002 on procedural grounds, leading to a third trial before the high court itself that for the first time addressed the merits of the government's charges.

Human Rights Watch said that the charges against the Ibn Khaldun defendants were designed to silence critics of the government and that the earlier trials were manifestly unfair at all stages of the proceedings.