Judges Club rejects criticism and foreign intervention

The Judges Club rejected international interference in the country’s judicial affairs and urged the government to protect it from unacceptable interventions, privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported.

The Club announced its intention to hold a meeting and release a statement against international intervention regarding the court’s verdict in the “Marriott Cell” case.

On Monday, three Al Jazeera English journalists received sentences of 7 to 10 years in jail on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization” by spreading false news. Australian journalist Peter Greste and Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, Al Jazeera English’s Cairo bureau chief, received seven years in a maximum security prison, while Egyptian Al Jazeera producer received an additional three years on accusations of possessing a bullet. A further 11 Al Jazeera employees, who were being tried in absentia, were sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The case raised questions and anger regarding media freedoms and judicial processes in Egypt, both in local and international circles.

Judge Abdallah Fathy, the Club’s secretary, stressed that the Egyptian judiciary is famous for its impartiality, fairness and justice. “Objecting countries would not accept any interference in their own judicial verdicts if the situation were reversed,” he told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Fathy says that claiming the verdict is political is unacceptable and not true. “These verdicts were issued against criminals who committed crimes against this country and its people, according to Egyptian laws,” he said. ”Evidence proved their guilt and their conviction had nothing to do with their affiliations, since the evidence proved some of them were innocent.”

Popular American TV show host Jon Stewart criticized the verdict in his Monday episode, calling the trail “A sham so shammy, Egypt’s prosecution couldn’t be bothered to even pretend it wasn’t a sham.”

Stewart criticized and ridiculed the evidence provided during the trial, especially footage of a running horse from a Sky News Arabia news report. Journalists attending the court sessions reported some controversial footage claimed to be evidence of the defendants’ guilt, including a music video of the popular Gotye song, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” pictures of Greste’s parents on holiday that were found on his laptop, as well as documentaries the journalists participated in making in Egypt, Somalia and Kenya. 

Footage of journalists across the world, including journalists from the BBC and the UK’s Channel 4, show them with tape over their mouths in solidarity with the defendants and condemnation of the verdict.

Judge Ahmed Haroun Abu Ayed, head of the Court of Appeals, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that interfering in judicial affairs is a crime according to the Constitution, “so other countries are not allowed to interfere in our work.”

He added that if one of those convicted believes the ruling is unjust, he’s allowed to challenge it before the Court of Cessation, which monitors law enforcement and legal procedures.

The UK ambassador to Egypt, James Watt, told Mada Masr that he’s deeply disappointed by the verdict. “We’ve had concerns from the outset about the lack of due process, and we have conveyed those concerns repeatedly to the Egyptian authorities.”

Australia’s ambassador to Egypt, Ralph King, speaking for the Australian government, also said he was “deeply disappointed by the severity of the verdict.”

However, Abu Ayed believes that the government has to address such matters through diplomatic means, in which everyone is forced to understand that the Egyptian judiciary is independent and judges cannot be steered by anything other than the law and their conscience.

“Media freedoms in Egypt have to be respected if Egypt is to become the democracy to which the Egyptian people aspire. Today’s example has been a severe disappointment,” Watt added.

However, in an address to the graduating class of the military academy on Tuesday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi defended Egypt’s judiciary against mounting international criticism.

Sisi said that the judiciary of Egypt is independent, and that its rulings should be respected and not interfered with. He emphasized that he told the minister of justice twice that he won’t be interfering in any of the rulings, killing any hopes of a presidential pardon.

“We won’t interfere in the rulings of the judiciary because Egypt’s judiciary is independent and the state institutions shouldn’t be talked about by anyone. The judiciary’s rulings shouldn’t be commented on, even if people don’t understand them,” he added.

Abu Ayed pointed out that most of the verdicts were issued against defendants in absentia. Rulings issued in absentia are overruled once the defendants turn themselves in or are arrested. They undergo another trial and are given the chance to provide evidence, he added.

Judge Refaat al-Said, former head of the Criminal Court, emphasized that there is no way to overturn the verdict, other than through further steps of litigation available to the defendants. 

He told Al-Masry Al-Youm that he doesn’t approve of the recent escalation in attacking the Egyptian judiciary or comments on the verdicts it issues, especially in cases against Muslim Brotherhood defendants. He says people shouldn’t be “trying to undermine and question the transparency and independence of Egyptian judges, or accusing them of issuing politicized verdicts and deviation from the law.”

Said said Al Jazeera journalists had expressed hostility towards Egypt, its people, and the whole Arab world. “They spread rumors to disturb national unity, turn Arab countries against each other and provide them with weapons and money to carry out foreign and regional schemes,” he emphasized.

US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement on Monday harshly condemning the verdict, which came just a day after he visited Egypt and expressed support for its newly elected government.

Kerry called the court’s verdict “chilling and draconian” and a setback for the country’s transition to democracy. He exhorted Egypt’s government to “review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.”

But Said claimed, “Egyptian and international organizations have levied false accusations against Egypt’s judges, the least of which is arbitrariness. They have called on Egyptian authorities to force unlawful decisions upon the judiciary, while ignoring that — according to the Constitution — the judiciary in Egypt is an independent authority, steered only by the law and its conscience.” 

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