Press Release

June 18, 1997

Fifteen-day detention for opponents of agriculture land law

The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid expresses its deep concern over the Higher State Security's 15-day detention order for Hamadeen Sabahy, journalist, Nasserist leader, and the director of the Arab World Media Center, and the Advanced Tagammu' party members Dr. Muhammad 'Abdu, a physician, Hamdy Heikal, and Muhammad Sulaiman Fayad, a lawyer participating in State Security case 795/1997.

The accused were arrested on Tuesday morning and then transferred to the State Security Prosecution in the afternoon, where they were questioned in the presence of the Center's lawyers. They were charged with the possession of publications and papers discussing Law 96/1992 which concerns the relationship between agricultural landowners and tenants, and forces the latter to evacuate the land by the end of this October, the probation period fixed by the law after which all current tenancy agreements become null and void. They were also questioned about a State Security Investigations memo which stated that they held a meeting in Banha to discuss the law and to incite agricultural laborers to oppose it by various means including gathering signatures, sending appeals to the president, and organizing demonstrations and strikes.

The prosecution based its charges on Article 98 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes the incitement of the public by any means to change the Constitution's basic principles or the country's political system, or to give a particular social group precedence above other groups. The prosecution also based its case on Article 102 bis of the Penal Code, which criminalizes anyone involved in distributing propaganda that disturbs public security and harms the public interest.

Although the accused denied these charges while being questioned, CHRLA believes that even if the accusations are true, they should not be considered as crimes, but seen as legitimate manifestations of citizens' rights to express, in a proper way, their opinions, as guaranteed by the Constitution and charters ratified by the government that explicitly protect these rights.

The Center considers the proceedings taken by the State Security Prosecution in this case a blatant exploitation by the state of the vague articles of the Penal Code which make all forms of expression criminal acts, and handicap and oppress all forms of opposition political activity, whether independent or pertaining to political parties.

CHRLA reiterates its call to release the detained citizens, who are "prisoners of conscience," and reaffirms the importance of cooperation among all the bodies of civil society to get rid of such legal restrictions that criminalize freedom of expression and oppress political activities.

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