August 15, 1996
This morning, a military court reached a verdict in the case of the founders of the Wasat Party ('center party'). Muhammad Mahdi, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood group; Abd al-Hamid Hasan al-Ghazali, professor at the Cairo University Faculty of Economics and Political Science, and board member of the University Faculty Club of Cairo University; Mustafa al-Ghunaymi; Muhammad Ibrahim Abd al-Fattah; Mahmud al-'Azini; Mahmud Abu Raya; and Hasan Gud, former member of parliament were all sentenced to three years in prison.
The court also sentenced Abd al-'Azim al-Maghrabi to a suspended one-year prison sentence. Abu al-'Ala Madi, representative of the Wasat Party, and assistant secretary-general of the Engineers Syndicate; 'Issam Hashish, assistant professor and board member of the University Faculty Club, Cairo University Faculty of Engineering, and one of the party founders; Rashad al-Bayumi, representative of the Teachers Syndicate; Madgi al-Faruq Anwar; and Gamal Abd al-Hadi were all acquitted.
The defendants in the Wasat Party case were all arrested on 3 April 1996, after Abu al-'Ala Madi presented a request to the Committee of Political Party Affairs, on 16 January 1996, on behalf of the founders of the Wasat Party, to form a political party in accordance with the Law on Political Parties, Law no. 40/1977.
The men were charged by the Higher State Security Prosecution Office of: i) joining an illegal, underground group whose aim is to overthrow the regime by force; ii) preparing publications which incite hatred against the regime and call on people to revolt; iii) side-stepping the law by forming the Wasat Party as a front for the banned Muslim Brotherhood group; iv) carrying out political party activities without prior permission.
The case was referred to a military court. The court decided to exclude the above charge no. iii, since such a charge had never before been recognized in Egypt, and Egyptian law does not criminalize such an act. In fact, Law 40/77, Article 1, states that all citizens have the right to form and join political parties. Nevertheless, the court sessions principally focused on charging the defendants with holding a meeting with the aim of establishing a political party to give legitimacy to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Such an unprecedented accusation should have been decided by Law 40/77, which grants the Committee of Political Party Affairs the right to object to the formation of any political party whose legally required conditions are not met. This had actually occurred, since the committee rejected the request for the formation of the Wasat Party in May— a month following the arrest of the founders.
CHRLA reiterates its position that civilians (including those charged with carrying out acts of terrorism) should not be referred to military courts. Military courts deny defendants their right to a fair trial and appeal to a higher court. These rights are enshrined in the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory.
CHRLA is also alarmed by the increasingly widespread practice of referring civilians to military courts on charges which are not related to violence and terrorism, but to peaceful expression of opinion and exercising legitimate rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the law, and international covenants, such as forming associations, and political parties.
The Egyptian authorities referred 82 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders in August 1995 to military courts on similar charges. The court sentenced 54 defendants to a prison sentence of between three and five years.
CHRLA considers that the Egyptian authorities' use of military courts as a tool to block peaceful and open political activities will only lead to more violence, terrorism, and outlawed activities, which in turn will threaten the situation of human rights and civil liberties in Egypt.
CHRLA calls on the Egyptian authorities to put an end to the referral of civilians to military courts, and to end the state of emergency—in continuous existence since October 1981, without justifiable reason—which allows this practice.
CHRLA also calls for a review of Law 40/77 and its amendments in order to lift the currently prohibitive restrictions on forming a new political party. The Committee of Political Party Affairs[footnote 1]—whose impartiality is doubted—has refused to grant legal status to 32 political parties, which have supposedly not met the criteria of Law 40/77.
1. A detailed report on the right to form political parties in Egypt will be issued by CHRLA within the next two weeks.
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