Former Guantanamo detainee who was resettled in Slovakia arrested upon arrival in Egypt

Egyptian security forces arrestedAdel Fotouh Ali al-Gazzar on Monday as he returned to Egypt for the first time in more than 10 years. al-Gazzar was resettled in Slovakia by the Obama Administration in January 2010 due to fears of persecution or imprisonment in Mubarak’s Egypt, where he was sentenced in absentia in 2001 by an Egyptian State Security Court to three years in prison for participating in an alleged plot to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and infiltrate Palestinian territory. The case was widely condemned as an attempt by Mubarak to suppress his Islamist opponents. More than half of the suspects were subsequently released. Following his arrest, the officers allowed the defendant’s wife and four children to meet with him and check up on him at the airport after his lengthy absence from the country. The authorities then proceeded to begin the legal paperwork needed to send Gazzar to the prosecution so they could determine their position regarding his case.Al-Gazzar’s US based lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, said:

“I think there is a bigger picture here, to be honest. The question is how will the transitional regime receive him considering that the prosecution was based on a political crime of dissent,” said Ghappour. “Does Mubarak’s departure mark a game change for the post-9/11 cases? Will he be treated differently because he was in Guantanamo bay?”

Thousands of Egyptian civilians tried in military courts since February 2011

IPS reports that thousands of Egyptian civilians, including protesters who helped topple the authoritarian regime of president Hosni Mubarak, have been tried in military courts without due process. Defendants are denied access to legal counsel, but receive assistance to defence lawyers appointed from a pool of army-approved attorneys. attorneys may be given as little as five minutes to meet with the accused, review the charges, and present the case before a military judge. Sentences handed down by military courts – which have included at least three death sentences since February – cannot be appealed.

Court records indicate Egyptian military courts have handed down more than 7,000 sentences since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) removed Mubarak on Feb. 11 and assumed control of the country. Most of the trials have involved defendants accused of looting, arson and “thuggery” under tougher criminal laws passed after Mubarak’s ouster. The courts have also sentenced hundreds of protesters critical of the military council’s governance and decisions.

“Each case involves anywhere from one to 35 defendants… so we estimate that over 50,000 civilians have been sentenced in the last three months,” Ramadan told IPS. “We’ve never seen anything like this. Even under Mubarak’s rule there were only two or three military trials a year. ”

Boumediene: the record so far

SCOTUS wraps up the Gitmo-habeas cases after the US SC Boumediene ruling. Although detainees have won a clear majority of the habeas trials, any actual release from captivity has come to depend almost entirely on what the Executive Branch is willing to do or able to arrange. Key facts:

* Of 38 cases in which federal District judges have completed habeas  trials, 29 detainees have been issued habeas writs. The US decided not to appeal 29 of 38 grants, two of them have been reversed or vacated. All but 5 of the 29 have been transferred. All but five of the 29 have left Guantanamo, after releases to other countries were  arranged through U.S. diplomatic efforts. The five who are still at Guantanamo are seeking, in their new petition (Kiyemba v. Obama, now known as “Kiyemba III,” docket 10-775) to test whether a federal judge has any authority to order and achieve actual release for a captive whom the government no longer insists on detaining.

* in 19 cases District judges have denied habeas writs. 1 denial was reversed and remanded (the Bensayeh case) and 1 grant was reversed in Al-Adahi

* 8 cases are currently pending on cert petitions at the Supreme Court:

4 (Awad, Al-Bihani, Al Odah and Al-Adahi) are seeking reversal of denial of habeas.

In a 5th case (Ameziene) the petitioner is seeking reversal of a ruling that the US may keep certain information secret (under seal).

In 2 cases regarding Algerian detainees (Mohammed and Khadr) the petitioners are seeking reversal of ruling that judges can’t enjoin transfer.

Last but not least in Kiyemba III the Uighurs are seeking the reversal of a ruling that judges can’t order transfers.

Egypt Detains 17 After Deadly Blast

Egyptian police detained 17 suspects after a bomb blast killed 21 people outside a church in Alexandria, Al Jazeera television reported, citing unidentified security officials.

The explosion early on New Years Day injured more than 90 people, according to the Health Ministry. President Hosni Mubarak blamed the attack on “foreign elements.” The Interior Ministry said it increased security around churches “in light of the escalating threats from al-Qaeda to many countries,” according to a statement on its website.

Analysts said in the NY Times that the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale — a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday — were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Instead, it was reminiscent of the 1990s attacks by Egyptian Islamist terrorists on Christians, tourists and government institutions. Analysts said the flare-up was likely to increase the domestic dissatisfaction with the 30-year-old tenure of President Hosni Mubarak, who has made preserving Egypt’s stability his guiding principle.

The Egyptian Ministry of Information issued a statement urging news organizations to “emphasize the national aspect in addressing the national unity issue” and avoid “topics” or “details” that might “deepen the wounds and add fuel to the fire in an issue related to the security of the homeland.”

Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which tracks violence between Muslims and Copts, argued that the government’s denial of sectarian tension had exacerbated the problem.

“What we see is a heavy-handed response from the security agencies, arbitrary arrests on both sides of any conflict, and then forced reconciliations, where the victims are coerced into withdrawing their criminal complaints and accepting the arbitrary justice,” Mr. Bahgat said.

“The response is driven by security agencies whose main desire is to impose quiet after any incident and close the file,” he said, often letting off the true perpetrators.

Compatibility of UN Security Council and EU [terrorist] Black Lists with European Convention on Human Rights requirements

Two important documents on this topic appeared last week.

The first one is a new report by ECCHR on terrorism listing, written by Gavin Sullivan and Ben Hayes with a foreword by Martin Scheinin.

After outlining the ways that blacklisting breaches fundamental rights, reviewing the key case law, analysing the broader political impacts and problems of the regime and critically evaluating the possibilities for procedural reform, the Report argues that the policy of blacklisting is currently facing a crisis of legitimacy. The time has come for radically rethinking the issue and for the international legal framework underpinning the blacklisting regimes to be abolished.

(Op-ed by Gavin Sullivan on the report here.)

The second one is a third party intervention done by Dick Marty in the case of Nada v Switzerland (Application No. 10593/08), which is presently pending before the Grand Chamber. This request was not accepted by the Court’s President. This document reproduces the exchange of correspondence which Mr Marty has had with the Court’s President, as well as an extract from a press release concerning this case, issued by the Court’s registry.

Contribution: Khaled Said and the Egyptian emergency law

Writing for the Foreign Policy website, Soha Abdelaty discusses the death of Khaled Said, the 28-year-old man  who died while being arrested in Alexandria on June 6, in the context of Egypt’s semi-permanent (and recently renewed) emergency law:

In many ways, the case of Khaled Said is tragically symbolic of everything that is wrong with the state of emergency under which Egyptians have been living for almost three decades. In such an arbitrary and opaque system, torture and ill-treatment are a natural byproduct. And in fact, torture in police custody has been systematic and well documented since the 1990s. Khaled Said’s case is unusual only because his murder was witnessed by so many, captured on film, and distributed to thousands via Facebook.

Abdelaty continues:

Few were fooled when, by presidential decree, the Egyptian government renewed the state of emergency while claiming that its provisions would be limited to Article 3 (1) and (5) of the emergency law and only for drug- and terrorism-related crimes. Article 3 (1) permits “restrictions on the freedom of persons to assembly, movement, residence and passage in certain places or times; the arrest and detention of suspects or those representing a danger to public security and order; and the search of persons and places without regard for provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

In effect, this means that provisions in Article 3 (1) and (5) of the emergency law will be applied to anyone deemed by the Ministry of Interior to be a “suspect” under one of those crimes. Given the broad definition of terrorism in the Egyptian penal code, a point which has been sharply criticised by several UN entities, as well as national and international NGOs, this effectively means anyone and everyone can be a suspect. Included in that definition is “any threat or intimidation” aimed at “disturbing the peace or jeopardising the safety and security of the society.”

… Said did not have any political affiliations, nor was he an activist – and he was hardly a terrorist. That the ministry claimed in its defence that he was an ex-con, apart from being false, raises the harrowing possibility that it believes it justifiable for a man to be beaten to death by security forces, with no judicial recourse, for being a suspected criminal.

Italy: Minister revokes imam’s political asylum

Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni revoked the political asylum granted to a radical Islamist preacher after he was jailed on terrorism charges. Egyptian-born imam Abu Imad will be deported as soon has served a 44-month sentence which he began last month, Maroni said.

“When this individual has finished serving his sentence, he will be expelled from Italian soil,” Maroni stated.

Imad is currently detained at Benevento jail in southern Italy.

Maroni’s announcement came a day after Imad was granted asylum – two weeks after Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation on 28 April upheld a previous prison sentence imposed on Imad by a Milan court in December 2007.

A member of the Muslim community in Italy’s Lombardy surrounding Milan, Muhammad Rida al-Badri, said Italian authorities had granted asylum to Imam, who is reportedly close to Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, to prevent him being extradited to Egypt as Cairo had requested.

“Abu Imad first asked for political asylum in Italy 17 years ago,” said al-Badri. “He has now been given political asylum because they want to keep him in jail in Italy for several reasons, and one of these is to avoid any criticism from the European Union that he should be handed over to Egypt.”

Imad’s own lawyer, Carmelo Scambia, said on Thursday he was “amazed” at the granting of asylum to his client, which Imad had requested in 1995.

Imad was until March last year an imam at the northern Italian city of Milan’s central mosque, which has been linked to Islamist terrorism several times.

Imad and 10 other defendants had allegedly set up a Salafite cell that was active in Milan and elsewhere in the northern Lombardy region. Imad’s co-defendants were also jailed.

The cell’s mission is believed to have been recruiting suicide bombers, trafficking illegal immigrants and to have been responsible for indoctrination of recruits in radical jihadist ideology.

Comment: Egypt’s cosmetic changes to the emergency law don’t justify its prolongation

In a rare burst of public relations activity, the Egyptian embassy in London circulated emails last week about the latest extension of the country’s emergency law which has been in place since 1967 (apart from a short break around 1980). According to the government the resolution before parliament asking for the extension “includes for the first time legal restrictions on both the scope and the application of the emergency law”. The government stated that from now on the he Emergency Law would only be applied in “terrorism and drug cases”, implicitly admitting that it has been applied much more broadly over the last decades.

New restrictions to the emergency law?

a) No more monitoring of communications?
Restrictions will now be put to the use of provisions 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 and 3.6, which provide theoretically for the monitoring of all forms of communication; the monitoring, censoring, and confiscation of media and publications, and the ordering the closure of publishing houses & broadcasters; the confiscation of property; the regulation of the hours of operation of commercial activities and the evacuation and isolation of certain areas.

However, Human Rights Watch points out that the authorities do not use these provisions of the emergency law making this is “a meaningless concession”. The government instead uses other laws for these purposes, such as provisions under the Press Law and Penal code to censor publications.

Emergency law provisions that remain in place include art. 3 (1), which permits “restrictions on the freedom of persons to assembly, movement, residence and passage in certain places or times; the arrest and detention of suspects or those representing a danger to public security and order; and the search of persons and places without regard for provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

As EIPR notes: “It should be noted that these provisions are applied based on suspicion alone, not pursuant to a proven crime.”

b) Full judicial review of detention orders?
The government also announced that there would be full judicial review of detention orders under the emergency law, but security forces have routinely disregarded court orders for the release of such detainees. 

As the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism noted in his mission report on Egypt:

23. According to documented cases and testimonies given to the Special Rapporteur, the Ministry of the Interior often renews the detention order against a released person with the unsubstantiated justification that the person “immediately resumed suspicious activities” upon release. Of particular concern is the widespread practice that persons are not actually released after a release order is given, but are transferred by SSI officers to non-official premises or police stations where they are held illegally until a new detention order is given. As a consequence, an unspecified number of persons have been held for years, sometimes over a decade, using this mechanism.

c) Article 179?
The official news release also fails to note that amendments to Article  179 of the constitution in 2007 effectively waive constitutional  guarantees of the rights to privacy and to due process in cases the government designates as terrorism-related, and grant security forces unfettered authority to detain persons, search homes and monitor communications without a judicial warrant.

In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said:

“We are disappointed. We have questions about how this fits with pledges that the government of Egypt has made to its own people to try to find a way to move beyond the emergency law.”

Justifying the prolonged state of emergency by referring to the US
The prime minister tried to explain why the government had not been able to fulfill a promise made by Mr. Mubarak in 2005 to replace the emergency law with specific antiterrorism legislation. The government has reiterated this pledge on countless occasions, including to the EU and the UN.

He said that the government was having difficulty finding the proper balance between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberties, comparing the challenge to President Obama’s difficulties in closing down the prison at Guantánamo Bay and comparing the law to the Patriot Act, adopted in the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.

In the New York Times the UN special Rapporteur commented on the new extension, saying that “basically there is no legal certainty as long as there is an emergency law in place.”

Egypt parliament extends state of emergency

[JURIST] The Egyptian Parliament on Tuesday voted to extend the country’s state of emergency for two years. Despite the two-year extension, parliament voted to limit the application of the emergency laws only to cases of terrorism and drug trafficking. In a speech [text, PDF; in Arabic] to parliament, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif [official profile] said:

The emergency law will not be used to undermine freedoms or infringe upon rights if these two threats are not involved. The Government also commits itself to enforce safeguards regarding the use of these measures as required by the Constitution, the law and international agreements, and that all such measures be taken under judicial supervision. These are the standards which we will impose upon ourselves and which we are committed to because we are an ancient nation that has contributed to human rights; contributions which have been codified in constitutions, laws and treaties which we are committed to fulfilling.

Opposition groups are protesting the extension of the emergency laws, claiming they have been ineffective and are used to stifle dissent.

One of the groups opposed to the extension of the emergency laws is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which has been banned in Egypt. Last month, Attorney General Abdul Magid Mahmoud announced that five international MB members will be tried in an Egyptian criminal court on charges of money laundering. Egypt has also used the emergency laws extensively against other opposition parties. In July, the trial of 26 individuals with alleged ties to Hezbollah was transferred to a court established under the emergency laws. In February 2009, a military court utilized the laws during a trial in which it sentenced  opposition leader Magdy Ahmed Hussein to two years in prison. The emergency laws have been in effect continuously since the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and were renewed most recently in May 2008.

Meantime Alkarama reports that Ibrahim Mujahid, after being twice tortured, is now illegaly held at Damanhour prison. Mujahid was arrested on 8 March 2010 by security guards of Kwaisna Art Institute while he was putting up posters written by students in support the Al-Aqsa mosque (in Jerusalem). The guards led him to their office where they tied him up and severely beat him all over his body.

On 28 April 2010, Alkarama sent his case to the Special Rapporteur on Torture, requesting that the Egyptian authorities conduct a full and impartial investigation into the acts of torture suffered by Ibrahim Mujahid, to establish who is responsible in order punish the perpetrators.

After being tortured by the security guards, they handed Ibrahim Mujahid over to police officers in Al-Kwaisna who also insulted, threatened and violently beat him. They also prevented him from sleeping and drinking for three days. He was then presented to the court of Al-Kwaisna, where the prosecutor ordered his immediate release after ruling that, in fact, he hadn’t broken the law.

However, the release order was not carried out, and on 11 March 2010 Ibrahim Mujahid was transferred to the local intelligence headquarters in Al-Kum Beshbeen. He was placed under administrative detention on the pretext of “belonging to a banned religious organization.”

On 12 March 2010, Ibrahim Mujahid was again taken to Al-Kwaisna police station. On the following day he was transferred to Damanhour prison, where he is currently being held without any contact with the outside world.

Egypt ‘Hizbullah cell’ convictions marred by torture

The Guardian reports that twenty-six Arabs have been sentenced to prison in Egypt after being convicted of planning terrorist attacks on ships and tourist sites on behalf of the Lebanese Shia organisation Hezbollah, which claimed it was seeking to support Palestinian resistance to Israel in the Gaza Strip.

The emergency state security court in Cairo today handed down jail terms ranging from six months to life to 22 suspects of Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian and Sudanese origin. Four other men who are still on the run, including the alleged cell leader, were convicted in their absence. Sami Shihab, a Lebanese citizen who Hezbollah had previously confirmed was a member, was given a 15-year sentence.

The defendants were charged with spying on ships in the Suez canal, planning attacks on resorts popular with Israeli tourists in the Sinai peninsula and with smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Three of the suspects were charged with digging tunnels under Egypt’s border with Gaza.

Lawyers said the accused were trying to support the Palestinian resistance and that some of them had been tortured.

Judge Adel Abdel-Salam Gomaa said investigations showed the group had intended “to strike Egypt’s economy, destroy the bonds between its people and create chaos and instability.” The accused denied the charges but prosecutors produced video footage showing explosives in premises they had used.

No appeal against the sentences is possible.

Amnesty International has called for a retrial by a regular court of the 26 men amid allegations of torture. According to the NGO, their conviction was based on “confessions” which the defendants say were obtained under torture.

“These men should be retried by an ordinary court which gives them a chance of getting a fair trial,” said Amnesty International. “Bypassing justice by referring sensitive cases to emergency courts undermines the criminal justice system and encourages human rights abuses.”

Emergency Supreme State Security Courts (ESSSCs), which were established under emergency legislation introduced in 1958, flout basic guarantees for fair trial and deny defendants the right to appeal.

Twenty two of the men have been held in incommunicado detention for months after their arrests in late 2008 and early 2009, and detained in an undisclosed location by order of the Minister of Interior. The other four, who remain at large, were convicted in absentia.

During their trial, the defendants said their “confessions” had been extracted from them under torture – including beating and electric shocks – by State Security Investigations (SSI) officers.

Wednesday’s sentences come weeks before the two-year extension of the 29-year old state of emergency comes to an end and the authorities’ likely decision to renew it again.