It is reported by the Assyrian International News Agency that more than 300 Muslim lawyers protested both outside and inside a court in the province of Assuit in southern Egypt.
Why should lawyers riot at a court? They wanted to prevent another lawyer, Ahmad Sayad Gabali, from entering the court to defend his client. For lawyers to riot in an attempt to prevent another lawyer from defending his client one would imagine that there are serious legal principles involved.
Of course there are, that is if you are an Egyptian Muslim lawyer. Gabali was representing Makarem Diab in a hearing on his appeal. Diab is a Christian who has been found guilty of “Insulting the Muslim Prophet.”
This is not the first time violence has been perpetrated by Egyptian Salafist Muslim lawyers in this case. Diab, a school secretary, was sentenced two weeks previously to six years imprisonment for insulting the prophet of Islam. His lawyer Gabali was also prevented during that trial from entering the court by violence and threats of violence from Muslim lawyers.
Diab had quarrelled with a school colleague, a Salafi Muslim. Eleven days later the Muslims decided that they would report the case. As a result Diab was detained and then less than a week later, after a ten minute session in the misdemeanour court without any defence lawyers present, was sentenced to six years imprisonment. Such a sentence is far beyond the maximum sentence for a misdemeanour case.
Christian lawyers have received death threats from Muslim lawyers if they attend the court says Dr Naguid Gabriell, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights organization. Dr Gabriell described what happened as there being “terror in the Assuit Court today.” He also reported “Makram Diab was assaulted by Muslim lawyers during his transfer from the courtroom and security failed to protect him.”
A Coptic lawyer, Peter Sarwat, reports that Muslim lawyers representing the plaintiffs physically barred the defence team from entering the court. “They said no Muslim will defend a Christian. It was agreed that Christian lawyers would take over and two Coptic lawyers volunteered, but the Muslims decided that even Christians would not defend him.” Sarawat also reported that the chief judge was forced to leave the court via a back door because of threats from Muslim lawyers.
When two Muslim lawyers, Adel Ramadam and Ahmad Mohamad Hossam from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, went to court to defend Diab’s right to a fair trial they too were assaulted by other Muslim lawyers.
“I went to court today because I believe this citizen was stripped of all his rights,” said Adel Ramadam in an interview. He further said “They were assaulting us in a beastly and stange way just because we went there to defend a citizen who happened to be a Christian… We left court in a security vehicle which took us to Security headquarters, otherwise, we don’t know what the outcome would have been for us.”
Because the defence team were assaulted and prevented from entering the court the judge postponed the appeal until 5th April.
In the meantime the Obama administration plans on sidestepping a new Congressional requirement that for the first time directly links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms. Despite continual human rights abuses in the country the major portion of a $1.5 billion military aid programme is destined for the new ‘free’ Egypt. Basic freedoms for some, no freedoms for others.