[JURIST] The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) [advocacy website] on Monday released a report [official report, PDF; press release] urging the Egyptian government to promote the independence of the judiciary and to end selective prosecution. In June IBAHRI carried out a fact-finding mission in Egypt, where it conducted interviews and examined extant Egyptian law and practice, as well as proposed amendments. Based upon its findings, IBAHRI concluded that, while judicial independence is ostensibly protected by the nation's constitution, the Ministry of Justice is empowered with broad discretion to delegate cases and punish judges, which, in turn, incentivizes the judiciary to propitiate the government. In addition, IBAHRI expressed concern with respect to prosecutorial independence based upon findings that numerous prosecutions appear politically motivated. In support, IBAHRI reported a growing number of civilian prosecutions for "crimes against the military" and for "insulting the president." IBAHRI emphasized that:
Judges are an important force in any political transition. At a time when a country's political leaders are being replaced, its constitution and laws rewritten, and former officials standing trial, judges can safeguardor underminepositive change. Judges who are competent and independent can be the most important guardians of individual freedom, reining in malignant political forces when they encroach on human rights. Judges who are in the government's pocket will instead be used as a conduit for the state's abuses .... Egypt's judges and prosecutors can ensure that they play a key and positive role in the transition to a new democratic state that accounts for the violations of the past and is better able to protect the rights of all citizens.IBAHRI's report is set to go before a panel for discussion with the Law Society of England and Wales on February 10.
Egypt has dealt with political unrest since the Egyptian Revolution, and anti-government protesters and supporters of the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] continue to fight the military backed government for political control in the country. Earlier this month an Egyptian court acquitted [JURIST report] an Al Jazeera television cameraman and 61 others accused of participating in demonstrations in Cairo last July. In January, Egyptian prosecutors charged [JURIST report] 20 Al Jazeera journalists with joining or conspiring with a terrorist group and broadcasting false images. In January Egypt announced [JURIST report] it would elect a new president before voting on a parliament. Recently, the Egyptian government took a major step in governmental reform through the drafting of a new constitution, which was ratified [JURIST report] by 98 percent of voters last month. Egyptians voted [JURIST report] on the new military-backed constitution on January 16, with news reports citing a 42 percent voter turnout rate coupled with serious irregularities in the voting records.