Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Sad Tale of Egyptian Justice

Human Rights activists are pointing to a sad story related to the tragic Beni Mazar massacre. The story underscores the strange and conflicting logic of much of Egyptian justice.

The massacre was a horrible one. In December 2005, 10 people, including infants, were killed and mutilated. Police arrested Mohamed Ali, but when the case came to trial, the evidence there was insufficient to convict him. Here is some background on the case. In fact the evidence was that Mohamed Ali was a scapegoat. So, it's a credit to the long-standing independence of the Egyptian judiciary that they refused to railroad a man just because of the brutality of the crime.

But Ali's trial didn't end there. He and his family was placed under house arrest, forced to move to another village, and essentially forced into poverty. Allegedly he was put under house arrest to protect his family from reprisals from victims' family members. But this past October, a number of human rights groups in Egypt raised concerns about the continuing harassment of the family by authorities. Click here for more.

The situation hasn't changed. Today groups released a statement reasserting their claims and concerns. One of the groups signing the statement is the El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Domestic Violence.

"Mohamed's family, consisting of 22 individuals including children, women, elderly and young men have been under forced house arrest in two narrow rooms in the village of Bani Hagr by order of the police. The place lacks all the necessities for a normal life. It does not for example have a toilet, forcing the family to use a hole in the ground," the statement said.

"The children, six in number, have not been going to their schools, since the family is prevented from leaving the place. The two older daughters are hosted by another family in another village in view of the lack of space.

"In addition to these inhumane conditions, none of the family's men has a job at present after Haj Ali was forced by the police to sell his land and house to the families of the victims very early on in the case, before the court ruled Mohamed to be innocent. A small shop owned by the family in Beni Mazar was closed since the police prevent any of the family members to return to their village."

Having worked on capital punishment cases in the United States, I've been able to see examples of innocent people who have to struggle to return to normalcy after being released from jail for crimes they didn't commit. In Egypt, it's made even worse by a system that allows for arbitrary and capricious. .


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