In Egypt, a judicial release does not mean you are going home

While the world considers that judgments are enforceable, judgments in favour of Egyptian opponents are not, especially if they mean their release and return to their homes.

The most recent of these judicial orders were in favour of the former Minister of Justice, Ahmed Soliman, who was rearrested by the Egyptian authorities. The Supreme State Security Prosecution imprisoned him again just days after a judicial decision to release him.

The Egyptian authorities arrested Soliman for the first time at dawn on Wednesday, December 4, 2018, from his home in Minya governorate (south of Cairo). Prosecutors charged Soliman with communicating with anti-regime channels and spreading false news about the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.

Soliman was opposed to the Egyptian-Saudi maritime demarcation agreement, under which Egypt ceded the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors have also accused Soliman of assuming a leadership position in the Muslim Brotherhood. Although he denies this, the prosecution considered his post as justice minister under the late President Mohamed Morsi as proof.

Soliman was expelled from his work with other judges who rejected the July 3, 2013 coup, and the Court of Cassation rejected his request to return to the judiciary after appealing the decision, which he deemed “politicised” and based on personal motives.

Soliman is one of the symbols of the independence of the judiciary in the era of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, and served as president of the Minya Judges Club for two terms, assumed the Ministry of  Justice under Morsi after the resignation of Ahmed Makki, and then resigned after the coup.

The Supreme State Security Prosecution imprisoned Soliman 15 days pending the same case for which he received a release order for a few days ago.

The new decision was based on files he had on his laptop, which was taken from his home after he was arrested on December 4, 2018.

Soliman’s son Mohammed strongly condemned the decision and asked why the opening of his father’s laptop was delayed for 11 months.

According to lawyers, the decision of the prosecution to imprison Soliman again, despite the court’s decision to release him, is against the law, but there are no clear ways of addressing this violation.

Revolving doors

Soliman is not the first to be rearrested despite a court order to release him. There is a long list of hundreds of opponents. In 2019, Amnesty International released a report titled “Revolving Doors” which reported on the rearrest of those released in connection with new cases with the same charges. But Soliman is an exception to the rule of revolving doors. He was rearrested in the same case, not on a new case.

The Egyptian lawyer Ibrahim Metwally is another exception to the rule of revolving doors, because he was not rearrested pending any case, but the Egyptian authorities refused to implement the judicial verdict. Ibrahim’s colleagues and family filed a lawsuit demanding the implementation of the judicial decision.

Lawyers consider that the lawsuit they have filed is a legal joke, because the decision is not supposed to be carried out at all without any further action.

“What we can do?… it’s a non-law era,” one of the lawyers told Egypt Watch.

However, despite a decision to release Ibrahim since October 15, it has not been implemented and Metwally remains in detention after nearly two years in prison.

Ibrahim was arrested at Cairo Airport on September 10, 2017, as he travelled to Geneva to attend the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. Metwally had prepared a complete dossier on the issue of enforced disappearance in Egypt for submission to an international working group discussing the issue.

Metwally was subjected to enforced disappearance after being arrested for three days, after which he appeared at the State Security Prosecution on 13 September. He was also tortured and electrocuted in various parts of his body, stripped naked and had cold water poured on his body.

The prosecutor charged Ibrahim with establishing and being part of the leadership of a group established in violation of the provisions of the law, publishing and spreading false news, and communicating with foreign parties abroad.

Human rights activists regard Soliman and Metwally as an exception, an extension of the repression inflicted by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime and the detaining of opponents.

Opponents consider that the accusations and judicial decisions are merely a cover for abuses.

“There is no difference between rearrest in a new case, in the same case, or even without a case, they’re all illegal and repressive practices of a dictatorial regime,” a human rights lawyer told Egypt Watch.

The lawyer, who asked not to be named, said: “The judicial orders under the current system are just a legal cover for repressive practices, and if issued otherwise it will not be respected by the regime itself.”

Last July, Amnesty International accused the al-Sisi regime of detaining opponents in prison “indefinitely” and keeping them in detention despite court orders for their release. Amnesty cited the case of Ola al-Qaradawi, Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein and others.

Prosecutors are involved in the crime

The rights group said it documented five cases in which the Supreme State Security Prosecution had bypassed “court orders to release (opponents) from arbitrary detention by imprisoning them in new cases on trumped-up charges.”

“Trying to keep them behind bars indefinitely” is a “worrying signal” of what the justice system has become, Amnesty said.

Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa Najia Bounaim, said: “This unlawful practice has seen detainees who were already detained on spurious grounds trapped in the ‘revolving doors’ of Egypt’s arbitrary detention system, as part of a deliberate ploy to prolong their detention.”

The Egyptian prosecution has imprisoned Ola, daughter of the former president of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, for a further 15 days. The decision came pending a new case, following an earlier decision by the Criminal Court to release her.

Among the list of those who have been rearrested by the Egyptian authorities is the editor-in-chief of Masralarabia website, journalist Adel Sabry, who was released by the Giza Criminal Court on July 9, 2018, after three months of imprisonment. Sabri was arrested for publishing a New York Times report translated by Masralarabia that documented electoral bribery in the 2018 presidential election.

After the judicial order for his release, his lawyer was completing his release procedures, when he was surprised that Sabry had been included in a new case, 441. The irony was that the new case brought the same charges of the case in which he was ordered to be released.

Although Sabry belongs to a liberal party (Wafd), he has been accused of joining the Muslim Brotherhood because of his anti-regime opinions.

Opponents see Egypt’s judicial orders as being implemented only if it is to imprison them or to extend jail sentences. They are not enforceable if they ask for their release.