Egypt judges take protest to the street

Egyptian judges are standing by colleagues summoned for questioning over comments on last year's elections.

    The judges held their silent protest on the street

    A general assembly of the Judges Club, an informal and independent institution, voted that the four judges should not appear before prosecutors to answer allegations that they impugned other judges by speaking openly about election abuses.

    They also voted against any concessions to the government on a draft law reorganising the judiciary.

    They reaffirmed the judges' position that they will not accept any substantial amendments to the draft judiciary law which they submitted to the government many years ago and which reduces the Justice Ministry's control over the judiciary.

    Before the meeting the leaders of the club, dressed in their sashes and other formal wear, stood in silence in the street to press their demand for judicial independence.

    Dozens of demonstrators supported them. "Judges, judges, save us from tyranny," some of them chanted.

    The outcome of the meeting, attended by about 700 judges, continued a confrontation which worsened last year between the government and many members of the judiciary.

    Under Egyptian law, elections must have judicial supervision but independent-minded judges say that in practice they are often unable to control many aspects of the voting process.

    Immunity lifted

    Monitors and human rights groups say the judges could not prevent some of the many abuses during presidential elections in September 2005 and parliamentary election later in the year.

    The judges outside the Bar
    Association in Cairo

    In some cases judges colluded with the ruling party and security authorities to rig the results, they say.

    The four judges, who spoke about the elections on Arabic satellite television channels outside the government's control, have had their immunity lifted so that they can be questioned.

    The judges say the aim is to intimidate them because of their public complaints about the election malpractices and their campaign for full judicial independence.

    Some judges spoke in favour of expelling colleagues found to have colluded with election rigging but Zakaria Abdel Aziz, the president of the club, persuaded them that this was premature.

    Budget reform

    The judges are demanding a budget separate from that of the Justice Ministry and an independent system for inspecting their performance. They say the ministry abuses the budget to reward and punish judges for the rulings they make.

    The government has prepared its own version of the judiciary law but Abdel Aziz complained on Friday that the club has not yet been allowed to examine it.

    But political analysts say that, judging by the outcome of last year's confrontation over elections, the judges unwilling to take a strong stand on principle against the government outnumber those who are willing to do so.

    A parallel general assembly of the Journalists Syndicate expressed solidarity with the judges' demands on Friday.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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