Mubarak challenger remains jailed in Egypt

May 19, 2006|By CHRISTINE SPOLAR | CHRISTINE SPOLAR,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CAIRO, EGYPT -- A high-profile political challenger to President Hosni Mubarak remained in jail yesterday after losing a bid for a judicial review of a forgery conviction stemming from last year's presidential campaign.

The appeals court's rebuff to Ayman Nour came as riot police arrested hundreds of demonstrators who turned out to support two prominent judges facing reprimands for speaking openly about election irregularities.

Nour and Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham Bastawissi are widely seen as paying the price for demanding reforms and challenging the 25-year rule of Mubarak and his National Democratic Party.

Nour was convicted on charges of forging signatures on petitions necessary for his political campaign after he emerged as the second-place finisher to Mubarak. Human rights groups have called the prosecution suspect.

The judges were targeted for disciplinary reviews this year as the government began a campaign of intimidation against those in the press and in the judiciary who pursued questions about last year's election procedures.

Nour, whose prosecution was criticized by the Bush administration, will remain in jail on a five-year sentence with no further chance for appeal.

Mekki was cleared of charges that he insulted other judges by raising questions about whether they allowed vote-rigging in the parliamentary vote. Bastawissi, a member of Egypt's highest appeals court, was "reprimanded," but what that meant was unclear.

Bastawissi is a much-respected judge who openly criticized other judges picked by the government to monitor the election for failing to denounce irregularities. As a result of the disciplinary hearing, Bastawissi appeared to lose his chance to advance as a chief judge, said analysts familiar with Egypt's judicial code. Bastawissi, who suffered a heart attack Wednesday, was in a hospital at the time of his hearing.

According to judges who met later at the Judge's Club, a professional organization in Cairo, Mekki promised after yesterday's hearing to head a committee to defend Bastawissi. It was unclear what further action could be taken. Judges familiar with the ramifications of a reprimand said Bastawissi would retain his job.

"Bastawissi and Mekki are still heroes," said Khaled Ahmed, a Cairo judge who has been working in Baghdad for the legal adviser to the United Nations mission in Iraq. "This was a small fight. There is still a big battle."

Police again were out in force in Cairo streets yesterday. Demonstrators have been rounded up nearly every week in pro-democracy rallies this spring. Mubarak had promised reforms last year, but since he and his ruling party won their respective polls, there has been no loosening of restrictions.

Christine Spolar writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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