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An assault on the rule of law

Recording the conversation that took place between Dr Mohamed Morsi and his lawyer Dr Mohamed Selim Al-Awa is a crime against the law, constitution, and judicial norms. It is also an insult to both the judge and the lawyer.

However, broadcasting the conversation and publishing it in newspapers reflects outright disregard of all the above and embodies unprecedented audacity in boasting about a crime before public opinion.

It is appalling that this has taken place while the president of Egypt is a renowned judge who served previously as the president of the Constitutional Court. Presumably, the judge should be keenly aware that what happened constitutes a declaration of the death of rule of law in Egypt.

It is equally astonishing that institutions which supposedly respect the law and defend the dignity of the judiciary and judges kept silent about the leak. This raises our doubts that they might be attempting to cover up that shameful act and endorse it. The act is a violation of the authority of the judge, and a breach of the court's justice. It is the duty of the judge to protect the freedom of the defendant to defend himself, and to secure his deliberations. Regrettably, the Judges Club, tasked with safeguarding these rights, has not upheld them.

Whereas the leaked recording represents an assault on the lawyer and his defense rights, we haven't heard any condemnation of the incident from the Lawyers Syndicate.

The incident itself is much more important that the details. The deliberations between Morsi and Al-Awa, which lasted for few minutes and took place in a court room (attended by six police officers) was a normal conversation. Part of it was related to public affairs and the charges Morsi is facing, and the rest had to do with his private affairs inside prison.

In the recording, Morsi said he ran out of money which he needs to buy his needs from the prison cafeteria. Dr Al-Awa informed me that Morsi had told him that he had to eat prison food for three days because he could not buy a single cup of tea from the cafeteria. The prison administration had refused to receive any deposits for him, but accepted only recently.

Thus the conversation did not include any interesting details, except for the humiliation Morsi is subjected to. Certainly, there is no room here for comparison with the luxury Mubarak is enjoying in his prison.

Although six police officers attended the meeting, it had been secretly recorded and then leaked to the press.

And although the aim of the leak was to "expose" the former president, the real scandal is for those who recorded the meeting and who leaked it to the media, and those who encroached upon the constitution and the law by publicly disseminating the crime.

The audio leak, to say the least, violates three chapters of the constitution: the Public Freedoms, the Rule of Law, and the Judicial Authority chapters.

Furthermore, the law prohibits eavesdropping on any citizen except without his/her prior permission. Deliberations between the defendant and his lawyer should be confidential, and even the lawyer does not have the right to publicize them. Yet, security services eavesdropped on a conversation involving both the lawyer and the defendant, in utter disregard of the law, the judge's authority, and the rights of the lawyer and the defendant to confidentiality. They went even further and broadcast the conversation publicly.

While some journalists considered the publication of the conversation a "scoop" which they were proud of, conscientious judges considered it a shock which they never expected.

One of these judges narrated to me the stance of Judge Abdel-Ghaffar Mohamed who presided over the court which reviewed the "Jihad Group" case in the eighties. He had suspicions that the security services eavesdropped on the court's deliberations, particularly as 47 police officers were referred to the prosecution at that time on charges of torturing defendants.

Because it was the first time for this idea to be brought up, it outraged the judge and provoked the Judges Club which was headed at that time by Judge Wagdy Abdel-Samad.

Faced with the anger of the judge and the club, the Ministry of Interior swiftly denied the accusation. The President of the court did not continue the case until he verified that denial.

This incident is worth comparison with the latest leak because in the current case the Ministry of Interior has not denied the eavesdropping, the recording has been broadcast publicly, and those media outlets which publicized it considered it a victory and a scoop.

In a phone call with the former Minister of Justice, Judge Ahmed Mekki, he told me that the recording not only constitutes an insult to the judge and the judiciary, but it also represents a flagrant violation of the court's inviolability, the right to defense and the values of justice.

In that case, the judge in charge of this case should voice his anger for the violation of his authority and his independence, and for the rights he was tasked to protect.

If he is not angered, Mekki said, the judge will not be qualified to assume his post.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Shorouk newspaper on 13 February, 2014

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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