Top UN rights official welcomes acquittal of human rights activists in Egypt

19 March 2003

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, today welcomed an Egyptian court's decision to acquit a leading human rights activist following a second retrial on charges of defaming the country.

In a statement issued from Geneva, Mr. Vieira de Mello hailed the release of 64-year old Dr. Saad El Din Ibrahim and his co-defendants as "an important and significant verdict" demonstrating Egypt's commitment to justice.

In May 2001, a State Security Court had sentenced Dr. Ibrahim, Director of the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies in Cairo, to seven years in prison, and 27 other defendants – mostly colleagues at the Centre or members of the Egyptian Women Voters’ Support Centre – received sentences ranging from one to seven years. The charges ranged from accepting foreign funds without authorization and disseminating false information harmful to Egypt’s interests, to embezzlement.

In the wake of those sentences, UN experts on human rights defenders and on judicial independence expressed their concern about allegations that the charges were politically motivated, as well as the speed with which the verdict was reportedly reached - following reports that the 28 defendants were convicted and sentenced within 90 minutes.

Recently, Mr. Vieira de Mello had raised the case with Egyptian authorities and expressed his concern regarding Dr. Ibrahim's deteriorating health. He also expressed the sincere hope that the overall process would be conducted in a manner consistent with international human rights standards. In his statement today, he reiterated his firm belief that the an independent judicial system is the cornerstone of a democratic state based upon the rule of law, and an important safeguard for the protection of human rights.

 

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