We know that Egypt has attempted to utilize its access to INTERPOL’s databases for political reasons against people who posed ideological threats to the current government, and more recently, to a political opponent of its current president. In accordance with its own constitution, INTERPOL has rightly refused to become involved in (or stay involved in) such politically motivated matters. Egypt has also at least threatened to seek INTERPOL’s involvement in religiously based criminal offenses.
But what of other, less obvious violations of INTERPOL’s rules? If Egypt is willing to violate INTERPOL’s rules in order to prosecute individuals, is it also willing to violate its own due process laws in order to obtain convictions? The case of Wael Abbas is summed up here, by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”)”
Award-winning digital journalist Wael Abbas was charged with selling communications services without a license, and because neither he nor his lawyers were ever informed of the trial date, he was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison and fined 500 Egyptian pounds ($86).
THe UNHCR went on to point out that, while the conviction was ultimately thrown out, the threat of multiple charges for the same alleged crime is also a very real threat in Egypt.
Even assuming that Egypt were to follow its own criminal procedure laws, Egyptian law does not contain the internationally accepted safeguards that allow for a due process compliant trial in absentia. The problems with Egypt’s form of trial in absentia were aptly described by Human Rights Watch in its Q & A column about the trial of Hosni Mubarak:
Trying a defendant in absentia can undermine some of the defendant’s basic rights to a fair trial, including the right to be present, to be defended by counsel of the person’s choice, and to examine witnesses. International law disfavors but does not prohibit trials in absentia. National systems that maintain the practice should, at a minimum, institute procedural safeguards to ensure the defendant’s basic rights. These include requirements that the defendant be notified in advance of the proceedings and that the defendant unequivocally and explicitly waive his right to be present. The defendant should also have the right to representation in his or her absence, and should be able to obtain a fresh determination on the merits of the conviction following the person’s return to the jurisdiction.
Egyptian law does not meet these minimum requirements… Egyptian law does not include any procedural safeguards requiring that the court take into account whether the defendant’s absence was by choice or assess whether a defendant unequivocally and explicitly waived the right to be present before deciding to proceed with a trial in absentia.
Given that we have seen Egypt’s pattern and practice of using, and attempting to use, its access to INTERPOL’s tools in an abusive fashion in political and religious cases, there is no basis to believe that Egypt does not also misuse that access to further its goals in criminal cases where gross due process violations have occurred. When the goal is a criminal conviction regardless of the means by which the conviction is obtained, no other motivation is necessary for a member country to violate INTERPOL’s rules.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.