Egyptian Judges Step Down From Case Against NGOs 01/03/2012 14:56:00
Three judges handling the trial of 43 foreign and Egyptian NGO workers accused of receiving illegitimate foreign funding have resigned from the case after only the first session on Sunday, for 'reasons of discomfort'.
However, their decision and the reason behind it is not holding too much water. It is widely perceived that the US pressure has led to their decision.
The NGOs facing trial include 14 Egyptian and 29 foreign aid workers, including 16 Americans. They are facing charge of receiving illegal foreign funding, working without a formal license, and posing a threat to Egypt's national security.
According a report on TV, on Wednesday, he presiding judge, Mohammed Shukri, did not cite a reason as he made a formal request to renounce the case. However, sources have been claiming that Judge Shukri had stated that "the court felt uneasiness" over the case.
Speaking to private TV channel Al-Hayat, Judge Mahmoud El-Khodairy, lawyer and head of the People's Assembly Legislative Committee, explained that a judge stepping down for "reasons of discomfort" could be due to an existing relationship the judge has with any of the defendants, the accused or the lawyers.
It could also be due to the court's own involvement with some aspect of the case.
In the event of a judge resigning from a case, the lawsuit is transferred to another district court within a "brief" time period, El-Khodairy stated.
Investigations into civil society groups receiving foreign funding began mid-2011, then in December last year, prosecution members and Egypt's security forces raided and temporarily closed as many as 17 NGO offices in Cairo.
The filing of legal cases against civil society workers have reportedly severely strained Egypt's relations with the US, which has threatened to cut off up to $1.3 billion in military aid and another $250m in economic assistance to Cairo if the Americans were not let off.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told two senate panels on Tuesday that the US and Egypt were "in very intensive discussions about finding a solution". Then she added that “We're moving toward a resolution. It's important that they know that we are continuing to push them."
Since investigations began officials from both countries have made public statements regarding the case, with the US officials claiming that America is close to resolving the issue, while Egyptian have clarified that only the judicial body has control of the case.
Of the 29 foreign aid workers facing trial, only one German NGO employee was present in the court. The accused American workers later claimed they had not received the court summons.
At the close of the opening session, the judge adjourned the hearing to April 26, after the defence lawyers sought more time for investigations.
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