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Legitimacy of Egypt Trial Questioned

June 25, 2002

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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Lawyers for an Egyptian-American activist charged with embezzling foreign aid funds and defaming Egypt filed papers Tuesday that they say shows a co-defendants may have been forced to make false accusations against him.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociology professor at American University in Cairo, was convicted last year and sentenced to seven years in prison. At the center of the case was a democracy-building grant he got from the European Union that included money to monitor Egypt’s 2000 elections.

The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, an independent think tank which Ibrahim directs, was to do the monitoring, and some two dozen members of the center’s staff were also charged in connection with the case. Human rights groups have said the case is politically motivated.

After eight months in jail, an appeals court ordered a retrial for the 63-year-old Ibrahim and all the other 27 defendants. One of the reasons for the retrial was the complaint of Khaled Fayad, a political researcher at the center, who said he was pressured by security police to falsely accuse Ibrahim.

According to the papers filed in court Tuesday, Fayad was taken from prison and interrogated at state security headquarters without the necessary permission from prosecutors.

``This would minimize the weight of Khaled Fayad’s confession and would open investigation of his claims that his confessions were taken under duress,″ Abdel-Qader Hashem, one of Ibrahim’s lawyers said Tuesday during a break in the hearing. The retrial began in April.

The next hearing was set for Wednesday.

Ibrahim was convicted last May of accepting a $250,000 EU grant without government approval. Egypt has been under emergency law since the 1981 assassination of former President Anwar Sadat and no group can receive foreign funds without the official go-ahead. He was also convicted of embezzling money from the EU _ even though EU officials say they have no problem with his use of the funds _ and of tarnishing Egypt’s image.

Ibrahim and his colleagues were arrested in July 2000 after announcing that his center would monitor Egypt’s 2000 parliamentary elections. His 1995 elections report claimed that voting was rigged.

The trial and retrial have drawn attention and criticism of Western embassies and international human rights organizations.

On Monday, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on Egypt to ``stop criminalizing human rights activists.″

``With this politically motivated trial of Saad Eddin Ibrahim and his colleagues, Egyptian authorities intend to silence the whole Egyptian human rights movements,″ Amnesty said.

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