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Activist in Egypt Gets a New Trial

February 6, 2002

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egypt’s highest appeals court on Wednesday granted a new trial to an Egyptian-American human rights activist whose conviction for tarnishing his country’s image drew widespread local and international criticism.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a 63-year-old sociology professor who contends his only crime was criticizing the government, was expected to be released as early as Thursday pending the retrial. A new trial date has not yet been set.

``Is it really?″ Ibrahim’s wife, Barbara, a native of Illinois, exclaimed to her son-in-law in the courtroom when the eight-judge panel accepted the retrial request. ``I’m feeling numb. I am almost in disbelief,″ she told reporters between hugs and kisses with relatives and friends.

Ibrahim was arrested in June 2000 with 27 associates. A security court convicted him in May of tarnishing Egypt’s image, embezzlement and accepting foreign money without government approval, and he was imprisoned on a seven-year sentence.

His associates had received sentences ranging from one to seven years, and acceptance of his appeal means they, too, receive new trials before a state security court.

Ibrahim, who holds U.S. and Egyptian citizenship, has said he believes the charges stemmed from his decision to set up a committee to monitor Egypt’s 2000 parliamentary elections.

The Ibn Khaldun Center, an independent think tank Ibrahim established in 1988, published reports accusing the government of rigging 1995 parliamentary elections.

International human rights groups condemned Ibrahim’s original trial. Sara Hamood of Amnesty International said the London-based rights group would also monitor the retrial. ``We remain concerned,″ she said. ``We still believe it’s politically motivated and has been used as a pretext to punish people who criticize government policy.″

Ibrahim was not present Wednesday; prisoners usually are not brought to the highest court. Barbara Ibrahim said she and their daughter, Randa, had visited Ibrahim a few days ago and found him ``calmly prepared″ for any decision.

Randa Ibrahim broke down in tears at the decision. A ruling in the appeal had twice been postponed in the past two months.

``There have been so many disappointments and shocks, we had thought this day will never come,″ she said. The ruling is a ``first step toward clearing my father’s name.″

The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, David Welch, also welcomed the decision.

``We have repeatedly expressed our concern about the fairness of the process with the Egyptian government and hope that the case against Dr. Ibrahim will now be dropped,″ Welch said in a statement.

Representatives of human rights groups and the U.S. and other embassies attended the court session.

Ibrahim’s appeal, among other things, questioned the constitutionality of a military decree used as the basis for the conviction, said the court hadn’t fully considered the merits of the embezzlement charge and that the defense didn’t have access to all of the evidence.

Wednesday’s decision was not welcomed by everybody.

``This verdict has angered millions of honest Egyptians. It was only welcomed by those who own human rights boutiques″ that receive funding from abroad, Nabih el-Wahsh, a conservative lawyer who often lashes out at human rights activists, said at the court Wednesday.

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