Egyptian Academic Convicted Again
By NADIA ABOU EL MAGD
.c The Associated Press
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - An Egyptian-American academic and human rights activist was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison after being convicted of misusing European Union grants and tarnishing Egypt's image.
The verdict was quickly criticized by the United States, Amnesty International and defendant Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
During the trial, the European Union said in an affidavit it did not believe its grants were mishandled and a main defendant said he was forced to falsely accuse the 63-year-old Ibrahim.
Moments after the State Security Court's verdict and sentencing, Ibrahim told The Associated Press he would appeal again.
His wife, Barbara, said, ``The rule of law died today in Egypt.''
Their daughter, lawyer Randa Ibrahim, said the verdict came right after defense attorneys finished their arguments Monday.
``It's outrageous,'' Randa Ibrahim said.
The verdict concluded a three-month retrial ordered by an appeals court on procedural grounds. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo and an outspoken human rights and democracy advocate, was sentenced last year to seven years on the same charges.
In Washington, the Bush administration and the State Department expressed disappointment about the verdict. White House spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration made the Egyptian government aware of its opposition to the trial and its resulting verdict.
Egypt is a close ally of Washington, which considers it an important Arab voice of moderation in the Arab-Israeli confrontation. But the United States occasionally has chided Egypt for its poor human rights record.
In closing arguments last week, prosecutor Sameh Seif said Saad Eddin Ibrahim used funds raised through his Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies for personal gain and lured his staff into an embezzlement scheme.
At the heart of the case were about $252,000 in European Union democracy-building grants that included money to monitor and encourage participation in Egypt's legislative elections in 2000.
That monitoring include creating a documentary whose script argued that election fraud, which observers say has marred Egyptian voting, is less likely when citizens participate. Prosecutors claimed the documentary's references to fraud tarnished Egypt's image.
Prosecutors also say Saad Eddin Ibrahim spread false statements about religious persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, saying such comments could undermine the country's reputation abroad.
Chief Egyptian government spokesman Nabil Osman refused to comment on the case.
Sara Hamood, a London-based Amnesty International official, said the verdict was ``quite a shock. From the beginning of the case we were saying the charges were politically motivated.''
Negad Borai, a leading Egyptian lawyer and political reform advocate, said the verdict revealed ``that Egyptian laws are autocratic by nature.''
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, sweating in the un-air conditioned courtroom with temperatures Monday topping 100, was composed as the verdict was read.
Twenty-seven co-defendants, most of them think-tank staff members, were convicted of bribery and fraud and received sentences ranging from one-year suspended sentences to three years Monday.
Most of the 24 given one-year suspended sentences received similar sentences in the last trial and were not attending the retrial hearings.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the three co-defendants who did not receive suspended sentences were transferred to a Cairo prison Monday. Saad Eddin Ibrahim has served 8 1/2 months of his sentence.
Barbara Ibrahim expressed concern about her husband's health, saying he did not have his medication in court because he did not expect a verdict. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who walked with the aid of a cane, suffers from a neurological disorder that prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching his brain.
He earlier requested permission to travel abroad for treatment but never received a response from judicial authorities, who seized his Egyptian and U.S. passports after he first charged two years ago.