Disgruntled lawyers storm Mahalla courthouse

The crisis surrounding the case of two lawyers, Ehab Saei el-Din and Mustafa Fatuh, accused of assaulting Tanta Public Prosecutor Basem Abu el-Rus escalated after the two men were sentenced to five years in prison and a LE200 fine yesterday following a one-day trial at a Tanta courthouse. Thousands of lawyers participated in a full strike called for by the General Lawyer’s Syndicate to protest the decision, while also staging demonstrations and sit-in protests across Egypt.

In a sign of rising tensions between the parties, dozens of lawyers stormed Mahalla’s municipal courthouse in the Governorate of Gharbiya in solidarity with their imprisoned colleagues. The mob proceeded to imprison Ehab Asamat, district attorney for East Tanta, as well as Ibrahim Abu el-Saud and Mohamed Awad, chairmen for the prosecution, in Asamat’s office. The lawyers also assaulted Mohamed Radwan, director of the district attorney’s office, and destroyed the courtroom’s meeting room and the judges’ elevator.

El-Sayid Gad el-Haq, director of criminal investigations, and Abu el-Fatuh el-Wardani, assistant director of security, arrived at the Mahalla courthouse in an attempt to calm the lawyers and extract the district attorney from his office. The two men requested that the lawyers choose ten from their ranks to meet with the district attorney and discuss their demands. The request was rejected by the lawyers.

A number of lawyers stated that orders had been issued to arrest 33 of their number. However, a security source categorically denied this, stating that the East Tanta district attorney’s office had only called for an investigation into the courthouse incident.

Abdel Magid Mamoud, the attorney general, and Hamdy Khalifa, head of the General Lawyer’s Syndicate, met yesterday to resolve the crisis. However, when the attorney general heard that lawyers in Tanta had stormed the courthouse, he angrily ended the talks, declaring, “The law must take its course.”

Meanwhile, in Tanta, hundreds of lawyers gathered around the courthouse and warned those working in the district attorney’s office not to leave the premises, threatening to attack them. Security forces were eventually able to evacuate office employees by using a back stairway. The lawyers also refused to attend any court sessions in what was to be the first day of a general strike and also attempted to prevent judges from entering the courthouse.

Lawyers standing outside the courthouse waved their shoes as an expression of disgust over the sentence, as delegations of lawyers continued to arrive from other governorates to join their colleagues in solidarity. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports circulated that the two convicted lawyers had been transported from the courthouse to Damenhour Prison via armored truck.

Gilal Shabli, head of the lawyer’s syndicate in the governorate, threatened a “harsh” response to the ruling, announcing that a number of lawyers were beginning a hunger strike in solidarity with their imprisoned colleagues. The syndicate warned that any lawyer not participating in the general work strike would be brought before a disciplinary council.

In the city of Simund, nearly 200 lawyers demonstrated in front of the district court, preventing four judges from entering the courthouse. Security forces failed in an attempt to escort employees of the prosecutor’s office to their offices.

In Cairo, an emergency meeting was held yesterday at the General Lawyer’s Syndicate. The syndicate called for a continuation of its general strike and declared that it would not pay its legal fees. Syndicate head Khalifa said he would travel to Mahala to contain the crisis stemming from the storming of the courthouse and the violence and threats directed at employees of the district attorney’s office.

Hundreds of lawyers staged a sit-in protest at the headquarters of the syndicate in which they announced that they would begin “making their anger felt.” Lawyers chanted slogans during the demonstration criticizing Ahmad el-Zind, chairman of the Judges’ Club.

Talat el-Sadat, a deputy in the People’s Assembly, requested that the Assembly intervene quickly to solve the crisis. However, Fathy Sorour, chairman of the People’s Assembly, stated that the assembly had no institutional relation to the judicial branch of government and therefore could not intervene in its affairs.

Addressing el-Sadat, Sorour stated that, “What you say has no relation to the duties of the assembly, which respects both the authority of the judiciary and the lawyers, and we cannot imagine there being any dispute between the two parties.” He said that the crisis should be handled with wisdom, seeing the issue as a product of behavioral excesses on behalf of a handful of individuals.

In related news, a number of legal experts stated that the sentence issued against the two lawyers in Tanta had been made in haste, making it seem as if it were an expression of the judges’ anger. They noted that judicial officials should not abuse their power to take personal revenge.

The Misdemeanor Appeal’s Court in Tanta is expected to review the appeal of the lawyer’s case on Saturday.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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