Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th on Trial

I want to wish everyone a very happy Fourth of July. I plan to spend my day going to the Nationals game with friends, binging on Freedom Fries, and watching the fireworks over the National Mall. But for this post, I wanted to remember two groups of people who will have an entirely different kind of Fourth of July. Their Fourth of July won’t be about friends, fries, and fireworks. But what they will go through today should remind all of us what the Fourth truly should be about: how lucky we are to live in a free nation.

In Egypt, the political trial against NGOs promoting Egyptian democracy restarts today with high profile testimony from prosecution witnesses. According to Fayza Aboulnaga, the minister who is spearheading the crackdown against the NGOs, the accused organizations were operating without a license and are therefore subject to prosecution. But Freedom House president David Kramer, refutes Aboulnaga’s accusations and argues persuasively that the trial is part of a larger crackdown against civil society by remnants of the Mubarak regime intent on aborting the revolution.  Forty three defendants stand accused, but only a fraction will attend court tomorrow. After months of pressure, the US government convinced the Egyptian authorities to allow the accused Americans to leave the country. The Egyptians remain to face trial, but they won’t do so alone. Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute refused to abandon his Egyptian colleagues. And Sherif Mansour resigned his position at Freedom House to return to Egypt to face trial in person. He was immediately arrested upon his arrival.

In Bahrain, 28 medical professionals will learn today whether they will spend the next three years in jail. During last year’s protests, the Bahraini military took control over the Salmaniya hospital complex after doctors treated injured anti-government demonstrators and the hospital itself turned into a protest site. Many hospital staff were arrested, tortured, and convicted in military trials. Last month, nine medics were declared innocent upon an appeal, while another eleven had their guilty verdicts confirmed. Today a different group of medics will learn their fate as well. According to Richard Sollom of Physicians for Human Rights, “these medical professionals were merely fulfilling their ethical duty to treat the injured, including injured protesters. Not only should their charges be dropped, but the cases themselves should be expunged from their records.” For Nada Dhaif, one of the medics who won her appeal last month, the government’s attempt to “humiliate whoever they want should they speak” has failed because she is “even more determined to bring change, for [her] voice to be heard and to fight until the end.”

Today, two of our allies will prosecute brave individuals who only seek for their country what we have for ours. As Hafsa Halawa, one of the Egyptians in court today, tweeted  “I’m not American, just waiting, hoping and praying for the day Egypt gets our own 4th of July.” And of course, today’s trials in Egypt and Bahrain are but two of thousands of examples of people throughout the world who have stood courageously accused in the court room for seeking to achieve their own July Fourth. So I plan to enjoy more than my share of Freedom Fries today. But at the same time, I will remember how lucky we are. I will remember how far we have come and how much further we must go as a country. And I will remember those who need our support in bending that arc of history ever further towards justice – here in the US and beyond.


I wanted to follow up on what actually happened with these two court cases. In Bahrain, the court failed to deliver a verdict despite the widespread expectation that it would. The court will not meet again until September 4th. In response, Brian Dooley of Human Rights First said, "Justice delayed is justice denied even longer for these medics who should not be on trial in the first place." In Egypt, the judge of the NGO trial adjourned the court until September 9th after only one prosecution witness gave testimony. At this rate, the trial will take years to finish. The accused - who are caged in the courtroom as is the norm in Egyptian trials - also complained about not being able to hear the proceedings (see pic below).

@Hhafoos: Everyone cramming to try to hear testimony & judge questioning

Make no mistake about it: both cases are driven primarily by politics. Especially in the Egypt case, the delays in the proceedings support the ongoing NGO crackdown by giving even more opportunity to sully the reputations of the accused as spies and traitors. Yet another reminder of why we should remember on July Fourth and every other day how lucky we are as Americans generally and specifically how lucky we are to have the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a speedy trial.

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