32 judges forced into retirement for expressing their opinion
The undersigned organizations condemn the judgment issued on Monday, March 28, by the Supreme Disciplinary Committee to uphold a ruling by the Judicial Council’s Disciplinary Committee to force 31 judges into retirement. The organizations also condemn the judgment to refer Judge Yasser Mohi al-Din to retirement, even after he had previously been ruled fit for duty by the Judicial Council’s committee. The Supreme Disciplinary Committee overturned this previous ruling on Monday on appeal by the Public Prosecution.. The 32 judges were censured for issuing a statement on July 24, 2013 in which they expressed their stance on the protests of June 30 and the subsequent removal of President Mohammed Morsi from office on July 3.
The undersigned organizations believe that the decision to refer 32 judges to retirement for issuing a statement expressing a political stance contravenes the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, adopted in 1985. Article 8 of the document states, “In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly; provided, however, that in exercising such rights, judges shall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of their office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.” Judges expressing their opinions and participating in public life is not a new development; many members of the judiciary took part in the popular protests of January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013.
This decision comes as the Supreme Disciplinary Committee fails to punish judges who express political opinions specific to cases that appear before them and while on the bench, which is a breach of judicial norms all over the world. These judges have not been referred to the disciplinary committee, been declared unfit for office, or been held accountable in any way. In fact, they continue to sit on the bench while certain cases are referred to them.
Article 73 of the judiciary law, which prohibits judges from involvement in politics, specifies that they are not permitted to run in elections for the People’s Assembly, regional bodies, or political organizations until after they have resigned from the judiciary. The State Council affirmed this prohibition in opinion no. 351/4JY, concluding that the intent of the provision is to bar judges from occupying political office. In this case, however, the Supreme Disciplinary Committee expanded the prohibition to include a ban on judges discussing or commenting on decisions by the legislature or government.
The disciplinary proceedings regarding the case entailed several legal irregularities. The disciplinary panel, composed of three judges, included the judge who had filed the complaint against the judges under review. The two other judges had made comments regarding the case that they were convinced of the likelihood of the judges’ guilt, in a violation of the Codes of Trial Proceedings and Criminal Procedure, which both prohibit a judge from participating in a judgment if he was involved in the investigation or referral procedures of the case. In addition, an order was issued banning 13 judges from travel, among 75 judges referred to investigation, without questioning them or the complainants and without a legal basis. Given that they were referred to a disciplinary, not criminal, trial, there was no fear of them fleeing or evading punishment. The judges were also not permitted to see the case file and their request to question the complainants as supporting witnesses was denied, in violation of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Supreme Disciplinary Committee failed to document the motion for recusal in the session minutes, most recently on February 22, 2016, also in violation of the law, which gives the defense the right to have his motions and pleadings recorded in the trial minutes. Moreover, under the law judicial bodies should suspend proceedings in the case before them when a recusal motion is made.
The case began in July 2013, when the president of the Judges Club and several of its members filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office accusing 75 judges of signing a statement that contained “lies” and which accused the Egyptian army of violating legitimacy. The public prosecutor referred the complaint to the Supreme Judiciary Council on July 25, 2013, which in turn referred it to the justice minister for the appointment of an investigating judge from the Cairo Appellate Court. Fifty-six judges were subsequently referred to disciplinary proceedings in case 13/2014/disciplinary. The investigating judge excluded 19 judges from the proceedings after ruling that they were unaware of the signatures attributed to them.
On March 14, 2015, the Supreme Disciplinary Committee issued its ruling referring 31 judges to retirement and denying the suit against 25 more, reinstating them in their judicial positions. In its ruling, the disciplinary committee relied on Homeland Security investigations, as well as the judges’ writings on Facebook and video footage published on their pages.
The undersigned organizations fear that today’s final judgment forcing 32 judges into retirement, especially after a similar ruling was issued last week against 15 other judges (Judges for Egypt), will establish a new restriction on judges’ right to express their opinions, especially those that do not support the state administration. This fear is exacerbated given the lack of specific standards for acts that require disciplinary procedures or may be grounds for a declaration of unfitness for office under the judiciary law. This is especially worrying since the disciplinary committee has the absolute discretion to choose to proceed with trial procedures or review the matter itself.
We stress that these disciplinary proceedings were not occasioned by the judges’ involvement in politics, but are in fact an instance of score settling and retribution against any person whose opinion diverges from that of the regime. Numerous judges have expressed political opinions, but have not been referred to disciplinary procedures. A disciplinary request in case 7/2014 filed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office against a judge was denied, with the committee issuing a recommendation and warning to the judge not to repeat the offending acts. According to the Public Prosecution, these acts included excessive media appearances, speaking to the media on politically controversial matters, and commenting on problems in the country to suggest an attack on a specific political faction.
The undersigned organizations urge the president not to ratify the judgment and further demand an end to disciplinary trials for judges. The organizations also call for a repeal of the rulings issued against the judges on Monday, members of the Judges for Egypt, and Judge Zakariya Abd al-Aziz, who was forced into retirement after being found guilty of involvement in politics and inciting people to storm the State Security headquarters during the January 25 revolution.
1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
3. ADALAH Center for Rights & Freedoms “ACRF”
4. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
5. Arab Penal Reform Organization
6. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
7. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
8. Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
9. El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
10. Habi Center for Environmental Rights
11. National Community for Human Rights and Law
12. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights