The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights released a statement Saturday claiming that the public prosecution’s office has shown evidence of political bias, and called for the independence of public prosecutors from the state.
In a study EIPR released on Saturday entitled “Whose Interest does the Public’s Defender Serve”, human rights lawyer Hend Nasrallah investigated ways in which the prosecution authority serves “an alarmingly selective justice system”.
“Thousands of political dissidents were referred to trials based on flimsy evidence with little effort to establish individual criminal responsibility,” the statement said.
The statement referred to cases such as the Al-Jazeera English trial in which the prosecutor demanded the maximum penalty for three of the network’s journalists, handing them sentences ranging from 7 to 10 years.
The prosecutor made the decision based on “evidence that included pictures of a family vacation, clips from international newscasts and a music video by Australian singer Gotye”.
In another case, the public prosecutor referred 545 people to trial for collectively killing one police officer in Minya, 529 of which were handed the death penalty.
EIPR criticised the public prosecution for routinely failing to conduct more “serious” investigations into reports of torture and killings at the hands of security personnel. The statement condemned the public prosecution’s flawed investigations of police officers. Many of these cases resulted in the acquittal of the majority of officers charged with killing protesters over the past three years since the 25 January Revolution.
Other legal violations include interrogating suspects in political cases at detention facilities instead of at court. Accordingly, lawyers are not present at interrogations, and the public prosecution denies them access to information.
According to EIPR’s study, public prosecutors have a “clear conflict of interest” in the existing legislation system, as it gives them both the power to investigate and to prosecute.
“Such expansive, barely challenged powers, combined with the risk of political bias could result in unfair treatment of suspects, selective indictment, and serious concerns about the impartiality of the judiciary system,” the statement read.
The study criticised the system of appointing public prosecutors, as well as the lack of judicial independence due to the executive branch’s influence over the public prosecution authority. It also criticised the lack of transparency and information available for the public on accountability for prosecutors.
The study said it often seems that prosecutors are not punished for grave professional errors, “but for not acting in the interests of the ruling elite”.
EIPR’s study encourages “legislative reforms to ensure prosecutors are protected from interference when carrying out investigations”. It also encourages training to strengthen the role of investigative judges, enabling them to better carry out investigations.
“Most judges in Egypt start their careers as prosecutors, and so, reform in the public prosecution authority is the first step towards reinforcing the independence of the judiciary and to grant citizens their constitutional rights to due process and fair trials,” the statement concluded.