Summary and Current Status
At 3:00 a.m. on January 14, 2007, Khaled ’Abd al-Qadir ‘Ali Ouda—an eminent Egyptian geologist, businessman, and member of the Muslim Brotherhood—was arrested at his home in Assiut, Egypt, handcuffed, and driven to Cairo. He is held in Tura Prison on the outskirts of the capital. Professor Ouda was subsequently charged with money laundering and possession of weapons. His case reportedly was brought before a civilian court in Egypt three times and, each time, the court acquitted him of all charges and ordered his immediate release. The Egyptian government, however, ignored all three court orders. Instead, his case—and those of a number of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested in late 2006 and early 2007—was transferred by order of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to a military court.
Professor Ouda’s military trial began on April 26, 2007, in a closed session held in secrecy. Additional hearings took place through the summer and fall of 2007. On December 16, 2007, the Cairo military court cleared Professor Ouda of the money laundering and possession of weapons charges. At the same hearing, however, the court reportedly added new charges of organizing and financing a proscribed group against seven of the defendants. On April 15, 2008, almost a year after the trial began, Professor Ouda was acquitted and released from prison.
Khaled ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ali Ouda is a prominent Egyptian geologist. He received his PhD in stratigraphy and micropaleontology from the University of Assiut in 1971 and is professor of stratigraphy and micropaleontology in the Department of Geology at the Faculty of Science of the University of Assiut. Professor Ouda has participated in numerous international meetings, working groups, and scientific projects and is well respected by the international scientific community. He is highly regarded by members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and he has worked closely for many years on geological research with an NAS member and his wife, also a geologist.
Professor Ouda is married and has two children and four grandchildren. His wife is also a professor of geology at the University of Assiut. It is our understanding that Professor Ouda has regularly written articles in various Egyptian newspapers calling for freedom of expression, democracy, and the rule of law in Egypt and that he has spoken out against poverty and corruption. In addition to his scientific work, Professor Ouda is a businessman.
Professor Ouda is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and serves on its financial committee. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s largest opposition group. Its members and leaders are influential within Egyptian society; they serve in parliamentary and, in the past, have held ministerial positions. Although outlawed by the Egyptian government since 1954, the Muslim Brotherhood was permitted to operate openly in Egypt from the 1970s until 1995. Since early 1995, however, the government has repeatedly cracked down on members of the organization, particularly prior to parliamentary elections when members of the Muslim Brotherhood have run as independent candidates.
The Muslim Brotherhood publicly renounced violence more than 30 years ago and has repeatedly condemned the use of violence by armed Islamist groups in Egypt. The organization has stated that the only way to bring about changes beneficial to the country is through legal means and through dialogue with the government. The Muslim Brotherhood has strong political, social, and cultural ties and is powerful within Egypt’s professional associations, particularly those of lawyers, doctors, and engineers. It offers social services, loans, and inexpensive medical and educational services.
At 3:00 a.m. on January 14, 2007, Professor Ouda was arrested at his home in Assiut. He reportedly was handcuffed, driven to Cairo (an approximately eight-hour trip), and placed in Tura Prison, located on the outskirts of the city. Professor Ouda was one of six senior Muslim Brotherhood members arrested on that day; all six are members of its financial committee. Shortly thereafter ten police officers reportedly ransacked his apartment and took several computers, documents and papers, money, and his wife’s jewelry. Although a receipt for these confiscated items was requested, none reportedly was provided. Two days after Professor Ouda’s arrest, he and the other five men were charged with laundering money—reportedly through their investments in various Egyptian industrial projects—and were placed under 15-day detention orders. The prosecutor reportedly also issued an order freezing the personal assets of the men. They were subsequently charged with possession of weapons as well.
In early 2007 Professor Ouda’s case—and those of a number of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are being tried together—reportedly was brought before a civil court three times. Each time he and the others were acquitted of all charges against them and ordered to be released immediately. According to reliable reports, however, all three court orders were disregarded by the government, and the cases were transferred by order of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as commander of the military, to a military court. (According to Egypt’s emergency laws, in place since 1981, the president is authorized to refer cases of civilians to military courts.)
The military trial of Professor Ouda and 39 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood began in a closed session on April 26, 2007, and was held in complete secrecy. The defendants’ lawyers reportedly were never told that the hearing was taking place and only learned about it from the defendants during a prison visit several days later. International monitors and journalists were not informed that the hearing was taking place either. On May 8, 2007, the Administrative Court reversed President Mubarak’s transfer of the case to a military court, ordered the defendants to be released, and ruled that the case should be heard instead in a civilian criminal court. The Egyptian government immediately appealed the decision. On May 14, 2007, the Superior Administrative Court overturned the lower court ruling, clearing the way for the military trial to resume.
The military trial of Professor Ouda and 39 other senior Muslim Brotherhood members resumed with a hearing on June 3, 2007. The hearing was held at the Haikstip military base north of Cairo. It was reported in the press that more than 100 Arab and Western lawyers went to the base to represent the defendants, but that only a few were allowed into the courtroom. Representatives from Amnesty International, the Arab Commission for Human Rights, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch, who traveled to the military base to observe the trial, were all refused entry to the courtroom. Additional hearings took place through the summer and fall of 2007.
The military trial process in Egypt contravenes international fair trial standards in a number of substantive ways. For example, Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” Professor Ouda’s trial has not been open to the public. Furthermore, as stated by Amnesty International, “The appointment of military judges and President Mubarak’s role in referring individuals to military courts casts serious doubt as to the courts’ independence and impartiality and their ability to ensure a fair trial for the defendants.” The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)—to which Egypt is a state party—stipulates in article 26 that “state parties . . . shall have the duty to guarantee the independence of the courts.” In its principles on the right to a fair trial, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights—created to monitor implementation of the ACHPR—states, “Military courts should not, in any circumstances whatsoever, have jurisdiction over civilians.”
It is our understanding that, on December 16, 2007, the Cairo military court cleared Professor Ouda of the money laundering and possession of weapons charges. At the same hearing, however, the court reportedly added new charges of organizing and financing a proscribed group against seven of the defendants, including Professor Ouda. On April 15, 2008, the military court at the Haikstrip military base in Cairo held a verdict and sentencing hearing on the case, at which once again the defense lawyers and the public were not allowed to attend. Family members of the defendants who tried to attend were bused to several different locations several kilometers away and were surrounded by police to prevent them from leaving until the hearing was over. Fifteen of the defendants, including Professor Ouda, were acquitted. The other 25 defendants were convicted of a variety of charges including money laundering, belonging to and financing a banned organization, possessing antigovernment literature, and possessing weapons. They received sentences of 3 to 10 years in prison.
More than 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood are currently held in detention. The most recent government crackdown began approximately a year and a half ago and, since late 2006, has escalated significantly. Human Rights Watch repeatedly called for Professor Ouda’s release on the grounds that he was detained solely for peacefully exercising his rights to free expression, association, and assembly.