Rights Groups Condemn Forced Retirement of 41 Judges for Expressing their Opinions
The undersigned organizations condemn the forced retirement of 41 judges pursuant to the disciplinary board’s decision of Saturday, March 14, due to their release of a statement on July 6, 2013 expressing their stance on the June 30 uprising and the removal of former President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.
The president and several members of the Judges Club filed a complaint with the public prosecutor in July 2013 naming 75 judges who had signed a statement, which, according to the complaint, contained several “lies” and which accused the Egyptian army of breaching electoral legitimacy. The complaint was referred to the Supreme Judiciary Council on July 25, 2013, which in turn referred it to the minister of justice for the appointment of an investigative judge from the Cairo Court of Appeals. Following that, 15 judges were referred to a disciplinary trial in case no. 9/2014/disciplinary (known as the ‘judges for Egypt case’) while another 56 were referred to a disciplinary trial in case no. 13/2014 (known as the ‘statement in support case’).
The judges who signed the statement emphasized that their sole allegiance was to legitimacy, truth, and justice. They said they rejected the assault on electoral legitimacy and the exclusion of deposed President Morsi. They also urged pillars of the Egyptian state, political currents, and revolutionary forces to reach a consensus within the framework of constitutional legitimacy that would carry the country through its crisis. They also affirmed the need to respect the right of peaceful protest, the rejection of violence in all forms, and the duty to avoid spilling any Egyptian blood.
On March 14, 2015, the disciplinary board issued its judgment in the ‘statement case’, forcing 31 judges into retirement and dismissing the suit for 25 other judges who were reinstated. In the ‘judges for Egypt case’, it referred 10 judges to retirement and dismissed the suit for five others who were also reinstated. The undersigned organizations note that the forced retirement of 41 judges contravenes the UN-endorsed Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, Article 8 of which 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.” In addition, prosecuting judges and other citizens for the expression of their opinions in political matters undermines freedom of expression as upheld by the existing constitution. Such trials also violate Article 87 of the constitution, which makes it incumbent on citizens to take part in public life as a matter of national duty.
We believe the real reason for the retirements is not the judges’ involvement in politics, as stated in the case files and inquiries, but rather for opinions they expressed in opposition to the current governing administration, especially given the lack of specific standards for acts that require disciplinary sanctions for judges or the loss of a judgeship. The judiciary law gives the disciplinary board the absolute authority to determine whether legal action should be taken in such cases.
Judges’ declaration of their opinions and their participation in public life is not new. A great many judges took part in the protests of January 25, 2011, while others were present—and even spoke on the stage—during the protests of June 30, 2013. In fact, judges have even expressed political opinions on cases pending before them while sitting on the bench, a breach of all judicial norms around the world, but they have not been subject to disciplinary action, lost their judgeships, or been held accountable in these cases. They have instead remained on the bench, with particular cases referred to them for adjudication.
Article 73 of the judiciary law defines proscribed political involvement on the part of judges by noting that a judge may not run for office in parliamentary bodies, regional bodies, or political organizations until after he has submitted his resignation. This view was upheld by a legal opinion issued by the State Council (no. 351/4JY), which concluded that the prohibition on political activity by judges referred to actual involvement liable to make apparent a judge’s opinion on partisan matters, meaning he would inevitably run for an elected office on a specific partisan platform.
In addition, the latest judgment stands out from previous judgments issued by the disciplinary board. In disciplinary case no. 7/2014, the board denied the motion for sanctions against a judge filed by the public prosecutor, instead recommending a warning that he refrain from the actions cited by the Public Prosecution in its charges, among them making excessive media appearances, discussing in the media controversial political matters, and commenting on problems facing the country in a way that could be construed as an attack on a particular political faction.*
The undersigned organizations reiterate that the objective of the judges’ forced retirement is first and foremost to send a message to judges, telling them to withhold their opinions except when expressing approval of the current political administration, which we believe reflects the general political orientation prevalent in the justice system in Egypt. We hope that this ruling is reconsidered on appeal.
1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
2. National group for human rights and law
3. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
4. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
5. The Human Rights Legal Assistance Group
6. Alhaqanya Center for Law and Legal profession
7. El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
8. The Human Right Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners
9. Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
10. Arab Penal Reform Organization
11. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
12. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
*Judgment from the disciplinary board in case. No. 7/2014, entered as no. 12/8JY.