Spy claim hits jailed academic

June 22, 2001

A leading independent Egyptian social scientist jailed for seven years with hard labour on charges arising from his research also faces spying charges after he attended a Pentagon conference.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo and head of the independent Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, has a month to appeal against his conviction, but he can do so only on legal points. Human rights agencies have attacked the trial process and the conviction.

Professor Ibrahim was accused of embezzling European Union funds awarded to conduct a project to promote voter awareness among Egyptian women, despite EU insistence that it had no grounds for believing its funds had been misused. He was also convicted of obtaining foreign funds without authorisation and disseminating false information damaging to Egypt's interests.

Prosecution lawyers said the centre's monitoring of the 1995 elections had led to the suggestion that elections in Egypt were unfair. The second count related to Professor Ibrahim's research into the Coptic Christian community.

Of 28 centre staff who initially faced charges, six others were sentenced to jail terms ranging from two to five years. One was sentenced in his absence. The remaining staff received suspended sentences.

Professor Ibrahim, who has dual US citizenship, is regarded as a political moderate whose work has not antagonised fundamentalists in Egypt.

The courts' treatment of Professor Ibrahim was condemned by human rights agencies, international trade union bodies and non-governmental organisations meeting in Paris to launch a service that alerts users to violations of academic freedom. "We are dismayed to learn of the court's decision to punish legitimate research," the organisations said.

Human Rights Watch has said the trial was unfair, was in contravention to international standards and was intended to silence Professor Ibrahim.

Sam Zia-Zarifi, HRW's academic freedom specialist, said: "The process was flawed from beginning to end - the defence was hamstrung from the beginning."

The sentences focused the minds of representatives at the Paris launch of the Network for Education and Academic Rights, which is to be based in London at the offices of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

NEAR will act as a clearing-house for agencies working in the field. It will issue alerts on violations as they are verified and refer visitors to its website to details of campaigns by established organisations.

The organisations committed themselves to protect the rights and freedoms of all members of the higher education community by marshalling opinion against those who violate these rights and freedoms.

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