Egyptian judges face disciplinary panel

Riot police wielding batons chased away protesters from Egypt’s supreme court yesterday as two judges who favor reform faced a disciplinary hearing for alleging fraud in last year’s parliamentary elections.

At least 16 demonstrators were arrested and one was beaten, said the Kifaya activist group, which organized the demonstration. Police declined to confirm the arrests or clashes.

The crowd, which the officer estimated at 2,000 people, chanted antigovernment slogans as the judges, Hesham el-Bastawisy and Mahmoud Mekki, appeared before the hearing.

The two judges, who are members of the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appellate court, have told reporters that some of their colleagues either committed fraud or ignored it while supervising polling in staggered parliamentary elections in November and December.

The polls were marred by police blockades of polling stations in opposition strongholds, and numerous allegations of ballot stuffing.

’’Our case is not important, what is important is . . . the right of the Egyptian people to have an independent judiciary, democracy, and free elections,” Bastawisy said in an interview after the hearing, which was adjourned to May 11.

Bastawisy said the seven-judge disciplinary panel was ’’unconstitutional” as the defendants were not allowed to have lawyers.

President Hosni Mubarak has denied any government role in the hearing and indicated it was an internal dispute among judges.

’’I hope you solve it among yourselves,” he told the judges in an address to the nation yesterday.

Police charged into sections of the crowd with batons yesterday. The director of Kifaya’s website, Mohammed Taima, said one protester was beaten severely before he was taken into detention.

Human Rights Watch has called on the government to halt the proceeding against the two judges. The government ’’should be investigating the widespread evidence of voter intimidation, not shooting the messengers who reported the fraud,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement Wednesday.

Activists of Kifaya, Arabic for ’’Enough,” and other groups have been protesting outside the Judges’ Club, only a few blocks from the Supreme Court, since Monday.