Egyptian Judges Protest Lack of Freedom

Nearly 1,000 Egyptian judges held a half-hour silent protest Friday to demonstrate for full judicial independence and against the government’s order to interrogate six of their colleagues who criticized recent elections.

The justices, wearing the red and green sashes of their profession, gathered outside their professional association, the Judges’ Club, in downtown Cairo ahead of an extraordinary general assembly to discuss their grievances.

The protest was larger than previous actions by the judges and drew participants from across the country. Last month, dozens of judges in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria held a similar protest after authorities stripped the immunity of six colleagues.

“The independence of the judges is the battle of the whole nation, and we all have to defend it,” Zakaria Abdel Aziz, head of the Judges’ Club, told the audience.

State security prosecutors want to interrogate the six pro-reform judges about their contacts with the media regarding parliamentary elections in November and December 2005. They had been outspoken about allegations of fraud.

The general assembly agreed to support the six judges in rejecting the interrogation order, according to a statement issued after the meeting.

Judges have demanded the right to supervise polling stations. The recent election was marred by government supporters intimidating and police blocking voters outside stations, as well as allegations of ballot stuffing.

Egyptian judges also have been urging parliament since 1986 to adopt legislation that would make the judiciary completely independent of government control.