Wednesday, May 17, 2006

CAIRO — One of two whistleblowing Egyptian judges facing dismissal after charging that fraud took place in last year’s parliamentary elections had a serious heart attack yesterday and is in critical condition, placing the future of the legal proceedings against him in doubt.

Judge Hisham Bastawisi, a 25-year veteran of the bench, was rushed to the hospital just after 3 a.m. He arrived in full cardiac arrest and underwent emergency surgery, doctors said.

Judge Bastawisi, a slight, bespectacled man, told The Washington Times in an interview hours before he was stricken:

“I have faith in what I am asking for. I’m sure I am right. I want my country to be a free country, a liberal country. We deserve a democracy, like we had before 1952.”

In a quiet, steady voice, he said he had called for investigations of five of his colleagues, whom he and other judges say rigged the final vote in counting stations in November’s parliamentary elections.

He and a majority of Egypt’s 8,000 judges are also asking for legal reforms that would lead to an independent judiciary.

The case has galvanized public sentiment here, leading to an escalating series of protests and clashes with riot police. More than 255 protesters from across the political spectrum remain in prison.

The two jurists, Judge Bastawisi and Judge Mahmoud Mekki, have been charged with defaming the judiciary for talking to the news media about fraud in the last election.

A disciplinary court was due to give a verdict on their dismissals last week, but the two judges refused to enter the courtroom after more than 10,000 soldiers and police sealed off a large section of Cairo around the courthouse and beat and arrested hundreds of activists demonstrating in their support.

The case is due to reconvene in Cairo’s Cassation Court this morning. No postponement of the session was announced owing to Judge Bastawisi’s health condition, and Judge Mekki said he would come to the courthouse, but not enter if there was a large security presence.

About 25 private organizations are also planning to send demonstrators to Egypt’s High Court, said Nasr Amin of the Arab Center for Independent Justice.

Muslim Brotherhood members were also planning to demonstrate. About 30 Brotherhood members were detained yesterday in five rallies in different cities around the country in support of the judges, said Brotherhood spokesman Essam el-Elerian.

“We are asking God to support Bastawisi now, because he is a hero of this country,” Mr. el-Elerian said.

Judge Bastawisi has been under a great deal of strain for months, facing losing his job with three children in college. He and his wife were also being harassed by security forces, who attempted to entrap and photograph them in situations meant to appear embarrassing sexually.

President Hosni Mubarak has called the case an internal matter between judges and said he will not intervene. Analysts here say the government’s hard line against the judges is part of a larger crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Egypt since the parliamentary elections.

“The government is surprised that the Egyptian people understand how important it is to have an independent judiciary and good elections,” Judge Bastawisi said. “The people want to support two judges who are talking to them frankly and honestly. They believe us. They know that we are defending their rights, so they have to defend us.”

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