Egypt Jails Opposition Leader for 5 Years

Leading government opponent Ayman Nour, seen in the courtroom, will appeal, his attorneys said.
Leading government opponent Ayman Nour, seen in the courtroom, will appeal, his attorneys said. (By Ben Curtis -- Associated Press)
By Nagwa Hasaan and Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 25, 2005

CAIRO, Dec. 24 -- An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced Ayman Nour, the lawyer and politician who challenged President Hosni Mubarak at the polls, to five years in prison on charges of forging petitions. Supporters and human rights groups denounced the conviction as an outrage.

When Judge Abdel Salam Gomaa read the verdict, Nour's wife, Gamila Ismael, led chants of "God is great" and "Down with Hosni Mubarak." Nour, 41, wearing white prison overalls, joined in before he was led from the courtroom cage in which he had been held.

His attorney, Amir Salem, said the verdict would be appealed. "This will go into the dustbin of history," Salem shouted. "This is a political trial to destroy Ayman Nour."

In his written verdict, Gomaa said, "The court does not accept Ayman Nour's defense that the documents were forged by certain parties without his knowledge and with the aim of harming him."

The prosecution of Nour attracted the attention of the Bush administration, which recently demanded that the trial meet "international standards." President Bush has prodded Egypt, a staunch U.S. ally and the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, to "show the way" to democracy for Arab states in the Middle East. Bush has publicly praised democracy activists such as Nour, who met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last summer.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the United States was "deeply troubled" by the verdict.

"The United States calls upon the Egyptian government to act under the laws of Egypt in the spirit of its professed desire for increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society, and out of humanitarian concern, to release Mr. Nour from detention," McClellan said.

Fady Qady, an official with Human Rights Watch, said, "The sentence proves what we had previously stated, which is that the trial was politicized. The Egyptian government is incapable of accepting the opinion of the other. The trial was not fair. It was conducted on a political, not a procedural, basis."

The verdict climaxed several months of ups and downs in the democratic opposition's battle with Mubarak, who has been in power a quarter-century.

Nour was charged with forging documents required to legally register his Tomorrow Party. In October 2004, the government-controlled party oversight commission approved his petitions without objection. A few months later, however, prosecutors charged Nour with falsifying scores of papers. He spent six weeks in jail and was released under U.S. pressure.

In September, Nour ran against Mubarak in Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election. Mubarak won more than 80 percent of the vote in a race characterized by low turnout and open campaigning for Mubarak by his National Democratic Party inside polling stations. Nour finished second with about 7 percent of the vote.

In last month's parliamentary elections, Nour lost his seat to a ruling-party candidate. He received threatening phone calls, and municipal inspectors began visiting his house regularly to lodge complaints about renovation work.

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