Judge Hisham Bastawisi Suffers Major Heart Attack
Wednesday, May 17,2006 00:00
By Mohammed Abbas, Reuters

One of the judges at the center of a conflict between the Egyptian judiciary and the government had a heart attack on Wednesday, throwing into doubt the future of disciplinary proceedings against him.

In the Nile Delta town of Shibin el-Kom, police fired teargas to disperse protesters who gathered at the law courts in solidarity with the two judges and with a campaign for judicial independence from the executive, opposition leaders said.

Judges Club President Zakaria Abdel Aziz said judge Hesham Bastawisi was in serious condition in hospital after the heart attack at 3 a.m. Rights groups called on the authorities to postpone a disciplinary hearing set for Thursday.

"They gave him seven electric shocks ... Of course he cannot go on trial tomorrow," Abdel Aziz told Reuters.

Bastawisi and fellow judge Mahmoud Mekky face accusations of damaging the reputation of the judiciary by making remarks on satellite television about election abuses last year.

Opposition and civil rights groups have mobilised in support of the two judges, whose case is seen as part of the wider conflict which started last year over judicial independence.

Egyptian police have started to take a tougher line against protests in solidarity with the judges, drawing criticism from the United States and the European Union.

Opposition member of parliament Talaat Sadat, a nephew of late President Anwar Sadat, told parliament that police teargassed lawyers protesting on Wednesday in support of the judges in Shibin el-Kom, his home district.

Hamdi Hassan, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood group in parliament, said 4,000 people took part in the Shibin el-Kom protests and police fired rubber bullets at them. Some of the protesters were detained, he added. A government minister said he had no information about the incident.

PUBLIC SUPPORT

Abdel Aziz said Mekky would not go to the hearing on Thursday alone. Judicial sources said Bastawisi would send a medical note to the disciplinary council, which would then decide whether to postpone the process.

"Of course it will affect the trial... The trial has to be postponed," Helmy Kaaoud of rights group Sawasia said.

"The heart attack is of course (due to) one of the psychological pressures on him," Kaaoud added.

Analysts say the judges have won public support because their opposition to election fraud is seen as a rare example of the Egyptian elite taking a stand on principle.

The judges also have the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest opposition group, who along with other opposition politicians walked out of parliament in protest at a ban on discussing the judiciary and protest violence last week.

The speaker of parliament, Fathi Sorour, rejected on Wednesday another request for a debate on the judges, on the grounds that the house could not discuss the judiciary.

Security forces beat and detained activists and assaulted journalists at protests in support of the judges last Thursday.

Activists and Egyptian security forces had been heading for another showdown this Thursday, with activists planning protests despite warnings from the police and the Interior Ministry that any demonstrations or public gatherings would be illegal.

Activists said rare pre-demonstration warnings usually herald a more severe response from police.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy)

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