Financial Times: Judges Recuse Themselves in Egypt’s Trial of Pro-democracy NGOs

February 29, 2012

Egyptian judges withdraw from NGO trial
Financial Times

By Borzou Daragahi and Dena Elsisy

All three judges in the case against a group of employees of western and Egyptian civil society organisations have withdrawn from the trial, which has sharpened divisions between Washington and Cairo.

Judge Mohammad Shoukry and his two deputies abruptly recused themselves late on Tuesday from the trial against 43 western and Egyptian employees of well-known NGOs. They did not cite their reasons.

“The judges legally have the right to withdraw without giving a reason,” said Abdel-karim al-Kordy, one of the defence lawyers. “What the reason is behind this, we don’t know.”
 
The trial has strained the relationship between Egypt and the US, which has hinted that it could cut off $1.3bn in annual aid to the country’s military.

Though an appeals court may quickly reassign the case to another judge, many speculated that the recusal could provide Egyptian authorities with an excuse to drop the matter, or at least delay it.
 
Under Egyptian law, a judge may recuse himself without disclosing the reasons, which could range from having a familial relationship to one of the defendants to feeling he cannot adequately adjudicate the case because of its political nature. Mr Kordy said that a judge could also recuse himself if he felt the case had no merit.
 
At the end of the chaotic first hearing on Sunday, Judge Shoukry said the trial would be postponed until April 26 to give jurists time to translate and read evidence.
 
The controversial case began in late December when Egyptian security forces raided the offices of 17 NGOs, including those of the National Democratic Institute, the International Republic Institute and Freedom House, all funded by the US government. A group of 16 Americans and 27 Egyptians and others were charged with illegally obtaining funding from abroad and not being properly licensed through the government.
 
Those still in Egypt, including the son of Ray LaHood, the US transportation secretary, are barred from leaving the country, though they remain free.