May 22, 1997
1. Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Druze textile worker from the village of Mrar, was arrested in Cairo at the beginning of November 1996. For several days, there was no knowledge of his whereabouts. Pressure by the Israeli foreign minister and the mission then participating in the Cairo Economic Conference resulted in the discovery of his arrest by the Egyptian security authorities, whose wish was to investigate Azzam's involvement in "industrial espionage" related to a joint business venture by an Egyptian plant and the Israeli textile plant which employed Azzam. The charges against Azzam include the alleged use of invisible ink, with which women's undergarments were supposedly dyed. Azzam is accused of passing these undergarments on to an Egyptian worker he had allegedly become familiar with at a textile course in Israel. This Egyptian worker is also charged with spying for Israel.
It must be stressed that Israel's prime minister, foreign minister and minister of defense all proclaimed on several occasions that Azzam is innocent.
2. It is important to note that reporters and photographers were invited to cover even the early court sessions in which Azzam's arrest was extended. This created a violent atmosphere towards him and resulted in rude behaviour on the part of the General Prosecutor in the courtroom.
3. Azzam's trial opened on April 24, 1997. This session was also attended by 50 members of the press, whose noisy behavior was allowed to continue undisturbed. The noise rendered the words of Azzam's lawyer inaudible. The session was then postponed until May 18, after the Egyptian defendant's lawyer was discovered to be absent.
4. In the time between the first and second sessions of the court, the Egyptian press launched a defamation campaign against Farid Deeb, Azzam's attorney. At the same time, the Egyptian Lawyers' Syndicate received a memo signed by 12 attorneys, demanding that disciplinary action be carried out against Deeb for "undertaking the defense of the Israeli spy". The memo stated that Deeb's action's "polluted the distinguished history of the Lawyers' Syndicate" (Al-Wafd, May 14). The Syndicate decided to bring Deeb before its disciplinary committee on June 11.
5. At the beginning of the second court session (May 18), Murtada Mansour, representing the Lawyers' Syndicate, requested that the court disqualify Azzam's lawyer from defending him, claiming that Azzam had acted against the Egyptian national interests. The court summarily denied the request, stressing every individual's right to legal representation. During the court recess, as well as at the end of the session, Mansour cursed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, calling him "a murderer" and "a dog". He was supported by other lawyers who were present in the courtroom. In addition, the members of the Lawyers' Syndicate set upon the Israeli Embassy representatives, and tried to cause physical harm to Azzam's lawyer.
The hostile anti-Israeli public sentiment, which found expression in the court session and was further demonstrated by the attempts to harm the Embassy staff and Azzam's lawyer, raises concerns regarding the judges' ability to conduct a fair trial in this inflammatory atmosphere. There is also fear for the well-being and safety of Azzam's attorney.
6. During the May 18 session, the prosecution added an article to the indictment, in which Azzam is described as a Mossad agent, who had intended to harm Egypt's national security. This addition allows the prosecution to request the death penalty. Azzam's attorney claims that Egyptian law does not allow articles to be added to the indictment once the trial has begun.
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Azzam Azzam was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in jail at hard labor on charges of spying for Israel. Israeli efforts to obtain his release have continued.