Toronto-Egyptian courts have overturned a military tribunal conviction against Mohammad Mahjoub from the Mubarak era that was long the centre-piece of the case against him in Canada.
“This is tremendous news,” said a beaming Mr. Mahjoub. “After 13 years my name is finally cleared from these false accusations. Now there are no charges and no convictions against me anywhere in the world.”
The groundwork for the acquittal was laid by the interim council, the SCAF, which assumed control of Egypt after the fall of Mubarak and prior to the recent elections. One of its first moves was legal reform, repealing a series of repressive laws which had allowed Mubarak to rule the country with an iron fist. In May 2012, a law which Mubarak used to refer civil cases to military tribunals was repealed, opening the door for an appeal in Mr. Mahjoub’s case. On 20 November 2012, an Egyptian appeal court acquitted Mr. Mahjoub.
The judgement acquitting Mr. Mahjoub cites four grounds: use of information obtained under torture; lack of jurisdiction of a military tribunal over civil matters (pursuant to the 2012 legal reforms); a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that part of the Penal Code, under which Mr Mahjoub was charged, was unconstitutional; and illegal reliance on security intelligence files as evidence.
“What will this mean for the case against him in Canada? The case is now like a train rolling along the tracks on its own momentum, with the engine cut out. We can only hope that this will finally blow a hole in the case that will be too obvious for anyone to continue to ignore.” said Mary Foster, of the Justice for Mahjoub Network.
The Egyptian conviction was used against Mr. Mahjoub by Canadian media and government until a key Federal Court ruling in 2010 finally recognized that it was based on a confession obtained under torture.
However, Mr. Mahjoub’s lawyers believe that the information used to obtain the Egyptian conviction and the secret information that Canada continues to rely on in the security certificate case are largely the same. Under a security certificate, this information is not disclosed to the person named in the certificate, but a court summary of secret government documents obtained by Mr. Mahjoub’s lawyers in 2011 corroborates this belief, noting that, on CSIS’s own assessment, the bulk of information in Mr. Mahjoub’s case comes from agencies associated with torture. This is thought to refer to the Egyptian security intelligence, with whom CSIS shares intelligence.
Mr. Mahjoub was convicted in Egypt in a high profile show trial in 1999 known as the “Returnees from Albania” case, in which 107 dissidents were convicted by a military tribunal in the space of a few days. In three prior sets of acquittals in the Returnees of Albania case, issued in the spring of this year, the appeals court found that a confession used against Mr. Mahjoub – in fact, the sole evidence against him – had been obtained under torture. Egyptian lawyer Magdy Salem provided important testimony about the torture of this witness in Mr. Mahjoub’s security certificate case this past September.
Mr. Mahjoub will be in Federal Court today in Toronto for his biannual detention review. Yesterday, his lawyers wrapped up a major motion asking the court to permanently stop proceedings against him because of the use of information obtained under torture, the destruction of evidence, systematic breach of soliticor-client privilege, use of secret evidence, and a host of other illegal and abusive moves on the part of the government. Mr. Mahjoub was arrested in June 2000 under an immigration security certificate, which allows the government to detain immigrants without charge, indefinitely. The Federal Court has not yet decided on the validity of the certificate, after 12 and a half years.