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Human Rights Activist Savors Victory in Egypt's Appeals Court - 2003-03-18

Egypt's highest court has acquitted an Egyptian-American human rights activist following his third trial on charges of tarnishing Egypt's image. Judges ordered the full acquittal of Saadeddin Ibrahim in a case that had strained ties between Egypt and the United States.

One of Egypt's most well-known human rights activist, Saadeddin Ibrahim, is savoring his victory in Egypt's highest appeals court.

"I feel joyful, I feel thankful, and I feel that I have been vindicated after three years of an ordeal, painful for me and my family, and my students, and my followers. And now we have all been vindicated and I think it is a victory not just for me, but for the human rights movement and for democracy in Egypt," Mr. Ibrahim said.

The high-profile case centered around an independent research institute Mr. Ibrahim founded to campaign for political and economic reforms. Several reports published by the institute, the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, accused the government of rigging the 1995 parliamentary elections, and it was for these that he was charged with defaming Egypt.

In another charge, he was accused of illegally accepting and using donations to the center from the European Union. But the European Union has said it did not believe there was any misuse of the $250,000 it granted to the center.

The professor was arrested three years ago and convicted by a security court in May 2001. After an appeal, the human rights campaigner was again convicted in July of last year and sentenced to seven years in prison.

In an interview with VOA, Mr. Ibrahim said despite his ordeal, he still has faith in Egypt's judicial system. "I was convicted by state security courts and these courts are scandalous courts in the history of Egyptian justice. They were established according to emergency laws. So let us not confuse emergency court with the regular court system in Egypt. The regular court system in Egypt has a great history of independence and of integrity," he said.

Mr. Ibrahim holds both Egyptian and American citizenship, and U.S. officials welcomed the court's decision to dismiss the case. Washington had strongly protested the earlier court decisions, warning that it would oppose extra aid to Egypt on top of the two billion dollars the United States allocates to the country each year.

Mr. Ibrahim, who suffered several strokes after his arrest, says he plans to seek medical treatment either in Europe or the United States. But he says he plans to continue campaigning for greater democracy and minority rights in Egypt.

"I will hopefully come back to Egypt to resume my public agenda, same agenda as human rights, democracy and civil society. This is my agenda. It has been for the last 30 years. I hope it will continue to the end of my life," Mr. Ibrahim said.

Mr. Ibrahim also told VOA he hopes that his acquittal will help put an end to what he calls the harassment and intimidation of human rights activists in Egypt.