Egyptian court orders Mubarak’s release


Ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak will leave jail as early as Thursday after a court ruling that jolted a divided nation already in turmoil seven weeks after the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

Mubarak will then be put under house arrest, the prime minister's office said in a statement. The decision was authorised under Egypt's Emergency Law recently enacted under a security crackdown on Islamists, it added.

Citing a security source, the state news agency said that Mubarak would “likely” be transported to one of the state's vital installations or one of two military hospitals where he will be guarded under heavy security.

By keeping Mubarak under house arrest, Egyptian leaders may be trying to show they will not be too lenient with him to avoid angering the many Egyptians who held mass protests that led to the end of his iron rule in 2011.

Two groups of activists have already called for sit-ins in Cairo to protest his expected release.

Convening on Wednesday at the Cairo jail where Mubarak is held, the court ordered the release of the military man who ruled Egypt for 30 years until he was overthrown during the uprisings that swept the Arab world in early 2011.

Asked when his client would go free, Mubarak's lawyer, Fareed al-Deeb, told Reuters, “Maybe tomorrow”.

Mubarak, 85, was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.

The ailing ex-president probably has no political future, but some Egyptians were indignant at the court ruling, which state prosecutor Ahmed el-Bahrawi said could not be appealed.

“The army has brought back Mubarak's regime, the same regime,” said Guma Abdel Alim outside a bicycle shop in central Cairo. “Those who were elected by the people are now in prison.”

He was referring to a wide-scale security sweep on Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood that has netted many of its leaders.

Shopworker Rubi Abdel Azim said Mubarak had been the worst ruler in Egypt's history, but a passerby in a worn-out shirt disagreed. “He was the greatest president,” said Nagi Hassan.

Political turbulence has kept Egypt on edge for months. At least 900 people, including 100 soldiers and police, have been killed in a crackdown on Mursi supporters in the past week, making it the country's bloodiest internal episode in decades.

Mubarak's release could add to tensions in a country where the Muslim Brotherhood has accused the army of trying to bring back the old government.

“Today there was a decision to release him. Naturally that will cause a backlash in large segments in the Egyptian street,” said analyst Adel Soliman.

'LOUSY REGIME'

The Brotherhood has said it would never abandon efforts to restore Mursi to power, although a fierce state security crackdown appears to have hurt the group. In the past week, it has struggled to get people on the streets to protest.

Mursi's supporters called on Egyptians to hold “Friday of Martyrs” protests against the military takeover that ousted him.

A grouping calling itself the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, which has been demanding Mursi's reinstatement, said in a statement, “We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the military coup.”

The United States and the European Union are both reviewing aid to Cairo in light of the bloodshed, but Saudi Arabia, a foe of the Brotherhood, has promised to make up any shortfall.

The European Union stopped short of agreeing immediate cuts in financial or military assistance to Cairo, as the bloc's foreign ministers held emergency talks on Wednesday to find ways to help end violence in Egypt.

The decision acknowledges Europe's limited economic muscle in forcing Egypt's army-backed rulers and Mursi's supporters into a peaceful compromise.

It also reflects a concern that abruptly cutting aid could shut off dialogue with Cairo's military rulers and damage Europe's ability to mediate in any future negotiations to end the strife.

Egypt has said repeatedly it does not want foreign powers to interfere in its standoff with the Brotherhood.

“Egypt can never accept an interference in its sovereignty or the independence of its decisions or an interference in its internal affairs,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said in a statement issued after the EU talks.

“The only standard that rules Egypt's decisions is the supreme interest of the country and its national security.”

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling on Mubarak from the Brotherhood, whose leaders are mostly behind bars.

Mubarak is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt against him, but he has already served the maximum pretrial detention in that case.

The court ruling removed the last legal ground for his imprisonment in connection with a corruption case, following a similar decision in another corruption case on Monday. Mubarak will not be allowed to leave Egypt and his assets remain frozen.

Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, along with former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, are still in prison, and Adly's lawyer said the ruling on Mubarak had no bearing on their cases.

Some of the liberal and secular politicians who backed the army's ousting of Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected president, on July 3, said they regretted Mubarak's release but that the judiciary's decision should be respected.

“His regime was lousy and he destroyed the country,” said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, to which the army-appointed interim prime minister belongs.

Noting Mubarak's age and the jail time he has served, he said, “We should focus on building the country, establishing democracy and finishing the problem of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The government knows that if Mubarak is freed, there will be public outrage, but a court decision is a court decision.”

Khaled Dawoud, spokesman of the liberal Dostour Party, said the trials of the ex-president and his associates had all been flawed because the judiciary was ill-equipped to deal with cases related to Mubarak's rule, resulting in a series of acquittals.

“It was a faulty process from the beginning,” he said.

The relatively muted response from Mubarak's non-Islamist opponents may reflect a reluctance to rock the boat following the army's removal of Mursi, which they had endorsed.

The generals say they were responding to the will of the people after vast demonstrations organised by liberals and leftists demanding Mursi's ouster. They have installed an interim administration to oversee a road map back to democracy.

'TARNISHED IMAGE'

The authorities now portray their quarrel with the Brotherhood, Egypt's best-organised political force, as a fight against terrorism and are jailing its leaders. They detained the group's “general guide”, Mohamed Badie, in Cairo on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which along with Kuwait have promised Egypt $12 billion in aid since Mursi's ouster, have frowned on Mubarak's detention all along. Arab diplomats said the conservative Gulf monarchies had lobbied for the release of a man they once valued as a strong regional ally.

Mubarak's jailing and trial, when he appeared in a courtroom cage, also affronted some Egyptian officers. One colonel, who asked not to be named, said the treatment of the former supreme military commander had “tarnished the army's image”.

Lobna Moneib, spokeswoman of the leftist Popular Current movement, said the court ruling posed a problem. “We think he is guilty and have called for him to be tried by revolutionary courts,” she said, advocating such trials for all Mubarak-era officials as well as for Mursi and his Brotherhood colleagues.

The United States, a close ally of Egypt since Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, said on Tuesday that the crackdown on protesters could influence U.S. aid. It denied reports it had already suspended assistance.

At issue is the future of about $1.23 billion in U.S. military assistance and $241 million in economic aid to Egypt.

Western nations were uneasy during Mursi's year in power, when he rammed through an Islamist-tinged constitution.

Washington has not denounced the army takeover as a “coup”, which under U.S. law would force a suspension of aid. The ensuing bloodshed, however, has dismayed the West.

U.S. Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee, said on Wednesday, “The slaughter of hundreds of Egyptians in the street is appalling to all of us.”

He said U.S. aid should be conditioned on a change in the constitution and scheduling of elections as soon as possible. “The present government is representative of no one,” he said.

The arrest of Badie, the Brotherhood's leader, is part of a wave of detentions among the upper echelons of the organisation.

Murad Ali, a media adviser to the Brotherhood's political party, and Safwat Hegazy, a fiery preacher, were arrested while trying to flee the country, state media reported on Wednesday.

The Brotherhood said the crackdown would prove futile.

“The putschists think that arresting the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and marring their image in the media will make Egyptians bow and give in to the coup,” it said.

“They have killed thousands, wounded thousands, arrested thousands but the (people) are continuing in their peaceful revolution, rejecting the coup and military rule.”

Additional reporting by Cairo bureau, Justyna Pawlak and John O'Donnell in Brussels, Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Michael Georgy, Will Waterman, Alastair Macdonald and Peter Cooney

Pollard supporters call Clinton’s remarks a ‘slap in the face’


Supporters of Jonathan Pollard called Hillary Clinton’s remarks rejecting his possible clemency “a resounding slap in the face” to Israel’s leaders and its people.

“With respect to Mr. Pollard, he was convicted of spying in 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison, he is serving that sentence, and I do not have any expectations that that is going to change,” Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, said Monday night during a news conference in Jerusalem in answer to a reporter’s question about Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel.

The Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home and Justice for Jonathan Pollard said in a statement issued Tuesday that Clinton’s remarks “stunned her Israeli hosts and marred the warm reception she received from the Israeli public.” The statement noted Pollard’s “unprecedented 27 years in prison.”

Pollard supporters expressed anger in the statement that Clinton offered no explanation “as to why the U.S. wants to keep the aging and very ill Pollard in
prison forever” and called for an official response to numerous formal requests for clemency for Pollard from Clinton’s boss, President Obama. 

Clinton, while campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2000, said that she had concerns about “due process issues regarding Jonathan Pollard’s sentence.”

Pollard has been at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina since his arrest in 1986. A succession of presidents has refused to grant clemency to Pollard since he was sentenced to life in 1987.

The calls to release Pollard, who is said to be in ill health, have intensified in recent months, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both parties.

Israeli tourist released from Chile jail


An Israeli tourist charged by Chile with accidentally starting a massive forest fire in a popular national park was fined and released.

Rotem Singer, 23, was ordered by a court in Puerto Natales to pay a $10,000 fine to the government of Chile and perform two years of community service for the Jewish National Fund. JNF and its Israeli branch Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael will help raise money to plant 50,000 new trees in the Torres del Paine national park.

Singer, of the central Israeli city of Nes Tziona, was arrested Dec. 31 and released on bail. He was ordered to remain in the region while the case was investigated. He is accused of setting fire to toilet paper in order to dispose of the trash and of not putting out the fire well enough.

Some 48 wildfires burned more than 32,000 acres of forest in the national park in late December and early January, and destroyed at least 100 homes.

Under the agreement, Singer was not implicated in the fire. Ynet reported that Singer will continue on his post-army backpack trip.

Prosecutors appeal Demjanjuk’s release from jail


Munich state prosecutors appealed a district court’s decision to release convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk from prison pending his appeal.

Monday’s appeal of Demjanjuk’s release, following his conviction on war crimes on May 12, also appealed the five-year sentence handed down that day for being too lenient.

The prosecutors’ reasons will be presented in writing and only then released to the public, according to a spokesperson for the Munich District II court, which found Demjanjuk, 91, guilty as an accessory to nearly 28,000 murders in the Nazi death camp Sobibor in occupied Poland in 1943.

Demjanjuk’s main attorney, Ulrich Busch, appealed the conviction immediately. It is likely the appeals process will take more than a year, observers have said.

Demjanjuk, who is stateless and has no relatives in Germany, has been placed in a nursing home.

While Jewish leaders have decried Demjanjuk’s release from jail, a group of Dutch co-plaintiffs said they found the entire court proceeding encouraging.

Their “respect for the court’s verdict includes respect for the court’s decision to release Demjanjuk until his appeals are decided and the guilty verdict is upheld,” said a statement from their Cologne-based attorney, Cornelius Nestler.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster last week appointed a public defender to assist Demjanjuk in reviving the U.S. denaturalization case against him. The move follows the release by The Associated Press of a 1985 FBI report challenging the authenticity of the Nazi ID card that was the key evidence against him in the German trial and in stripping him of his U.S. citizenship for lying about his Nazi past in order to gain entry into the United States.

Future Uncertain for Five Iranian Jews


The release from prison of five Iranian Jews last week was
due not to a change of heart by the regime in Tehran, but to a political
calculation that Iran’s international image needs burnishing, observers say.
And clouding the relief of the Jews’ relatives and advocates is concern that
the men could be rearrested at any time or subjected to other forms of
harassment, at the whim of the authorities.

At the same time, U.S.-based advocates for the Jews are
reminding the community that another 11 Iranian Jewish men remain unaccounted
for after disappearing while allegedly trying to cross Iran’s border illegally
in the early 1990s.

The past days have seen conflicting statements as to whether
the five have been released permanently. Over the weekend, media reports
circulated that the five had been released permanently after being pardoned by
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. By Monday, however, word emerged
from Iranian officials that there had been no such pardon and that the
prisoners had only been released on a 10-day “holiday.”

The ambiguity fits Iran’s traditional treatment of its
Jewish prisoners. But the question remains: Are the five free for good, or
could they be returned to prison?

“It could go either way, depending on the whim of the
Iranian government,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which had
lobbied on behalf of the Iranian Jews.

“This is why we’ve been warning: People should be judicious
in their public statements. Just as Iran granted their release, they can revoke
it. It’s a constant test.”

When Iranian officials said this week that no pardon had
been granted, Tehran may have been reacting to media coverage of the release.
Media reports had attributed cynical motives to the release and quoted certain
activists who sounded self-congratulatory.

The quintet released Feb. 19 after four years in prison were
merchant Dani (Hamid) Tefileen, 29, who had been sentenced to 13 years in
prison; university English instructor Asher Zadmehr, 51, also sentenced to 13
years; Hebrew teacher Naser Levy Hayim, 48, sentenced to 11 years; perfume
merchant Ramin Farzam, 38, sentenced to 10 years; and shopkeeper Farhad Saleh,
33, who had received an eight-year sentence.

An array of factors appear to have influenced Iran’s
decision to release the five men, who had been imprisoned with eight others on
charges of spying for Israel.

Israel has steadfastly denied that the men were its spies.

The ongoing skirmishes between the hard-line clerics who run
Iran and their more moderate rivals likely played a role in the latest
releases, says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, a think tank. Clawson also cited pressure from the European
Union, a major trading partner with Iran, which said human rights abuses were
hindering an expansion of economic ties. The release came on the heels of the
hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a
traditional time for rulers to demonstrate magnanimity, Clawson noted.

“I’m sure the Iranians will try to take credit for this in
their negotiations” with the European Union, Clawson said. “But that’s quite
unwarranted; they made these people do hard time. It’s only magnanimous if you
compare it to what the hard-line judiciary could have done.”

Numerous Iranian officials had threatened the Jews with
execution, a penalty that Tehran reportedly has meted out to 17 Jews accused of
espionage since the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

While pressure from the Europeans and the United Nations
over human rights may have played a role, so, too, may Washington’s
saber-rattling against Iraq, North Korea and Iran, which President Bush dubbed
the “axis of evil.”

“I think Iran, after several years of not paying attention
to international pressure, is now taking public steps to improve its image
abroad because they may not want to be a target of the war on terrorism the
U.S. has launched,” said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based
Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations.

At the same time, Dayanim said, “This is not taking place in
a vacuum; this is a little piece of a much larger picture.”

He noted, for example, that Iran recently lifted the death
sentence on a leading dissident who had called publicly for separation of
mosque and state.

Regardless of the speculation, “it’s hard to assess what
motivates the Iranians in general,” Hoenlein said.

U.S. advocates tried to judge when it would be wise to
publicly assail Iran for its perceived show trial and forced confessions, and
when to settle for behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Of late, advocates have opted
for diplomacy.

More moderate Iranian officials recognized that the
imprisonment of the Jews “was an injustice that cost Iran heavily in its
international image,” and they “were looking for a way out,” Hoenlein said.

Along with the uncertainty over whether Iranian officials
view the latest releases as permanent or temporary, it is unclear whether
relatives of the five men could join them if they are allowed to emigrate, or
what persecution might be in store for family members who remain behind. Such
factors underscore the precarious existence of the 20,000 to 25,000 Jews who
remain in Iran, down from a peak of about 100,000 at the time of the
revolution.

“At any moment, they may rearrest these people” if they see
or read any critical statement by advocates, Dayanim said.

The Iranian authorities have made it clear that they can
“use any excuse, any criticism that you make, and put these people back in
jail. Which is why I have not criticized the government,” he said.

“I think the steps that they’ve taken are positive.”

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