A Hard Day for the Egyptian Lawyers

It was a hard day for Egyptian lawyers as neither their physical rights are protected after the Egypt’s Court of Cassation canceled the rule issued against the two police officers who tortured a lawyer to death, nor their financial rights were secured with the VAT tax law imposition.

Egypt’s Court of Cassation has overturned a five-year jail sentence issued to two national security police officers over the torturing of a lawyer to death while in custody in 2015, ordering a retrial, according to al-Ahram, a state-owned newspaper.

The case is known publicly as, “Torturing a lawyer to death” and occurred in February 2015.

Anadolu Agency said that to a source who preferred to remain anonymous as he is unauthorized to speak to the media said that the Court of Cassation overturned the ruling issued by the criminal court in torturing the lawyer Karim Hamdy to death. According to the source, “The Court of Cassation ordered the retrial in another judicial circle of the Criminal Court.”

In December 2015, a Cairo Criminal Court found the two officers guilty of beating lawyer Karim Hamdy in the Matariya Police Station to death and of attempting to extract a confession under duress in February of that year, and sentenced the two officers to five years hard labor.

On the other hand, the interior ministry claimed that the officers in the case had interrogated Hamdy in the police station on illegal weapons possession, involvement in anti-government violence, and belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

However, the prosecution investigation found that, “During his custody, the lawyer was subjected to torture by two police officers to force him to confess on these allegations which led to critical injuries that led to his death according to the forensic medicine report,” said Anadolu Agency.

In the same context, the Egyptian state-owned newspaper said, “A forensic medicine report said the victim sustained fractures to his ribs and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.”

As a result, the general prosecution accused the two police officers of torturing the lawyer to death after the presence of all evidence against them and it transferred them to the criminal court.

“In recent months, several policemen have been referred by the prosecution to criminal court over abuse-related charges,” said al-Ahram.

Last September, a Cairo misdemeanor court sentenced nine lower-ranking policemen to three years in prison over assaulting two doctors at Matariya Teaching Hospital in January, an incident that sparked anger, leading doctors to hold a protest at the Doctors Syndicate to demand the policemen stand trial and for the health minister to be sacked.

In the same context, Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture released a report in August 2016 documenting 76 torture cases and bad treatment,and 38 cases of medical negligence in custody last July.

It is noteworthy that torture in custody was one of the reasons for teh outbreak of  25 January Revolution in 2011   that toppled Hosni Mubarak regime. Many human rights organizations still accuse the Egyptian police forces under al-Sisi of torturing citizens in custody. However, the Egyptian authorities usually deny the accusations and the interior ministry always claim that they are only random incidents .

Dozens of Lawyers protest against VAT Law

Egypt’s lawyers organized demonstrations in front of Egypt’s High Court in protest against the recently-passed value-added tax (VAT) law, reported al-Ahram. In addition, lawyers organized several demonstrations in different Egyptian cities against the law.

Head of the lawyer’s syndicate Sameh Ashour said in a statement that the syndicate “rejects” the law as it “violates technical, scientific and legal standards applied in all countries.”

Ashour said that while the law did not articulate any obligation on practitioners of liberal professions, which include lawyers, it still did not define the term “professional and consulting services”.

“Syndicate member Mohamed Othman said that though the legal profession falls under “liberal professions”, as per Article 198 of the constitution, the VAT law obligates lawyers to register themselves in tax offices to be subject to the VAT,” reported al-Ahram.

Othman added that “lawyers are already subject to a number of taxes including the tax imposed on liberal professions.”

In fact, it is not yet clear whether the VAT will cancel the other taxes imposed on lawyers, as the bylaws stipulated by the Ministry of Finance are yet to be released.

Othman, however, believes the imposition of VAT on lawyers will “harden” their situation especially that the practice is not-for-profit.

Last August, Egypt’s parliament approved the VAT law with the VAT rate set at 13% for the fiscal year 2016-17.The rate will increase to 14 % next year.

The VAT is part of the government’s economic reform program, which includes cuts to expensive energy subsidies and the introduction of other new tax measures, in an attempt to cut spending in order to meet the conditions for a three-year $12 billion loan program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to experts, the VAT tax law will increase the price of goods and services in the local market that already suffer from inflation of more than 16% as recorded last August.