As Egypt puts suspected Islamists on mass trial, here's look at Mideast judicial systems
An Egyptian court’s decision this week to sentence to death 529 alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood after a two-session trial has triggered criticism from governments and rights groups around the world. The country’s judicial system is sure to face further scrutiny as another 683 suspected Islamists went on mass trial Tuesday. The proceedings have raised deep concerns among human rights activists over the lack of due process as Egyptian authorities push swift and heavy prosecutions in their crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
Here’s a brief look at the judicial systems of other Mideast countries:
— LEBANON: The judiciary in Lebanon is broadly divided into a civil court, a criminal one, as well as a military one that deals with cases allegedly posing a threat to state security. The judicial system is fragmented and riddled with corruption, often falling victim to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power sharing political system. Political interference in the judiciary is common, and courts are accused of succumbing to political pressures. The death penalty exists but is rarely implemented in Lebanon.
— IRAQ: The legal system in Iraq, a country still weighed down by years of political violence and corruption, is seen by many Iraqis and rights groups as less than independent and credible. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last year said Iraq’s criminal justice system still doesn’t function, “with numerous convictions based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, a weak judiciary and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards.” Rights groups in particular have expressed concern with the application of Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, which can impose the death penalty for a broad scope of terrorism-related acts. Opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuse him of using the anti-terrorism law to settle scores and silence critics.
— SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies. All decisions are centered in the hands of 89-year-old King Abdullah. There is no parliament. There is little written law, and judges — implementing the country’s strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam — have broad leeway to impose verdicts and sentences. Judges also do not always have to inform suspects of what criminal charges they face, and authorities often do not permit lawyers to advise their clients during interrogation. Human Rights Watch said in its 2014 World Report that defendants “commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest, and torture and ill-treatment in detention,” while judges “can order arrest and detention, including of children, at their discretion.”
— UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: A United Nations human rights expert recently described the UAE judiciary as under the “de facto control” of the country’s executive branch. Gabriela Knaul, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, also said she discovered credible claims of detainees who were held incommunicado for months, exposed to extreme temperatures, and sometimes electrocuted.
— QATAR: Qatar’s judicial system also faces serious challenges, including the executive’s interference in the judiciary’s work, particularly in cases involving high-level persons or businesses, according to Knaul. The U.N. official also said migrant workers face hurdles in seeking legal justice.
— IRAN: The three branches of power in Iran are independent under the constitution, although the head of the judiciary reports to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters. Iran’s judiciary is traditionally believed to be under the control of the country’s conservative clerics. Reformists have accused the judiciary of using the justice system as an instrument to silence opponents.
Khamenei’s decisions are crucial in some rulings made by the judiciary. The cases against opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi are one clear example. The two men remain under house arrest without formal charges or trial. Iranian authorities have said the decision about what to do with them rests with Khamenei.
— PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: In the West Bank, rights groups accuse the Palestinian Authority of often interfering in judicial proceedings. This has resulted in the jailing of opponents of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other claims of bias. Human Rights Watch has accused the Palestinian Authority with making arbitrary arrests and subjecting detainees to torture.
In Gaza, the judicial system is run by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which took over the territory in 2007. Human Rights Watch has charged Hamas with abusing detainees as well as violating Palestinian laws. According to the rights group, Hamas’ justice system is badly tainted and some confessions are obtained by torture.
— ISRAEL: Israelis generally respect their system as fair, independent and transparent. The Supreme Court that has taken on the political establishment on numerous occasions, while a number of politicians have lost cases in recent years, most notably former President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of rape.
Israel’s military justice system, however, has been criticized for a very high conviction rate of Palestinians suspected of involvement in violence. Israel also holds some Palestinians in custody for months, even years, without charge or trial, under a system called administrative detention. Human Rights Watch says Israeli security force sometimes arrest Palestinian children suspected of criminal offenses, such as throwing stones. The New York-based group says the children are frequently questioned without their family or a lawyer present, and are pressured into signing confessions in Hebrew that they do not understand.