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Egyptian security forces arrested Adel Fotouh Ali al-Gazzar on Monday as he returned to Egypt for the first time in more than 10 years.
Gazzar, who spent nearly 10 years in the United States’ notorious Guantanamo prison before he was found innocent and released, was in 2001 sentenced in abstentia by an Egyptian State Security Court to three years in prison for participating in an alleged plot known in the Egyptian media as al-Wa’ad.
In the first major terrorism case in Egypt since 11 September, the defendants were charged with attempting to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and infiltrate Palestinian territory.
The case was widely condemned as an attempt by Mubarak to suppress his Islamist opponents. More than half of the suspects were subsequently released.
Gazzar’s United States-based lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, is calling for the charges to be dropped.
“I think primarily they should be dismissed on humanitarian grounds because of what he suffered,” Ghappour told Al-Masry Al-Youm by phone from New York.
Gazzar was picked up by US forces while working for the Red Crescent in Afghanistan. He was transferred to a US prison facility in Kandahar, Afghanstan, where he was subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, and other forms of torture, according to Reprieve, a UK advocacy group for prisoners’ rights. During this time, Gazzar lost his leg, which had been injured in a US bombing raid, due to lack of medical treatment.
He was then sent to the United States’ Guantanamo prison for terrorism suspects where he was held incommunicado for nine years. The Guantanamo bay prison camp has been widely condemned by US and international human rights organizations.
In 2010 the US government cleared Gazzar of the charges against him and released him to Slovakia. He was not repatriated to Egypt out of fear that he would be tortured.
Ghappour is concerned that he could face the same fate now, even after Mubarak’s regime was swept from power by an 18-day uprising.
“The Egyptians have a track record of abuse and one that we’ve seen continued in the post-Muabrak era,” said Ghappour.
“I think there is a bigger picture here, to be honest. The question is how will the transitional regime receive him considering that the prosecution was based on a political crime of dissent,” said Ghappour. “Does Mubarak’s departure mark a game change for the post-9/11 cases? Will he be treated differently because he was in Guantanamo bay?”
Following his arrest, the officers allowed the defendant’s wife and four children to meet with him and check up on him at the airport after his lengthy absence from the country. The authorities then proceeded to begin the legal paperwork needed to send Gazzar to the prosecution so they could determine their position regarding his case.
Ghappour told Al-Masry Al-Youm that he spoke with Gazzar yesterday as he prepared for his flight to Egypt. “He seemed really hopeful to come back home,” Ghappour said.
“Mr. Al-Gazzar, you’d call him a true patriot. He loves Egypt and he has been dying to go back home for 10 years to be reunited with his countrymen and his family.”