Johannesburg based attorney Zehir Omar has now stepped in to assist an Egyptian-South African scholar currently imprisoned in Cairo. Sheikh Abdul Salam Bassiouni has been held at the Torah prison without charge since December last year. There has been little information as to the nature of his detention. The scholar travelled to Egypt as part of a family visit, in full possession of South African passport and valid visa.
Speaking to VOC News on Thursday, Adv Omar said because Bassiouni has dual citizenship, there is an obligation on the South African government to assist in his release.
“In our law, our government must protect its citizens anywhere in the world, if its citizens are victims of a human rights abuse. Sheikh Bassiouni has been detained for three months without appearing in court nor has he been informed of the reasons of his detention. This a flagrant violation of a human right endorsed in the Rome Statute, a law enacted by the United Nations,” said Omar.
This week, the Department of International Relations (Dirco) said the SA embassy in Cairo was negotiating with authorities in Egypt in order to uncover the nature of the charges he is currently facing. But the Bassiouni family feel the SA government have not been doing enough.
Adv Omar said Dirco must exhaust all diplomatic channels to release Sheikh Bassiouni. If diplomatic measures fail, the South African government will be obliged to approach the Egyptian courts for legal recourse.
“Everyone knows that currently, there is no rule of law in Egypt [after the overthrow of democratically-elected president Muhammad Morsi]. But the Rome Statute will require us to exhaust all internal remedies, such as having Sheikh Bassiouni appear before the court and have the current government give reasons why he should not be released.”
“But if this fails, our government can commence proceedings at the International Criminal Court.”
Egyptian authorities shave accused Sheikh Bassiouni of being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood – many of whose members have been incarcerated. The government of President Abdel Fatah al Sisi has cracked down on the movement and other political opponents since Morsi was deposed in July 2013 and the Brotherhood was declared a terrorist group in December of that year.
This week, the alim’s son Bilal spoke of how his father had been continuously questioned by Egyptian officials over his alleged involvement in the Brotherhood, only to be sent back to prison after each interrogation.
The elderly cleric is reportedly in a frail condition while being detained at the notorious Tora prison in south of Cairo. Omar said he was assisting the Muslim Lawyers Association to get weekly updates on his condition.
“If our foreign affairs department delays, we will bring an application against our government to ask the court to compel the minister [Dirco] to bring relief to Sheikh Bassiouni.”
Omar warned Muslims to be alert when travelling abroad and to do be aware of the political stability of the country.
“There is a risk that our citizens may suffer the same dilemma experienced by Sheikh Bassiouni.” VOC (Tasneem Adams)