Today’s instalment of the Abdo show began much as it went on, with the judge getting his handbag out and generally being irascible.
Shortly after it started someone who had not get the memo about the judge’s aversion to lenses used his mobile phone to take a picture. Someone told on him.
“HAATOOLY EL GEHAZ ELLY HOWA SAWWAR BEEH SAWA2 KAAN CAMERA AW MOBILE” [bring me the device he used to photography whether it is a camera or a mobile” the judge bellowed, surely with unnecessary precision about categories of electrical equipment.
Then the judge stood up and started gathering his belongings in a demonstrative fashion after reminding us that his courtroom is a photography-free zone. Lawyer Hamdy El-Assiouty remonstrated, explaining that the gentleman in question might not have been aware of the judge’s photosensitivity.
“E7na mesh fe Studio Masr,” [We are not in Studio Masr] the judge grumbled, but relented and sat down.
The first witness then arrived and off we went on a trip round Bizarreville which eventually ended with us driving off the edge of a cliff.
El Moqaddam Mostafa Hamed works for the Interior Ministry’s Internet Crimes Department. He explained that in February 2007 he got a complaint from Judge Abdo alleging that the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and 17 other websites had published a statement that he considered libellous.
About a week after this he received instructions from the public prosecutor to investigate the websites in question.
El Moqaddam Mostafa explained that during his investigation he divided the websites into three categories:
1. The ANHRI website which originally published the statement.
2. Other websites which published the statement but did not allow comments on it.
3. Other websites which published the statement and allowed comments on it.
The judge then asked posed his first slightly alarming question: “Do you need special permits to access these websites?”
I hope I misheard the question because (as happened on several occasions subsequently) the answer had nothing to do with the question asked. El Moqaddam Mostafa explained that sometimes websites contain the information necessary to identify their owners and also that he is able to get complete data about a website from the first day it was created.
When asked whether he found any libellous phrases or words on the websites El Moqaddam Mostafa said that two websites allowed libellous comments. Negad El-Borei pointed out that one of the websites, Madha Ba3d ya Watany is not even involved in the case. El Moqaddam Mostafa acknowledged this and gave him the stink eye. As for the other comment, posted on naughty Amr “Mahmoud*” Gharbeia’s blog, it accused Judge Abdo of taking bribes and working for the police.
The judge then asked whether El Moqaddam Mostafa’s investigations revealed who owns the websites that allowed the comments. El Moqaddam began by drawing an incomprehensible (to me at least) analogy between websites and cupboards “El website zay el dowlab” before attempting to explain the concept of domains and sub-domains. Where the website is a sub-domain such as katib.org, only the domain owners know the website author’s identity.
The subject of comments and their authors required El Moqaddam to launch into an explanation of IP addresses (“el basma el electroneyya”) which is fine, except that at one point the judge said something along the lines of “The only thing I use the computer for is to write stuff”. The Internet did seem like uncharted territory for him, which was unfortunate given the subject matter he was confronted with.
El Moqaddam Mostafa explained that he “tried to summon Amr more than once. All we wanted him for was to access the control panel [don’t know what he meant] in order so that we could get the IPs of the people who made the comments”.
“But Amr didn’t come”, he said.
Gamal Eid then challenged El Moqaddam Mostafa to say where exactly in the ANHRI statement the word “stole” was used, saying that El Moqaddam had found that ANHRI accused Judge Abdo of “stealing”.
El Moqaddam countered that he had not used the word “stole” but “copied” (copied).
Gamal Eid then asked whether the ANHRI site allows comments, and whether it contained libellous material. El Moqaddam ignored this question and said the website owners are able to identify the authors of comments.
Another defence lawyer asked El Moqaddam Mostafa whether his investigations revealed the name of one of the defendants, Ahmed Seif (who is also accused of libel).
“I examined about 18 websites and his name might have been mentioned”, el Moqaddam Mostafa said. I wanted to ask whether his investigations might possibly have also revealed the name of Ronald Macdonald or Demitrious Roussos or Laika the First Dog In Space and whether their names should be added to the list of defendants.
Defence lawyer Negad El-Borei then asked whether Amr “Mahmoud” Gharbeia published the naughty ANHRI statement that accuses Judge Abdo of plagiarising 50 pages of an ANHRI report for his book on the Internet.
“I don’t remember. It’s all in the public prosecution office report,” El Moqaddam Mostafa replied most unsatisfactorily.
We then again set off into the unknown when Negad alleged that the Interior Ministry’s copy of the blog post in question by Amr “Mahmoud” Gharbeia might be faked because the comments do not appear in chronological order.
“The website owner controls comments,” el Moqaddam answered. Dr Moftases suggested that while this is not false, it’s not exactly the whole truth either, since comments which e.g. appear in this order:
February 7th 2007
February 5th 2007
February 8th 2007
…will only do so where the blog owner enables readers to vote on their favourite comments (which makes the comments appear in the order readers choose). Apparently Amr “Mahmoud” Gharbeia’s blog doesn’t have this function.
But there is also apparently something called the “nested comments” function which also makes comments appear in no particular order.
The next witness was a defence witness, Gamal Manaa, a former ANHRI employee who was in 2007 head of the research department.
Manaa explained that he identified the pages lifted from ANHRI’s report by Judge Abdo and not credited to them. He said that on February 13 2007 Judge Abdo rang Gamal Eid up and there was a long phone call, which was followed by repeated “annoying” phone calls.
Judge Abdo’s lawyer interrupted in order to demand that the court be told what Manaa’s qualifications are.
The next defence witness was Abdo Abdel-Aziz Hamada who explained that his job is to upload content to the ANHRI website.
Another worrying question was posed by the judge: “How exactly did the plaintiff lift/transfer content from the ANHRI report to his book?” Abdo said that he didn’t know but that the report was published on the net.
The judge then asked what harm was caused by the plaintiff using 50 pages of a ANHRI report word for word without crediting them, and asked what the correct procedures are for referencing material taken from the Internet.
I hoped that this was some kind of sophisticated legal interrogation device rather than being for informational purposes. But then I watched the judge dictate the witness’ answers to the court scribe (there is no stenography in Egyptian courts) and remembered his earlier comment about computers and thought glum thoughts.
Judge Abdo’s lawyer then demanded to know ANHRI’s working hours, whether the report was published in PDF format or Word and how long Abdo has been with ANHRI.
The pattern of this gentleman’s questions reminded me of those Facebook “20 things you didn’t know about me” questionnaire things posted by the unemployed such were their randomness.
Abdo said that it was clear that the report had been plagiarised because identical spelling mistakes were reproduced in Judge Abdo’s book.
Asked about the significance of the PDF/Word distinction, Judge Abdo’s lawyer made the astonishing claim that it is impossible to copy PDF files which even I know is codswallop.
At this point defence lawyers wanted to summon more witnesses but the judge announced that he would need time to read the case file before questioning these witnesses, prompting the outrage of Hamdy El-Assiouty.
Things got rather tense and in a moment of high action the judge tersely declared that the case was adjourned until 26 September before exiting stage left, leaving defence lawyers enraged.
Off we buggered out of the courtroom but then a lawyer friend told us that the judge was now summoning witnesses and we went back in and there then followed a series of events.
Then lawyers said that the judge was demanding to hear the witnesses in a closed session WITHOUT LAWYERS, sort of a la Guantanamo.
Lawyers of course refused.
Then lawyer filed a “talab el radd” which is when they demand that a judge be changed.
It was announced that the demand would be considered on September 4 2010.
Then defence lawyers drafted a letter requesting that the talab el radd be withdrawn.
Then we hung around for absolutely ages and eventually went home when it was announced that a decision would be reached by the court the next day.
One lawyer I spoke to was a bit confused by the decision to change the judge since in October judges are all rotated anyway and someone new will hear the case.
I was more or less confused by everything.
Here is what Gamal Eid had to say about it all.
*Private joke too tedious to explain here.