American citizenship is Ilan Grapel’s “key to freedom,” attorney Yitzhak Meltzer said on Tuesday of the American-Israeli who was arrested in Cairo two days earlier for allegedly spying on behalf of Israel.
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Meltzer represents Ouda Suleiman Tarabin, another Israeli who was captured in Egypt and tried on espionage charges.
Unlike Tarabin, a Beduin with Israeli and Egyptian citizenship who was arrested 12 years ago on suspicions that he was spying for Israel and has been sitting in an Egyptian prison ever since, Grapel holds US citizenship and his arrest has become widely publicized, Meltzer said. Both things increase the chances that he will be set free, or at least receive a fair trial.
The fact that Grapel had already met with US Consulate officials in Cairo was a good sign that the American’s were actively involved in his case, Meltzer said.
“I also think Israel prefers that the US take the lead on this issue, as their chances of success are higher,” he said.
If, however, Grapel is actually tried on espionage charges, he may face the same fate as Tarabin, namely 15 years in an Egyptian prison. “I wouldn’t count on the Egyptian justice system to give him a fair hearing. The military court that my client was tried in was more like a kangaroo court than anything resembling due process,” Meltzer said. He was tried in absentia and to this day, Tarabin has yet to see his charge sheet.”
Tarabin’s case was highlighted in a recent Amnesty International report on crimes committed by former president Hosni Mubarak’s security forces. The report says “administrative detention was clearly used to circumvent all sorts of judicial rulings, including those issued by courts established by the Emergency Law. The authorities appeared intent on holding people they consider a ‘threat.’ While arresting and detaining them, they have also deprived them of their most fundamental rights.”
Meltzer said that while Egypt’s new guard has yet to make any real changes to that situation, it might be beneficial for them to act differently in Grapnel’s case, in order to present “at least a façade of due process to the Americans.”
Meltzer said that Tarabin continues to receive regular consular visits from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the most recent one on Monday, and that he is healthy and strong.
“I think that at this point he has become resigned to his fate,” Meltzer said. “Luckily he is a strong man and can put up with the conditions.”
Meltzer said he was hoping that Tarabin would be considered for a pardon in honor of the Revolution Day celebrations marked on June 23, the anniversary of the 1952 officers’ revolt against King Farouk I.
Based on Tarabin’s experience, if Grapel is tried and convicted he can look forward to spending 15 years in the Liman Tora Prison in Cairo, where he will serve his time in a small room without a bed or a toilet, without access to a phone and with no regular visits from his lawyers and family.
“On the occasions that I visited Ouda in jail with his family, we didn’t get to see his cell. We always met in the prison director’s office and there was always a security forces official with us in the room,” Meltzer said.
Alan Baker, an expert in international law and a former legal counsel
for the Foreign Ministry, said it was within Egypt’s sovereign rights to
arrest and try a person suspected of espionage, but that in Grapel’s
case, the arrest was nothing but a way for the authorities to distract
the public from other goings on in the country.
“At a time when the country is suffering an economic crisis, there is
uncertainty about its leadership and there is a general breakdown of the
rule of law, there is nothing better than finding an Israeli spy and
concocting a story around it,” Baker said. “If it weren’t so tragic, it
would be a joke.”
Israel was limited in the actions it could take to aid Grapel, Baker
said. “He is entitled to consular visitation and I’m sure that the
Foreign Ministry is also taking steps to explain the situation to their
Egyptian counterparts, but that’s all Israel can really do,” he said.
“They have the sovereign authority to arrest anybody they suspect of
committing a criminal offense.”
Baker shared Meltzer’s lack of faith in the Egyptian justice system, but
also shared his belief that the US would pull through for one of their
citizens. “I don’t think that the Americans will take it nicely that one
of their citizens be tried on trumped up charges,” he said.
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