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Leaked recordings suggests government tampering with Egypt's judiciary

Senior officials heard discussing cases including tear-gas death of 37 prisoners in August 2013
Al-Sharq satellite channel released recordings on Saturday and Sunday (al-Sharq)

An audio recording allegedly leaked from the office of the Egyptian President, appears to show senior Egyptian officials discussing the deaths of 37 prisoners en route to Abu Zaabal prison.

The leak, the second in December, was released on the pro-Muslim Brotherhood satellite channel Al-Sharq and features General Abbas Kamel, director of the office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Mahmoud Shaheen, advisor for constitutional and legal affairs at the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

They can be heard discussing what has come to be known in opposition circles as the Abu Zabaal massacre, in which 37 prisoners were killed after police fired teargas into a poorly ventilated prison van in August 2013.

The four police officers involved, Amr Farouk, Ibrahim Mohamed El-Morsi, Islam Abdel Fattah Helmi, and Mohamed Yahia Abdel-Aziz, were subsequently charged with negligence and sentenced to ten years in jail.

“Why don’t you look into the case of the thirty-something persons who were in the central security truck,” Kamel says, highlighting the case of Islam Abdel Fattah Helmi, the son of General Abdel Fattah Helmi, an official in Egypt’s Veterans Department.

Kamel claims that the General had complained that colleagues of the accused officers had been denied the opportunity to testify to the court.

Shaheen can be heard to say that he would “speak to the judge so that he allows this”.

Commentators on social media pointed to this as proof that senior political figures had been interfering with the judiciary:

Another leak, released on Sunday evening by al-Sharq purports to feature Kamel asking the general prosecutor Hisham Barakat to lift a travel ban imposed against the son of a prominent writer and journalist.

Businessman Ahmed Haykal, son of al-Ahram editor Mohammed Hassanein Haykal, was banned from travel in 2011 after being accused of embezzlement.

In the four-minute recording, Kamal is heard to tell the general prosecutor: “Haykal’s people have spoken to me about his son – they said he doesn’t have a relationship with any [of the crimes he is accused of].”

Sisi had previously taken a stand against government interference in the judiciary, particularly with regards to the convictions of 3 Al-Jazeera journalists who will have spent 365 days in jail on Monday.

"We must respect judicial rulings and not criticise them even if others do not understand this”, he said.

A leak on December 6 featured high ranking officials discussing the potential illegality of the arrest of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

It is as of yet unknown who is responsible for leaking the recordings.