The Human Rights Watch criticized the trial of the former anti-corruption Tsar saying that the Egyptian prosecutors should drop a case against the country’s former chief corruption auditor that violates the right to free speech and harms efforts to combat corruption.
On July 28 2016, a Cairo court for minor offenses convicted Hesham Genena, the former head of the Central Auditing Organization (CAO), with one-year imprisonment with labor.
The court ruled Genena a fine of 20,000 pounds (US$2,252) and a bail of 10,000 (US$1,126) pounds for spreading false news on the size of governmental corruption and for distorting the image of the Egyptian regime.
However, Genena is appealing the verdict. Genena’s defense said that the charges against him were based on a misquoted statement to the media about the cost of corruption.
Nadim Houry, HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said “The abuse of free speech in Egypt has heightened to the point of turning a misunderstanding into criminal charges punishable by prison.”
“This escalation can have a dangerous chilling effect, especially on officials responsible for reporting corruption,”said Nadim Houry.
According to the rights organization, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi set a precedent by removing Genena as head of the Central Auditing Organization, a key financial watchdog, in March, after Genena made several statements to the media asserting that state institutions and prosecutors were ignoring or stymying action on his reports of corruption.
Genena was the only remaining senior official from the administration of President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by a military coup in July 2013 led by then-Defense Minister al-Sisi.
Hesham Genena, the former head of the Central Auditing Organization (CAO), or the “Anti-corruption czar” as called by the New York Times was doing his job when stated how much endemic graft had cost his country, but Genena’s statement” turned out, was itself a criminal offense,’ reported the NYT.
Genena had stated in the Egyptian media that the size of governmental corruption during the period between 2012 and 2015 amounted to EGP 600 billion ($67.7 billion).His statements were based on findings of a detailed study conducted by the CAO.
Later,an independent newspaper quoted Genena saying that corruption had cost the country 600 billion Egyptian pounds ($67.6 billion) in December 2015.
In response,Genena said that he was misquoted, that the figure covered four years and that it reached following an exhaustive study.
Al-Sisi reacted with forming a fact-finding commission, which accused Genena of falsifying information and distorting facts. The panel said the former CAO chief’s statements were “misleading” and “lacked credibility”.
The New York-based group warned that the firing and prosecution of Genena raise concerns about government attempts to undermine the independence and efficacy of anti-corruption bodies.
Houry said,“If Sisi is serious about fighting corruption within Egypt, as he has said time and again, he should empower the regulatory agencies charged with investigating graft instead of single-handedly weakening the autonomy they depend on.”
He continued,“Protecting the independence of anti-corruption organizations and their officials protects the freedoms and rights of Egyptians.”
According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index,Egypt ranked 88th out of 168 countries.
Corruption was one of the major caused for 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.