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Woodward trial latest indictment of the legal system that imprisoned Omer Abderrahmane

The USA has done it again. The whole world was able to see reasonable doubt in the Massachusetts's trial of the British au pair accused of murder. Louise Woodward, 19, from Cheshire in the UK, was sentenced last week to life in prison (with a minimum of 15 years before parole) for the second degree murder of eight month old baby Matthew Eappen. Even the jurors who convicted her said they felt she didn't mean to kill baby Matthew, but couldn't deliver the manslaughter verdict they wanted, and which the Woodward defence now seek.

The televising of the American court system has many critics world-wide, but to its credit it has had the effect of showing to the world the many flaws of the US state and federal legal systems. Whilst in the UK we are overwhelmed with the campaign protesting Woodward's innocence based as much on her nationality as the injustice of the trial, there are as many people world-wide who believe that however perversely, justice was done when the jury delivered their verdict. What all are agreed on is that although justice may (or may not) have been done - it was not seen to be done.

One case which has not provoked such a reaction amongst Western viewers (the Woodward case was effectively another reality soap) is that of Sheikh Omer Abderrahmane, the elderly Egyptian cleric imprisoned in 1995 under sedition laws last used during the American civil war. It is sad that the media bandwagon, or fair trial organisations have said precious little about the much greater and obvious injustices committed against this man not only as a human rights issue, but also under the American system itself.

Convicted of wishing to blow up the world trade centre and overthrowing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Sheikh is now serving several life sentences in Springfield Prison, Missouri. The Sheikh alleged crimes were not even for conspiracy, but for simply having the desire. His lawyer, a former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, has since his client's internment been denied access to his client, and recently wrote to the current attorney general Janet Reno claiming that there was an attempt by the prison authorities to kill the Sheikh. This comes in the wake of repeated abuse and humiliation by guards, who strip searched and internally examined the Sheikh before and after each visit he received. The Sheikh is 59 years old, is blind and suffers from diabetes and a number of other complaints, some of which are life threatening. He has consistently been refused a translator (he does not speak English), and since March 1997 has been kept in solitary confinement in dark and filthy conditions. Clark states in his letter, 'It would be difficult to devise a crueller plan to kill him.'

The Sheikh has always denied that he ever wanted or plotted to blow up sites in the US, but admits that as a Muslim and a believer in universal justice he would like to see the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak overturned. Whether the Clinton administration likes it or not, there isn't a single human rights organisation whatever their background who views Mubarak as anything other than the leader of a regime with one of the worst records of internal repression and abuse.

In the Woodward case, everyone waits for an official reaction from the British government, so far silent. This is not surprising, despite their interference in the Saudi nurses case. In a recent letter to a Labour MP writing on behalf of a concerned constituent, Derek Fatchett Minster at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office states, "As for Sheikh Omer Abderrahmane, I am afraid we have neither cause nor standing to intervene in this case. The Sheikh was tried and imprisoned in accordance with US law for a crime committed in the US."

In May, Sheikh Omer Abderrahmane filed a law suit charging federal officials with violating his human rights. His wife, still in Cairo complains that he is only allowed one five minute phone call to them every month. In a country which boasts a constitution granting freedom of thought and expression, Sheikh Omer languishes in a literal dungeon, the true reflection of American 'justice'.

Arzu Merali

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Forum: Americas

For more information on Sheikh Omer Abderrahmane, please contact the Islamic Human Rights Commission on 0181 931 1919. fax 0181 931 1920, e-mail: ihrc@dial.pipex.com . You can also visit our homepage at: http://members.tripod.com/~Bregava/index-9.html

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