THE court hearing for the extradition of hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa to Egypt will resume next Thursday, the Nicosia district court said on Friday.
Mustafa, 59, was arrested on March 29, after he hijacked a domestic Egyptair flight wearing a fake suicide belt and engaged in a dramatic standoff with authorities at Larnaca airport lasting more than six hours before he surrendered.
Egypt has asked for Mustafa’s extradition, but he formally applied for political asylum, which Cypriot authorities said they would not consider. His lawyer Robertos Vrahimis had said that authorities would not even review it as there is a legal precedent that asylum cannot be granted to someone who has committed a serious crime.
The first to take the witness stand on Friday was the case investigator, CID officer Vakis Prodromou. Following Prodromou’s examination by the prosecution, the court was adjourned until May 26, when the defence will cross-examine the first witness. Mustafa will remain under custody until the hearing.
Vrahimis requested a postponement so that he can prepare for the cross-examination. He justified his request by saying that the alleged offenses for which his client was arrested and are related with the extradition request, were politically motivated and expressed concerns that due to his political convictions he will not have a fair trial in Egypt.
Friday’s hearing was also interrupted twice; the first time so that the suspect could return to prison to be examined, after he made claims force was used against him for refusing to remove a t-shirt on which he had written political slogans.
After returning to court, his lawyer asked for another hour, which was granted, to examine all documents the Legal Service submitted as regards the case.
Before the start of the witness hearing, Mustafa requested through an interpreter to address the court on a matter which did not concern the process, but Judge Dona Constantinou rejected the request, stating that the court strictly hears only what concerns the procedure.
On Friday, Mustafa arrived at court after a delay, reportedly because he had refused to remove a t-shirt on which he had written political slogans with a marker. His lawyer told the court that his client is living in a “state of fear and terror”. He said that Mustafa was forced to remove the t-shirt by the officers who were to transfer him to court. The procedure was discontinued, until he was examined.
On the t-shirt, he said, Mustafa had written ‘Victory to January 25, 2011- No to the military of June 30, 2013’. The slogans refers to the Egyptian revolution that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, and the second date refers to the protests of millions of Egyptians to demand the resignation of the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, who had been ruling for a year. Morsi,too, was overthrown following protests led by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the current president of the country.
The slogans are a form of his client’s self-expression, Vrahimis said, and police “violated his human rights”.
He added that Mustafa claimed officers grabbed him by the throat and that they almost choked him, and that he was bruised. He also said they forcefully handcuffed him causing injuries. Police behaviour, Vrahimis said, is aimed at breaking his client’s morale.
Judge Constantinou told Vrahimis that his client had every right to file a compliant. She added that the court was not an arena for political expression, but a place where justice is served.
According to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), Vrahimis filed a complaint with the independent authority for the investigation of abuse complaints against the police.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said that officers applied all necessary security measures and followed all procedures indicated for the transfer of suspects to court.
The extradition procedure began earlier in the month, but an extension was granted to give time to the Egyptian authorities to furnish their Cypriot counterparts with the necessary paperwork.
The court rejected claims by Mustafa’s defence that the delay in conveying the papers was deliberate to extend their client’s detention.
Meanwhile, the Refugee Review Board announced on Friday that it received on May 11 an application by Mustafa, who was married to a Cypriot and had been living on the island until 1994, for a review of the Asylum Service’s rejection of his asylum application.
The asylum service said it considered Mustafa’s illegal activities both in Cyprus and Egypt. In Cyprus, his name is still on the stop-list for immigrants – he is known to the Cypriot authorities under eight different names – while in Egypt, as he claims, the service said, has spent several years in prison.
The asylum service also took into consideration “Egypt’s diplomatic guarantees which are deemed as reliable” and are part of the two countries’ agreement on extraditing fugitives.
It added that the offenses attributed to Mustafa, are very serious and are subject to prison sentence with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment both in Cyprus, and Egypt, but that none of the offenses are subject to capital punishment.