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Cyprus

Court rules against teleconference testimony in hijacker case

File photo: Mustafa being taken to court in Larnaca

Nicosia District court Friday postponed the extradition hearing of an Egyptian man wanted for hijacking an EgyptAir flight that was diverted to Larnaca, turning down a request from his lawyers for a human rights expert to be allow to testify by means of a teleconference.

Judge Dona Constantinou told Roberto Vrahimis, representing Seif Eldin Mustafa, that his request for Professor E.G.H Joffe of the London Metropolitan University, to testify by teleconference was not properly supported. Constantinou told Vrahimis that saying the professor knows about human rights in these countries but not producing sufficient background to support this for the request, was the reason it was rejected.

State prosecutor Eleni Loizidou brought an objection to the request of the defence, saying that the only reason testimony can be given in this way is in the interest of justice and in this case the reason is not justified. She said until now testimony via teleconference has been allowed only in criminal cases, citing the Helios plane crash and one other case in Limassol involving a minor.

In announcing her decision, the judge said that following testimony given by Mustafa, the court had given repeated postponements at the request of the defence lawyers so he could present expert testimony. She said the trial date of July 22 was set following postponements to enable and give time to the defence to present witnesses to testify.

She added that the court does not have witnesses before it, but a request with unsubstantiated background. Constantinou postponed the process to August 18 and 19, dates set after Vrahimis contacted the professor, who will come from London to testify.

A British expert has agreed to testify in a Cyprus court in defence of an Egyptian hijacker fighting an extradition request from his country.

None of the passengers and crew were harmed in the March 29 hijack. Eighty-one people, which included 21 foreigners and 15 crew were released after a six-hour standoff aboard the diverted Airbus 320 Alexandria-to-Cairo flight.

The defence are fighting extradition on human rights grounds, saying Mustafa may be tortured or killed if he is sent back to Egypt, especially under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime.

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 country report on Egypt states that “the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group, documented 47 deaths in custody between January and June”, and said in an October report that “209 detainees had died due to medical negligence since el-Sisi took office in June 2014.”

Amnesty International documented that in Egypt “detainees faced torture and other ill-treatment. Courts handed down hundreds of death sentences and lengthy prison sentences after grossly unfair mass trials. There was a critical lack of accountability; most human rights violations were committed with impunity. Women and members of religious minorities were subject to discrimination and inadequately protected against violence. People were arrested and tried on charges of “debauchery” for their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The army forcibly evicted communities from their homes along the border with Gaza. Executions were carried out following grossly unfair trials.”

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