Defend Egyptian trade unionist Kamal Abbas: protect the Arab Spring

Kamal Abbas, the General Coordinator of the Egyptian Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS) has just been sentenced to six months imprisonment for comments he made at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) last year. This is a gross breach of his freedom of expression, and an attempt to silence one of Egypt's most respected labour rights activists.

A global trade union campaign has begun to persuade the authorities to withdraw all charges, annul the sentence, and to refrain from any further harassment against trade unionists or other civil society representatives for the exercise of their legitimate activities.

Abbas was sentenced in absentia by a court in Helwan on 26 February for the supposed crime of 'insulting a public officer'. He interrupted Ismail Fahmy of the old state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) during his speech at the ILO in June 2011, denying his claims to represent the Egyptian working class. To jail someone for speaking up on labour rights - and in the ILO no less - would be completely against the spirit of the Arab Spring and will most probably see Egypt return to the ILO's notorious and so-called 'black-list'.

“Our friend Kamal Abbas attended the Conference as a representative of the ITUC delegation,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary. “We can‘t accept this judgement. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. We are urging the authorities to drop all the charges. Following the Egyptian revolution in February 2011, the ITUC gave the authorities every chance to respect fundamental workers’ rights. Our patience has run out,” added Burrow.

The international trade union movement is extremely concerned by this sentence against Brother Abbas, and its implications for Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, and democracy in Egypt.

Kamal Abbas is a widely respected labour leader internationally and a close friend of the British trade union movement. Last year he was a guest of honour at the Fire Brigades Union conference in Southport. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has written to the Egyptian Ambassador in London calling for the sentence to be annulled, and for Egypt to adopt ILO-compliant labour laws.

Owen Tudor

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