Amal Clooney was warned by Egyptian officials that she risked being arrested for presenting a report which exposes flaws in the country’s judicial system.
The human rights lawyer, who recently married Hollywood star George Clooney, was issued with the threat after identifying the same cracks in the system that led to the conviction of three Al Jazeera journalists.
Written before Mrs Clooney became involved in the Al-Jazeera case, officials considered the report highly controversial for its criticisms of Egypt’s courts.
Speaking to The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley after the journalists’ appeal hearing this week, she said: ‘When I went to launch the report, first of all they stopped us from doing it in Cairo.
‘They said “does the report criticise the army, the judiciary, or the government?” We said “well, yes”. They said “well then, you’re risking arrest”.’
The report, compiled on behalf of the International Bar Association, suggested Egypt’s judicial system was insufficiently independent.
It highlighted the fact that officials in the ministry of justice have too much power over judges and the government too much control over public prosecutors.
Mrs Clooney and her team recommended the practice that allows Egyptian officials to handpick judges for particular cases must stop.
She added: ‘That recommendation wasn’t followed, and we’ve seen the results of that in this particular case where you had a handpicked panel led by a judge who is known for dispensing brutal verdicts.’
The three Al Jazeera journalists represented by Mrs Clooney are Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed, and Mohamed Fahmy.
The group was initially sentenced to between seven and ten years in prison last June by the controversial Egyptian judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata.
Mr Shehata earned global notoriety during the journalists’ trial after mocking Mr Fahmy’s fiancee and rarely removing his sunglasses during proceedings.
A few months later he gained further infamy after sentencing 188 people to death in one mass trial.
The three journalists launched a new appeal yesterday – but Mrs Clooney suggested she fears the flaws highlighted in her report will prevent the group from receiving a fair trial.
The men have been held since December 2013 – with their arrests coming after the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member.
One of the defendants, Baher Mohamed, hold an Egyptian passport – and must pin his hopes on his sentence being overturned by the Egyptian courts.
But Clooney’s other clients, Mr Fahmy, a Canadian citizen, and his Australian colleague Mr Greste, are still hoping for deportation to their home countries.
Both have applied to Egypt’s chief prosecutor to demand they be sent to Canada and Australia under the terms of a new presidential decree that gives foreign prisoners such an option.
Inside Egypt, Mr Fahmy’s appeals team was led by an Egyptian lawyer with contributions from Clooney that related to international law – but outside the country she is the one leading the efforts to win deportation.