Egyptian workers' leader sentenced to six months in prison

A "misdemeanour court" in Helwan, near Cairo, has sentenced Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), to six months in prison for "insulting a public officer".

That would be bad enough. But the public officer in question is one of the leaders of Egypt's pre-revolutionary, government-controlled "unions"!

At a session of the International Labour Organisation last June, representatives of the CTUWS and the new independent unions clashed with representatives of the state-run "Egyptian Trade Union Federation". Abbas is supposed to have "insulted" the ETUF's acting president Ismail Ibrahim Fahmy, because he criticised the role of the ETUF and rejected the idea it represents or can represent Egyptian workers. (See here for the CTUWS's report.)

Abbas, who visited the UK last year on a tour organised by the TUC, the FBU and Egypt Workers' Solidarity, was sentenced in absentia; he is appealing and now waiting for a new court date.

This is an attack on freedom of expression but also on Egypt's independent workers' movement, which comes in the context of continued militant struggles by the Egyptian working class - despite the military regime's attempts to ban strikes. It must be resisted. Check back for more information on solidarity actions soon.

• For more information see the CTUWS website.

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LabourStart launches campaign

The LabourStart international trade union news and campaigning website has launched an online campaign in support of Kamal Abbas:

"Kamal Abbas, a leading figure in the fight to create independent democratic trade unions in Egypt, has been sentenced to six months in prison for the "crime" of insulting a Mubarak-era hack at an International Labor Organization conference.

"Abbas is used to such treatment at the hands of the Mubarak regime, which jailed him and tried to crush the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS) which he headed.

"But the Mubarak era is supposed to be behind us. After all, we are now one year into the Arab Spring.

"The world's trade unions are calling for a massive online mobilization to demand that the charges be dropped.

"Please take a moment to click here and then spread the word."

Early Day Motion in Parliament - ask your MP to sign

Here on the Parliament website.

"That this House regrets that Kamal Abbas, the General Co-ordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services has been sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for insulting a public officer, the acting president of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the pre-revolution government-controlled labour front, at a meeting of the International Labour Organisations (ILO); believes that this ruling is a clear attack on freedom of expression, as guaranteed in Article 12 of Egypt's Constitutional Declaration, and on Egypt's independent unions, an essential bedrock of civil society and democracy, and on the right of Egyptian workers to decide their own representatives; welcomes the campaign for the lifting of this sentence by the International Trade Union Confederation, the TUC and LabourStart; and urges the Egyptian authorities to pass the draft law on trade union freedoms that would guarantee freedom of association and collective bargaining and bring Egypt in line with the core conventions of the ILO."