The Cairo Criminal Court Thursday sentenced Egyptian actress Menna Shalaby to a suspended sentence of one year in prison and a fine of EGP10,000 after her arrest in November for cannabis possession.
Shalaby’s arrest was greeted with outrage from her fans and fellow actors and actresses, many of whom came to her defence on social media channels, which were flooded with messages of support.
Some civil liberties campaigners also defended her at the time. The drug was found in lollipops and other snacks in her bags, according to the AFP news agency.
Her lawyer, Mohamed Bahaa Abu Shaqqa, delivered his defence on Thursday, during which he accused officials of interfering with the evidence brought against her. Shalaby was not present.
Abu Shaqqa accused two customs officers in particular of malpractice, Hany Abu Taleb and Haitham Abd El Hakim, both of whose testimonies were instrumental in the actress’ conviction, as they searched her luggage on November 25 when she was returning from a trip to New York.
He suggested the cannabis items they said they found might have been planted there by the officers.
The actress paid EGP 50,000 ($1,862) in bail in November and was in December referred to a criminal court by prosecutors.
Abu Shaqqa emphasised that the manner in which Shalaby’s bags were searched was unlawful because the country’s law stipulates that a passenger must be present when their bags are searched at airport security.
Shalaby, who continues to deny that the cannabis items were hers, said shortly after her arrest that she was taken into a closed room inside the airport and told to wait, after which the officers returned and asked her whether she used cocaine. She said she did not.
Though Shalaby alleges that the pair disappeared afterwards and only returned to tell her that she was under arrest, the officers insist that the search was conducted with her present.
However, when prosecutors demanded all the security footage that customs had of the incident, they only received a 42-minute clip showing Shalaby as she was approaching the X-ray belt for one minute.
Prosecutors sent a second request for more video footage and customs responded that this was all they had, Abu Shaqqa said.
He presented to the bench a report from the Ministry of Civil Aviation stating that there are 2,500 working security cameras at Cairo’s airport and wondered how it could be that none of them had recorded the officers searching the bags.
He also showed the presiding judges evidence showing two separate and conflicting chemical reports issued on the items found in Shalaby’s luggage.
The judges left the chamber to deliberate for an hour and returned with the verdict. Today’s verdict can be appealed within 60 days before the country’s Court of Cassation.
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