Child sentenced for stealing bread

Child sentenced for stealing bread
Civil activists have criticised the decision to sentence a boy in Egypt to prison for stealing bread, while corrupt leaders are left unchallenged.
3 min read
11 December, 2014
The case illustrates the strange justice system in Egypt [AFP]
The family of ten year old Abd al-Massih Ezzat from Beni Suef in central Egypt have been waiting impatiently for a baker to keep his promise and drop charges against the boy for stealing five loaves of bread.

The boy was sentenced in absentia to a prison sentence without his family knowing. The boy and his family were due to attend an appeal scheduled to be held at Beni Suef Juvenile Court Wednesday.

The case, say civil rights activists, is an example of Egypt's broken justice system, one that will prosecute a child for stealing bread.

The story began over a year and a half ago when a complaint was filed in al-Fashn police station in Beni Suef, Upper Egypt, against Massih for stealing bread from a local bakery.

The boy said he only took five loaves but the owner of the bakery argues he took six pounds ($.80) of bread. After the report was filed at  the local police station it went to the local prosecutor. The boy's family were told the case had been filed away and the boy was released without bail.

However, last week the family received notification from Beni Suef juvenile criminal court ordering the boy to appear in court next Thursday. The prosecutor had sentenced the boy in absentia to be imprisoned at a juvenile detention centre for stealing the bread.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed talked to the boy’s mother Mariam Eid by telephone. According to Eid, her son had left school with friends, gone to the bakery to buy bread, some meat, cheese and halva (a sweet). They found a bag of bread which they took and ate.

"Finding the children eating the bread, the baker beat the children and took them to the police station. He then filed a complaint against them for stealing 114 loaves."

Eid rushed to the police station, she said, where she was reassured that the childre, as minors, would soon be released, which they duly were.

"I thought the case had been closed and filed away. But, ten days ago I was shocked to see a warning from the juvenile court saying my son had been sentenced in absentia, and that I had to attend an appeal on 11 December."

Eid approached the baker to plead with him to drop the case. According to Abd el-Massih's brother, the cendor agreed, but if he asked the court, the case still hasn't been dropped.

Activists have criticised the case, as an example of the strange justice system in Egypt. A system that will imprison a boy for eating a couple of mouthfuls of bread, while the judges leave the people who have robbed the country of its wealth alone.

Rami al-Houfi, a leading member of the banned Freedom and Justice Party, the Egyptian Islamist party formerly led by Mohammad Morsi and affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, said the case showed that only the poor were being prosecuted.

"The leaders are stealing millions. Cases are only being brought against the poor [because they cannot defend themselves]."

Local activist, Mina George wrote on Facebook: "I wonder if the police or legal system would do anything if one of us complained that the flour used in the bakery was stolen, or that bread was being sold on the black market, or about the lack of manners in the bread queues. They are more likely to tell you to forget about it and not to make a fuss, because life is hard and there is no time to deal with such insignificant things."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.