Egyptian actress Menna Shalaby was handed a suspended sentence of one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($372) on Thursday after her arrest in November for cannabis possession.
Shalaby’s arrest was met with outrage from her fans and fellow celebrities, many of whom came to her defence on Egyptian social media channels, which were flooded with messages of support. Several rights activists also came to her defence at the time.
Her lawyer, Mohamed Bahaa Abu Shaqqa, delivered his defence of the actress to the Cairo Criminal Court on Thursday, during which he accused officials of tampering with the evidence brought against her. Shalaby was not present.
Mr 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 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,862) in bail in November and was in December referred to a criminal court by prosecutors.
Mr Abu Shaqqa asserted 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, Mr Abu Shaqqa said that when prosecutors requested 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, Mr 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.
Furthermore, he accused customs of omitting the testimony of a VIP airport guide — who accompanies high profile travellers through security — who said he only saw the officer presenting Shalaby with a vape before he left to tend to other work.
He also showed the presiding judges evidence showing two separate and conflicting chemical reports issued on the items found in Shalaby’s luggage.
Following the defence’s address, the prosecution advised the presiding judges to issue the harshest possible punishment for the actress.
The judges left the chamber to deliberate for an hour and returned with the verdict.