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Egypt: Human Rights Protests

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 22, 2006 (060522)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Despite promises of liberalization, repression is continuing against human rights reformers in Egypt, and U.S. annual aid to Egypt of some $1.7 billion is expected to continue at the same level in the next fiscal year. In addition to critiques from international human rights organizations, Egyptian bloggers are increasingly prominent in disseminating critique of the regime in both English and Arabic.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a statement by the Egyptian Ogranisation for Human Rights and other Egyptian civil society groups protesting the latest repressive actions, and several reports from Human Rights Watch on recent events. For regular news and commentary and links to other activist blogs in Egypt, see http://freedomforegyptians.blogspot.com. For a blog from prison by one of the Egyptian bloggers arrested earlier this month, see http://www.manalaa.net/alaa_blogs_from_prison.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

"No" to the Police State

Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights

http://www.eohr.org

11 May, 2006

The organizations signing below express their vehement anxiety concerning the totalitarian attitude used against the reform movement and civil society, using an iron fist to suppress peaceful demonstrations in support of the judiciary and political activists in Egypt, manifested in the arrests of the demonstrators in front of the Judges Club.

The total number of the arrested reached 48 persons, among them 12 persons were arrested on Monday 24/4/2006, 16 persons on Wednesday 26/5/2006, 12 persons on Thursday 27/4/2006 in front of the High Judiciary House, and 8 persons on Sunday 7/6/2006 in front of South Cairo Court after using force with the demonstrators.

The return to the police state was obviously confirmed by the extension of the state of emergency which is applied since 1981, and was extended to 2008 reaching a total of 27 years under the harsh decrees of the Emergency Law.

It became very clear by the beginning of 2006, when punishments were applied to those who criticized the parliamentary elections results, which lead to presenting both judges Hisham El Bastawesy and Mahmoud Mekki to the Qualification Committee charged with what is their normal right to freedom of opinion and expression including issuing reports revealing the forging of the parliamentary elections in some constituencies.

This trial is considered a violation to the norms of fair trial especially when the suspects belong to a high judicial institution such as the Court of Cassation.

In contradiction with what the Prime Minister announced to use the Emergency Law only in cases of terrorism and drug-dealing cases and not to suppress political movements, syndicates and political parties. However, violence was used against political activists, as they were arrested and subjected to physical assaults. All the arrested persons were referred to State Security Prosecutor by the decree of Military Ruling No 1/1981 amended by Presidential Decree 1/2004 which added Law 14/1923 and Law 10/1914 to crimes viewed by the State Security (Emergency) Attorney.

This new violent attitude used by security forces against peaceful demonstrators affirms the government's new tendency to use violence as a tool to punish the opposition, referring to the assaults on Judge Mahmoud Hamza, head of North Cairo Court, and the physical assaults on Nadia Abu el Magd, the reporter of the Associated Press, in addition to the assaults on Al Jazeera crew and confiscating their camera, and arresting more than 300 person and detaining them in an unknown place, where some of them were subjected to beating. It's worth mentioning that the Egyptian security forces now developed a new squad, they call it the karate squad, that dressed in civilian clothes and they join the demonstrations and attack the demonstrators.

Accordingly, the signing organizations demand the following:

1 - Fulfilling the Prime Minister's promise not to use the Emergency Law against political opposition.

2 - The immediate release of all detainees.

3 - Accelerating the finalization of the Judicial Authority Law to be presented to the Peoples Assembly.

4 - Interrogating the police men who perpetrated the assaults and presenting them to justice.

5 - Forming a committee of MP's to investigate any cases of using Emergency Law against political activists, syndicates or political parties.

Organizations signing the statement:

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, The Arab Organization for Judicial Reform, Prisoners Aid Association, Hisham Mubarak Center, Syndicates and Labor Services House, The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, Development of Democracy Group, The Arab Center for Independency of Judges and Lawyers, The Egyptian Association for Increasing Social Participation, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Andalusia Center for Tolerance Studies


Egypt: Hundreds More Protesters Arrested
Muslim Brotherhood Leaders Among Detained as Repression Intensifies

Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org

(New York, May 19, 2006) - The Egyptian government's campaign to suppress peaceful dissent escalated today with the arrests of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood and leftist demonstrators in Cairo and Alexandria, Human Rights Watch said today. As in previous incidents over the past several weeks security forces also beat, kicked and clubbed demonstrators.

"This is another grim day for Egypt's supposed commitment to political reform," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "People are trying to gather peacefully to support critics of the government, which responds by putting them behind bars or beating them into silence."

In a related development, a Supreme Judicial Council disciplinary tribunal today exonerated Judge Mahmud Mekki on charges that he had "disparaged the Supreme Judicial Council" and "talked to the press about political affairs." But on the same grounds, it issued a rebuke and denied a promotion to Judge Hisham al-Bastawisi, who is in a Cairo hospital after suffering a heart attack early Wednesday morning.

Today's demonstration, like others in recent weeks, was in support of the two judges, whose calls for judicial independence and clean elections have angered the government and the ruling National Democratic Party.

In a separate development, a Cairo appeals court today upheld the December 2005 conviction of former presidential candidate, Ayman Nur, an outspoken dissident. In what appear to have been politically motivated charges, the government claimed that Nur had forged signatures on the application to register his political party. Nur, a former member of parliament, was President Hosni Mubarak's leading challenger in Egypt's first contested presidential election last September. Human Rights Watch monitored his trial, which was characterized by serious irregularities and did not meet the standards for a free and fair judicial proceeding.

Egyptian authorities say that this morning they arrested 240 Muslim Brothers and 14 activists with the Kifaya ("Enough") opposition umbrella group. The Muslim Brotherhood put the number arrested in Cairo at around 400, and said that scores of additional arrests also took place in Alexandria. Kifaya coordinator George Ishak told reporters that demonstrators from his group were also beaten and arrested in Abbasiyya, another Cairo neighborhood.

Leading Brotherhood members were among those detained today, including member of parliament Muhsin Radi, Muhammad Mursi, a member of the group's executive bureau, and `Issam al-`Irian, a prominent spokesman for the group and leading member of the Doctors' Syndicate.

"The Egyptian government should immediately release all those arrested today unless it can show that a particular individual was engaged in violence," Stork said. "Coming together for peaceful protests is not a crime."


Egypt: Police Assault Demonstrators, Journalists
Hundreds Arrested in Cairo Crackdown

Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org

[Excerpts only; for full statement including additional eyewitness reports, visit the Human Rights Watch website.]

(New York, May 13, 2006) - Thousands of Egyptian security forces sealed off much of downtown Cairo on Thursday and violently attacked protestors attempting to demonstrate in support of reformist judges, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on President Hosni Mubarak to speak out against the police violence and hold accountable those responsible.

Beatings by plainclothes officers and thugs left dozens injured. According to defense lawyers, authorities arrested 255 persons in connection with the incidents. State Security prosecutors have ordered them all held for 15 days pending further investigation on charges of intent to assault property and people, obstructing the authorities' work, endangering public transport, disseminating propaganda and insulting the head of state and public employees.

"The government is apparently determined to stamp out peaceful dissent - literally," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "It seems that President Mubarak sees growing popular support for the reformist judges as a real challenge to his authoritarian ways."

The incidents occurred when demonstrators tried to reach the area around Cairo's High Court for a 10 a.m. rally in support of two judges, Hisham al-Bastawissi and Mahmud Makki, who were facing a disciplinary hearing in the court as a result of their vocal criticism of fraudulent parliamentary elections late last year.

President Mubarak has remained silent in the face of the escalating police violence.

Security forces began to deploy in the area around the court area Wednesday night, and numbered in the thousands by mid-morning. Plainclothes agents from State Security Investigations (SSI), as well as uniformed Central Security forces moved quickly and in many instances brutally to disperse and punish the demonstrators. The demonstrators at first numbered between 500 and 1,000, according to human rights activist Hossam Bahgat.

"I saw them approaching Tal`at Harb Square," he told Human Rights Watch:

"The crowd was overwhelmingly male, and many were carrying Qur'ans. They were forced into `Adli Street. I was walking at the rear and to the side, with some journalists. Then from behind came a contingent of plainclothes security, about 50. I thought maybe they were there to buffer the demonstration from passersby, but suddenly the demonstrators in front of us turned and ran back, chased by other plainclothes from the other end. There were uniformed Central Security forces along the sides. Guys in suits along the sides had walkie-talkies and seemed to be directing things. Most of the demonstrators got away, but the plainclothes officers were grabbing individuals one by one, beating them with their fists, kicking them while they were on the ground, hitting and kicking them as they carried them to police trucks. I saw 15 of these attacks myself."

Rabab al-Mahdi, an activist, was with the demonstrators on `Adli Street. "We were encircled and didn't know where to run," she told Human Rights Watch.

"They started beating us - four men carrying away each protestor and beating them on the head as they are dragged off. A lot were bleeding from their faces. I saw some on the ground being trampled. Not less than 15 were taken away. Others were shoved into side alleys. I've never seen this level of violence or police presence. "

An American resident of Cairo told Human Rights Watch that as he walked near Tal`at Harb street: "I saw three plainclothes State Security men coming towards us escorting a protestor, one on each side holding him and the third officer punching him in the face and stomach and slapping him on the head. After they passed, I noticed a second identical incident in front of us."

Journalists came in for special punishment from the security forces. Bahgat said that when the `Adli Street demonstrators regrouped nearby on 26 July Street:

"I saw there a smaller group, between 200 and 300, mainly Muslim Brothers and Labor Party, shouting slogans. There were cameramen from al-Jazeera and Reuters. Plainclothes security got there quickly and targeted the cameramen. Ten of them surrounded the al-Jazeera guy, hitting him in the face. They confiscated his tape and carried him away. They kept hitting him. He was asking the senior officers standing there to help him, to stop the attack. They just stood there."

According to al-Jazeera, plainclothes police beat cameraman Yasir Sulaiman. He told the network that when the team moved to cover the protest, "Suddenly six security men attacked me, trying to take my camera. When I refused, they started beating me." Al-Jazeera reporter Lina al-Ghadban, who was with Sulaiman, said that police "handpicked" him and repeatedly punched him in the face. Sulaiman said the security forces returned the camera they had confiscated, but without the footage he had shot.

An Egyptian-American reporter for U.S.-based newspapers told Human Rights Watch she was across from the Caf‚ Americaine near the High Court. "There were lots of uniformed riot police lining the sidewalks," she said:

"Across the street, protestors were chanting and holding up placards saying they were with the Pharmacists' Syndicate. I was taking pictures as security rushed up, tackling the protestors and beating them. Then I saw them attacking a cameraman and I took two pictures of that and put away my camera. Suddenly, plainclothes men and guys in uniform rushed me. They pulled my hair, groped me, about five or six of them while the others just stood around. They were shouting "camera." I was hunched over my bag, protecting it and the camera. I was in the street, and my friends on the sidewalk behind some cars were yelling at them to stop, that I was a journalist. I was screaming. Then my friends finally pulled me out of the street over a car and onto the sidewalk."

The daily al-Masri al-Yom reported today that plainclothes security also attacked their staff photographer `Amr Abdullah, beating him, tearing his clothes, and breaking his two cameras. Abir al-`Askari, a writer for the weekly al-Dustour, told Human Rights Watch her paper had asked her to cover the demonstrations and the disciplinary hearing at the High Court. She arrived at 8 a.m. to meet with a group that had spent the night at the Lawyers' Syndicate:

"I was just getting out of the taxi when five or six men ran up to me, carried me from the cab and took me to where the Central Security trucks and blue police microbuses were parked, at the corner of `Abd al-Khaliq Tharwat and Ramsis streets. They beat me, put me in a police microbus, and drove me to Sayyida Zeinab police station. I screamed and resisted, and they beat me, pulled my hair and my veil. Right in front of the police station they kicked me. When people gathered and told them to stop they replied, 'She's been committing adultery.' They took me inside to a room where the officer claimed they sexually harassed [she named three Kifaya activist women arrested earlier in the week]. They took my purse and copied the messages and numbers from my phone. 'Nobody will know where you are,' the officer said. 'You are lost.' They tore at my clothes; my shirt buttons. They continued to slap and punch me -
I was lying on the floor. He placed his shoe on my face and said, 'Anyone who comes here will get the same treatment.' I was there about three hours. Finally they took me in the microbus to Corniche near the Kasr al-Aini hospital and left me; I didn't have my phone or my purse, and my clothes were torn. I had a little money in my pocket, so I went into a shop and called the deputy editor who sent some colleagues to pick me up."

Al-`Askari was among the women whom National Democratic Party partisans attacked and sexually molested on May 25, 2005, during demonstrations urging voters to boycott that day's referendum on the ruling party's proposed presidential election amendment to the Constitution The prosecutor general in December 2005 closed his investigation into complaints from victims of those attacks, saying there was not enough evidence to implicate suspects identified by the victims. The government brought no criminal charges in the matter.

...

Human Rights Watch called on President Mubarak to speak out against the attacks by plainclothes and uniformed security officials and to order an impartial investigation to identify those responsible and hold them accountable.


Egypt: Award-Winning Blogger Among New Arrests
More Than 100 Now Held in Political Protests

Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org

(New York, May 10, 2006) - Egyptian security officials arrested 11 more political reform activists, including an award-winning blogger, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, Human Rights Watch said today. This brings to more than 100 the number of people detained over the past two weeks for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

Approximately half of those arrested are members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were putting up posters and distributing leaflets protesting the April 30 extension of emergency rule for another two years. The Emergency Law has been in effect since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in October 1981. The others were detained for demonstrating in support of a group of judges campaigning for greater judicial independence.

"These new arrests indicate that President Mubarak intends to silence all peaceful opposition," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.

The latest arrests occurred on May 7 near the South Cairo Court where activists arrested on April 24 were scheduled to appear before a judge. Police released three of the 11 new detainees, but transferred the remaining eight to the Heliopolis state security prosecutor, who extended their detention for 15 days. The eight detained are: Ahmed `Abd al-Gawad, Ahmed `Abd al-Ghaffar, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, Asma'a `Ali, Fadi Iskandar, Karim al-Sha`ir, Nada al-Qassas and Rasha Azab.

On May 8, authorities extended for another 15 days the detention of a dozen activists arrested on April 24. They initially faced charges of blocking traffic, but the authorities later transferred their cases to state security prosecutors. Yesterday, authorities extended the detention of 28 activists arrested on April 26 and 27 for another 15 days. All those arrested between April 24 and May 7 for demonstrating now face charges of "insulting the president," "spreading false rumors," and "disturbing public order" under the parallel state security legal system set up under the Emergency Law.

According to a statement published on an activist Web site, activists detained between April 24 and 27 have begun a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, including threats of torture and ill-treatment.

"The activists detained over the past two weeks should be released immediately, unharmed," Stork said. "The Egyptian government is responsible under international law for their safety."

The campaign of judges for greater judicial independence has become a rallying point for political reform activists. The Judges' Club, the quasi-official professional organization for members of the judiciary, refused to certify the results of last year's parliamentary elections after more than 100 of the judges reported irregularities at polling stations. In February, the government-controlled Supreme Judicial Council stripped four of the most vocal judges of their judicial immunity.

For the names of demonstrators detained prior to May 7, [see http://www.hrw.org]


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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