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Egypt: arrests amidst talks of political reform

Egypt: Mixed signals - arrests of political opponents amidst talks of political reform

Amnesty International is concerned about the recent arrests and detention of political activists in Egypt, as the ruling party and opposition parties enter into a "national dialogue" on political reform ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections in September and October.

On 29 January, Ayman Nour, a member of parliament and leader of the newly recognized opposition party, al-Ghad (Tomorrow), was arrested immediately after he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. He reported having been kicked, pushed and punched below the right eye by state security officers in front of the National Assembly, Egypt’s parliament. His house and office were reportedly searched the same day.

He is accused of having forged more than a thousand signatures (of the power of attorney ‘Tawkil’) in an application seeking his party’s legal registration. Ayman Nour denies these accusations. On 31 January, the Supreme State Security prosecution services extended his detention order for 45 days, pending investigations. The arrest is reported to be connected to Ayman Nour’s outspoken stance on the need for constitutional amendments to allow more than one candidate to run for the presidency ahead of the presidential elections.

Amnesty International is also concerned over the reported arrest and detention of nine alleged members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization which is not known to have used or advocated violence. The nine men, who included physicians, university professors and engineers, were arrested early in the morning of 31 January in the al-Shaqiyya District, north of the capital Cairo. Those arrested are members of different professions, including. They are reportedly accused of "membership of an illegal organization" and of seeking to raise the public profile of members of the organization who might be candidates in the forthcoming elections to the National Assembly in October. The Supreme State Security prosecution has ordered their detention for 15 days, pending investigations.

In this context, Amnesty International fears that the arrest of Ayman Nour and the ongoing wave of arrests of alleged Muslim Brothers might be politically motivated. They appear to be used as a means to intimidate members of the opposition and critics of the government and to obstruct their political activities.

The organization calls on the Egyptian government to respect its obligations under international human rights standards. In particular, all provisions criminalizing freedom of expression and association must be removed and existing safeguards must be respected.

Background

The "national dialogue", which was called upon by President Mubarak, is considered an unprecedented meeting between the ruling party, the National Democratic Party, and opposition parties and is aimed to discuss ways for political reform ahead of presidential and parliamentary election later this year. Nonetheless, political opponents and government critics in Egypt continue to face intimidation and harassment and sometimes even imprisonment. The Egyptian authorities frequently detain alleged political opponents for extended periods of pre-trial detention, in violation of international law.

For instance, on 2 November 2004, ’Abd al-Halim Qandeel, editor of the opposition newspaper al-’Araby and known critic of the government, was reportedly assaulted by men in civilian clothes as he was returning home early in the morning. He reported that he was gagged and blindfolded, beaten and stripped before being dumped on the main motorway between Cairo and Suez. The attack was believed to be an attempt by the authorities to stop his outspoken criticisms of the government, including as part of the "popular movement for change" which calls for constitutional reform relating to presidential elections and the lifting of the state of emergency which has been in place in the country for more than two decades.

In May 2004, 60 alleged members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization were arrested in the run-up to the May 2004 elections to the Shura Council, Egypt’s Upper House. They were accused of affiliation to an unauthorized organization and possession of anti-government leaflets, among others. Several of them were reportedly tortured for several days after being taken from Mazra’at Tora Prison, where they were held in preventive detention, to the SSI branch in Madinat Nasr, Cairo. They were reportedly beaten, suspended by the wrists or ankles and given electric shocks; some of them reportedly sustained broken bones and ribs as a result. Several others were apparently denied medical attention in prison; one prisoner, Zkram Zohairy, aged 42, reportedly died as a result. The detention order for the group was renewed several times before all of them were released without charge in November.

View all documents on Egypt at http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maac9NzabdZzxbb0hPub/

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