Egypt: Intimidation And Assault On Journalists
News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International
AI Index: MDE 12/025/2005 7 June 2005
Egypt: Intimidation and assault on journalists and peaceful demonstrators must stop
Amnesty International expresses its support for the Egyptian NGO community in its continued call for freedom of expression and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Egypt, and calls on the authorities to investigate the recent allegations of physical and sexual assaults and to stop intimidation of the political opponents in the country.
Scores of demonstrators calling for the boycott of the referendum on constitutional reform were reportedly physically assaulted by supporters of the ruling political party, the National Democratic Party (NDP) on the day of the referendum on 25 May. Amongst those assaulted were women and journalists working for national newspapers, including Nawal ‘Ali, ‘Abeer al-‘Askary, Hany al-‘Asr, Iman Taha Kamel and Abdel Halim Qandil. Some of these assaults happened in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate Office and reportedly in the presence of security officers, who apparently did not interfere to protect those being assaulted.
This intimidation still continues. On 3 June, student of Arabic language at al-Azhar University, Muhammad Hassan Sayyid al-Sharqawi, was arrested in the centre of the Capital Cairo and taken to State Security Intelligence headquarter. He was detained allegedly because of articles he wrote on the internet. Muhammad al-Sharqawi was released later on the same day.
Amnesty International urges the Egyptian authorities to conduct immediate, full and independent investigations into the above assaults and bring those responsible to justice. It also reiterates its call for the authorities to repeal or review all legislations which unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, contrary to Egypt’s obligations under international law.
In February 2005, President Hosni Mubarak put a proposal before parliament to amend Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution in order to allow for multi-candidate presidential elections. While welcoming this, some political and human rights activists considered the proposal “insufficient” and demonstrated in favour of greater political reform and the lifting of the state of emergency. Some, including a number of opposition parties as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, also called for a boycott of the referendum. Thousands of the demonstrators, who were mostly supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested early last month, continuing a pattern which has seen previous mass arrests of Muslim Brothers at the time of presidential and parliamentary elections. According to official sources, the amendment of Article 76 of the Constitution was approved by more than 80 per cent of the votes cast.
Despite President Mubarak’s introduction in February of a bill abolishing prison terms for publishing offences, journalists continued to be imprisoned, fined for libel, threatened and beaten. The crews and journalists of international TV channels have also been stopped and detained for hours in apparent attempt to prevent them from reporting on demonstrations or referendum-related gatherings. The proposed bill is still under review after more than a year of its introduction.
NGOs also continue to operate under the restrictive NGO law introduced in June 2002. Under this law, NGOs had to apply to the Ministry of Social Affairs in order to officially register. Those whose applications were rejected and who continued to operate were liable to prosecution.
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