Egypt: Amnesty International, Violations in the “war on terror”
ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT
Head of state: Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
Head of government: Ahmed Nazif
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: signed
At least 18 people were killed and more than 100 injured in bomb attacks in Dahab (southern Sinai) in April. Peaceful protesters calling for independence for the judiciary and political reform were violently dispersed by police. Hundreds of members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization were arrested and scores were held awaiting trial at the end of the year. Thousands of suspected supporters of banned Islamist groups, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention under emergency legislation without charge or trial; some had been held for more than a decade. Torture and ill-treatment in detention continued to be systematic. In the majority of torture cases, the perpetrators were not brought to justice. At least three people were sentenced to death; four others were executed.
Despite calls for the state of emergency to be lifted, it was renewed in April for two years. The state of emergency, in force continuously since 1981, facilitated human rights violations including prolonged detention without charge, torture and ill-treatment, undue restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly, and unfair trials before military courts and (Emergency) Supreme State Security Courts. The government set up a committee in March to prepare a new anti-terrorism law to replace the emergency legislation.
In February parliament voted to delay for two years local elections scheduled for April. The government said the delay would allow time for the drafting of a new law to strengthen the powers of local council administration, but critics said it would make it more difficult for potential independent candidates for the presidency to meet new conditions of registration introduced in 2005.
In May, the Court of Cassation confirmed the five-year prison sentence imposed on Ayman Nour, leader of the al-Ghad party, who had come a distant second in presidential elections in September 2005. There were concerns that his prosecution and trial were politically motivated.
There were sporadic outbreaks of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians. In April, three days of religious violence in Alexandria resulted in at least three deaths and dozens of injuries.
Egypt and the European Union failed to agree on implementation of an association agreement that came into force in 2004 in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Negotiations reportedly foundered mainly on differences over human rights in Egypt and over what the agreement should say with regard to nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
In December, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned an earlier decision by an Administrative Court in April 2006 which recognized the right of Egypt”s Baha”is to be certified as Baha”is on official documentation. This followed an appeal by the Ministry of Interior. The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court meant that Baha”is must register themselves as Muslims, Christians or Jews if they wish to obtain official documents such as birth and death certificates and identity cards.
Violations in the “war on terror”
Despite increasing evidence to the contrary, the authorities continued to deny their involvement in the torture and secret detention of people detained as part of the “war on terror”, despite the Prime Minister”s acknowledgement in 2005 that some 60 suspects had been returned to Egypt from US custody. The UN Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism sought to visit the country to assess Egypt”s human rights record in the “war on terror”, but did not obtain a positive response from the Egyptian authorities.
Following the bomb blasts in Dahab, the security forces killed at least 13 alleged suspects between April and August. A police officer was also reportedly killed and two others wounded during clashes in northern Sinai. Hundreds of people were arrested, accused of having links with what the security forces claimed was a new terrorist group called Unity and Holy War (Tawhid wal Jihad). Scores more were arrested in the north of Cairo in September for alleged links with al-Qa”ida. Some of those cleared of terrorism-related charges by the courts continued to be held under administrative detention orders.
• In April, Osama Mostafa Hassan Nasr (known as Abu Omar) was brought before the public prosecutor. This was the first time since his abduction from Italy in February 2003 that he was allowed to have a lawyer present during interrogation. He described his abduction in Italy and unlawful return to Egypt. He said he was tortured while held in secret detention in Egypt and that methods included alternating extremes of temperature and electric shocks to the genitals. There was no indication that the allegations were the subject of any investigation by the Egyptian authorities. In November, the Italian prosecutor investigating Abu Omar”s abduction received an 11-page undated handwritten letter from Abu Omar which had been smuggled out of Istiqbal Tora Prison. This gave details of his torture and described the inhumane conditions to which he remained exposed in detention. In 2005 the Italian authorities had issued warrants for the arrest of 22 agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency in connection with the abduction.
• The trial of 13 suspects in connection with bombings in Taba and Nuweiba in October 2004 continued before the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court. Allegations by the accused that their confessions had been extracted under torture were dismissed by the court, which sentenced Muhammed Gayiz Sabbah, Usama “Abd al-Ghani al-Nakhlawi and Yunis Muhammed Abu Gareer to death. Two other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and eight others received prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.
Emergency legislation allowing for indefinite detention without charge continued to be used. Some detainees had been held for more than a decade, despite orders for their release by the courts. The non-governmental Egyptian Organization for Human Rights estimated that as many as 18,000 people remained in detention without charge or trial, with many held in appalling conditions. The Ministry of Interior denied this and said there were no more than 4,000 detainees, but did not provide further details. Many detainees were reported to be ill due to poor food and hygiene, severe overcrowding and a lack of adequate medical care.
In August, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights activists created the Egyptian Network for the Defence of Detainees to train lawyers on issues of administrative detention in Egypt and to mobilize civil society on this issue.
• In June the trial opened of 14 people charged in connection with the Cairo bombings of April and May 2005. However, hundreds of people arrested following the bombings reportedly remained in administrative detention, despite having obtained release orders from the courts. Most were believed to be neighbours or acquaintances of those standing trial or to have used the same mosques for prayer. In August 2006, scores of them went on hunger strike in protest at their continued detention. Some women relatives of detainees were summoned to the State Security Intelligence office in Shubra al-Kheima, north of Cairo, and detained for two days, during which they were insulted and threatened with electric shocks.
Torture and ill-treatment
Torture of both political detainees and criminal suspects remained common and systematic, and reportedly led to several deaths in custody. Frequently reported methods included beatings, electric shocks, prolonged suspension by the wrists and ankles in contorted positions, death threats and sexual abuse.
• Pro-reform activists Mohammed al-Sharqawi and Karim al-Sha”ir were arrested following demonstrations in April and May and released on 22 May. Both men were rearrested following a demonstration on 25 May. They were beaten in the street and taken to Qasr Nil police station where they were tortured. Mohammed al-Sharqawi was reportedly sexually abused by those who detained him. Both men were released in July.
There were persistent reports of criminal suspects being tortured during interrogation at police stations.
• Emad al-Kabir, a 21-year-old taxi driver from Bulaq Dakrur in Giza Governorate, was arrested in January after intervening to stop an argument between police officers and his cousin. While in detention at Bulaq Dakrur Police Station, he was slapped and hit with a stick on his hands and legs. He was accused of “resisting the authorities” and presented before the Public Prosecutor, who ordered his release on bail. However, he was instead returned to the police station, held overnight and tortured, including being raped with a stick. One of the police officers filmed the rape using a mobile phone camera and threatened Emad al-Kabir that this would be circulated by video in his neighbourhood to cause him public humiliation and intimidate others. In November, the video, which had reportedly circulated widely in the Bulaq Dakrur neighbourhood and among taxi drivers, was posted on the Internet. It provoked strong protests from human rights organizations and was widely publicized in the media, leading the Public Prosecutor in December to order the arrest of two police officers who were then referred to the South Cairo Criminal Court for trial.
Emad al-Kabir”s case, however, was exceptional. Although several police officers were tried during the year for torturing other prisoners, torture allegations were rarely investigated and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators were the exception.
Threat to judicial independence
In June a new law regulating the judiciary was passed by parliament. Despite some positive provisions, such as restrictions on ministerial powers, pro-reform judges as well as opposition parliamentarians allied to the Muslim Brothers criticized the law for failing to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. In July the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers expressed concern about the new law, noting the lack of clear criteria for the selection and appointment of judges, and the absence of basic fair trial guarantees in the disciplinary procedures
Two senior judges, Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham Bastawisi, Vice-Presidents of the Court of Cassation, were made to face a disciplinary board that convened at the High Court Building in Cairo in May after they called publicly for an inquiry into alleged electoral fraud during the 2005 parliamentary elections. The case, which resulted in Mahmoud Mekki being cleared and an official reprimand for Hisham Bastawisi, provoked widespread concern and public protests and demonstrations by opposition political parties, pro-reform groups and trade unionists in support of the two judges. These protests were violently dispersed by the riot police and more than 500 demonstrators, mostly Muslim Brothers, were arrested. They included Essam al-Aryan, Mohammed Morsy and Maged Hassan, all prominent members of the Muslim Brothers. Most were released after a short time.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be restricted. Some NGOs faced obstacles registering and obtaining legal status. Journalists continued to be threatened, harassed and imprisoned because of their work.
• Tal”at Sadat, nephew of the assassinated former President Mohamed Anwar Sadat, was sentenced to one year”s imprisonment with labour and a fine in October for defaming the armed forces and spreading false rumours. He had given a series of media interviews in which he alleged that senior army officers had been implicated in the killing of the former president by Islamist soldiers in 1981. He also suggested that President Hosni Mubarak – then Vice-President – had been involved. Although a civilian, he was tried and convicted by a military court, after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity.
In July, a controversial press law was passed by parliament according to which press freedom continued to be restricted. Certain publishing offences, such as insulting public officials, continued to carry custodial sentences. Independent and opposition newspapers withheld publication for a day in protest at the new law and hundreds of media workers protested outside the National Assembly.
• Ibrahim Eissa, chief editor of the opposition newspaper al-Dostour, Sahar Zaki, a journalist on the newspaper, and Saied Mohamed Abdullah were sentenced in June to one year”s imprisonment and a fine for insulting the President and spreading false rumours. The charges related to articles in April reporting a lawsuit by Saied Mohamed Abdullah against the President and senior officials in the ruling National Democratic Party. The case was still before the Court of Appeal at the end of the year.
Death sentences continued to be imposed. Three people convicted of terrorism-related offences were sentenced to death after an unfair trial. At least four other people were executed.
• Brothers Ezzat and Hamdi Ali Hanafi were executed in June. They had been sentenced to death by the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court in September 2005 for armed resistance to a raid by the security forces searching for unspecified drugs. The Court”s procedures violated basic principles for fair trial, including the right to appeal before a higher tribunal.
Refugees and migrants
On 3 January the authorities announced that they would forcibly return up to 650 detained Sudanese nationals to Sudan. The detainees, who included refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, had been arrested after police violently broke up a peaceful demonstration outside the UNHCR office in Cairo on
30 December 2005, killing at least 27 Sudanese nationals and injuring dozens of others. The authorities subsequently released the detainees and said they would not return them to Sudan. However, they did not initiate any investigation into the killings.
In August, Egypt submitted its report for consideration by the Committee on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This report was due in 2004.
AI country reports/visits
• Egypt: Fear of forcible return/fear of torture and ill-treatment – Up to 650 Sudanese nationals (AI Index: MDE 12/001/2006)
• Egypt: Amnesty International calls for inquiry into killings and opposes threatened collective expulsions of Sudanese protesters (AI Index: MDE 12/002/2006)
• Egypt: Amnesty International condemns attack against civilians in Dahab (AI Index: MDE 12/006/2006)
• Egypt: Disciplinary action against judges a challenge to judicial independence (AI Index: MDE 12/007/2006)
• Egypt: Amnesty International concerned about the Egyptian security repression against peaceful protesters in Cairo (AI Index: MDE 12/009/2006)
• Egypt: Violent attacks and arrests of peaceful protesters must stop (AI Index: MDE 12/010/2006)
• Egypt: Abusive emergency powers should not be entrenched in new anti-terrorism law (AI Index: MDE 12/014/2006)
AI delegates visited Cairo in July and December to attend conferences and in September an AI delegation, headed by the Secretary-General, had meetings in Cairo with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and with the Minister of Interior and other Egyptian government officials.