Egypt: Award-Winning Blogger Among New Arrests

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.

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