MIDDLE EAST: Human rights abuses in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria

In Egypt, the government has again cracked down on members of political opposition party the Muslim Brotherhood.

On 26 August, state security raided four Brotherhood members’ homes in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Beni Suef, 200 km south of Cairo, and detained them without any charges, according to a report on the Brotherhood’s website.

“Reasons for the detention are not known yet. This comes as part of the Egyptian security agencies’ tough policy against Muslim Brotherhood’s activities,” the report read.

This followed the arrest of 17 Brotherhood members on 25 August, including the movement’s secretary-general Mahmoud Ezzat, and senior member Lasheen Abu Shanab. The Brotherhood described the arrests as unprovoked.

Muslim Brotherhood members are routinely detained under Egyptian emergency law, which allows for administrative detention in renewable periods of two weeks. The government often cites ‘membership of a banned organisation’ and ‘disturbances of public order’ as reasons for detaining opposition activists.

Meanwhile, the Kefaya movement, whose main aim is to prevent President Mubarak being re-elected and prevent his son from succeeding him, last week began a campaign against Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

Under the banner “Together for the cancellation of the Camp David treaty,” Kefaya hopes to collect 1 million signatures in support of this initiative with which to pressure the government into holding a general referendum on the treaty.

Another newspaper company has been targeted in Iraq. In the capital, Baghdad, a car bomb went off on 27 August in the parking lot of the state-run Al-Sabah newspaper, killing at least three persons and injuring 30 others, Lieutenant Mohammed Khayon said.

Al-Sabah is part of the government-run Iraqi Media Net group, which includes Iraqiya Television channel.

“The terrorists are attacking everyone who tries to reveal the truth of their gruesome acts to the public,” Habib al-Sadr, head of Iraqi Media Net, told IRIN. Al-Sadr added that 49 media workers of his association have been killed and 68 others injured since 2003 “for their obvious role in fighting the terrorism”.

Meanwhile, the country’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where US forces were accused of torturing some Iraqi prisoners, was emptied on 15 August, the Iraqi justice ministry said on 27 August.

“This can’t be read as a good thing at all… a prison is closed and another is opened,” said lawyer Ahmed al-Qaisi, a Baghdad-based human rights researcher. “Their way of dealing with prisoners should be changed, not the places [where they are kept],” he said.

Busho Ibrahim, Iraq’s Deputy Justice Minister, said the facility had been handed over to Iraqi authorities.

More than 13,000 people are being held at detention facilities run by US-led coalition forces in Camps Cropper, Bucca and Fort Suse, Ibrahim added.

On 28 August, Jordan’s Police Security Department (PSD) said that a group of 42 political prisoners from Swaqa Yale, around 120 km south of Amman, ended their two-day hunger strike over poor prison conditions on 26 August, after they were promised better treatment.

PSD spokesman Major Bashir Da’jah said inmates agreed that their request to mix with each other, despite their crimes and age groups, and to have their cells open at night violated prison law.

However, local human rights groups were not convinced, particularly because they were prevented from visiting the prisoners.

“We do not trust the legal talk by Major Da’jah,” said Abdul Karim Shreideh, a leading member of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in Jordan (AOHR).

The AOHR also warned on 29 August of more strikes in future if prison conditions were not improved.

Some 595 Druze clergymen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights crossed into Syria on 2 August for an annual pilgrimage to a holy shrine in the Syrian countryside, a Red Cross official in Damascus said.

However, Sheikh Hamed al-Halabi, 57, from Mas’ada village in the Golan said that Israel had banned Druze women and some 125 clergymen from visiting Syria.

About 17,000 Arabs who belong to the Druze sect, an offshoot of Islam, live on the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan along with 15,000 Israeli settlers. Israel seized the strategic Golan Heights in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed the territory in 1981.

Meanwhile, Syria’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has refused to license the National Organisation for Human Rights (NOHR).