Tahrir Square swelled again on the anniversary of Egypt’s uprising, as military rulers continue to hold onto draconian powers…
The Egyptian military’s announcement on January 24, 2012, that it will lift the state of emergency except in cases of “thuggery” is an invitation to continued abuse, Alkarama and Human Rights Watch said today. The two rights groups said that the government should use the regular penal code and civilian criminal courts to address alleged criminal activity. It should also repeal Law 34, which criminalizes participation in strikes during a state of emergency.
Military leaders have frequently described protesters as “thugs” and military tribunals have convicted peaceful protesters after unfair trials for the crime of “thuggery.”
Despite promises to end the state of emergency, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been using the exceptional powers under the Emergency Law. The Interior Ministry is holding at least 55 detainees under the Emergency Law and prosecuting at least six cases before Emergency State Security Courts, which do not provide the right to an appeal.
“January 25 is the first anniversary of the day when Egyptians stood up together to demand an end to police abuse and the state of emergency,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It is an insult to all those calling for a return to the rule of law to make excuses to keep this state of emergency, used abusively for so many years, in place.”
In a televised speech, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawy announced an end to the state of emergency except in cases of what he called “the crime of thuggery,” mirroring an equally meaningless claim by the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, in May 2010 to limit application of the emergency law to terrorism and drug-related crimes.
Since February 2011, military officers have arrested and military tribunals have wrongfully convicted hundreds of peaceful protesters for alleged “thuggery,” only releasing them after months of campaigning on their behalf. The SCAF amended the country’s penal code on March 1 to add the crime of “thuggery,” defined as “displaying force or threatening to use force against a victim” with the “intention to intimidate or cause harm to him or his property.”“Before the revolution, we saw bloggers and peaceful opponents of Mubarak’s regime detained administratively on terrorism and drug trafficking accusations,” said Rachid Mesli, director of Alkarama’s legal department. “If the emergency law is not lifted completely, such an exception will undoubtedly allow for the continuation of these arbitrary detentions.”
Alkarama and Human Rights Watch are aware of 55 cases of people currently detained under the emergency law. Among them is Abdel Rahim Abdel Rahman, arrested on October 24, 2011, at his home in the southern city of Assiut. A police report, dated October 24, requested his detention under the Emergency Law “as a deterrent and for the good of public security.” The Interior Ministry issued Emergency Law detention order number 1803/6 of 2011 on October 24, ordering Abdel Rahman’s detention.
In the case of Mohamed Nasr Shams el Din, prosecutors interrogated him the day of his arrest, on September 21, on charges of “thuggery,” but in early January ordered his release on bail. However, the local police station refused to release him and instead issued an Emergency Law detention order on January 5.
Since the ouster of President Mubarak, Egyptian authorities have referred five new cases involving multiple suspects to the Emergency State Security Courts, set up under the Emergency Law, courts which provide no right of appeal and notoriously rely on confessions obtained under torture, Human Rights Watch said. Two are cases of sectarian violence, two are cases of alleged spies, and one is in connection with violence at a demonstration.
On June 4, the public prosecutor referred Adel Labib, the chief suspect, and 47 others arrested after violence at a church in Imbaba, Cairo, in which 12 people died, to trial before the Emergency State Security Court. The next session of their trial is scheduled for February 4. State security prosecutors referred alleged culprits in a second case of sectarian violence in Minya to an Emergency State Security Court and the trial opened on July 16. In October, state security prosecutors did the same for 76 persons arrested in connection with the September 9 attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The so-called Zeitoun trial of 25 defendants accused of membership in a terrorist organization, which opened on February 14, 2010, is still ongoing before the Emergency State Security Court; the next session is scheduled for March 13. All of these cases should be transferred to regular civilian courts, Human Rights Watch said.
The government under the SCAF has also used the state of emergency to justify further restrictions on freedom of assembly and the right to strike. On April 12, the SCAF approved Law No. 34 of 2011 “On Criminalizing Attacks on the Right to Work and Public Facilities,” which criminalizes participation in – and calls for – strikes and demonstrations that “impede public works” if they take place “during the state of emergency.”
Egypt has been under a state of emergency since 1981. An end to the state of emergency was a long-standing demand of the Egyptian opposition and a primary demand of protesters during Egypt’s January 2011 uprising. The Emergency Law allows Interior Ministry officials to detain people without charge or trial for indefinite periods. Because authorities are not required to present evidence to a judicial authority, it is meaningless to say they will use it only for a particular category of detainees or in relation to a particular crime, Human Rights Watch said.
The SCAF first promised to lift the state of emergency when it assumed rule over Egypt on February 11, and repeated this promise on multiple occasions. In June, in a meeting with Human Rights Watch, a SCAF general said the council planned to lift the state of emergency “as soon as the security situation” allowed, but did not cite any specific need for retaining the Emergency Law. He also said that use of the Emergency law to detain individuals is not one of the SCAF’s policies. In August, a cabinet spokesman, Mohamed Hegazy, announced that:
the government has decided to start the procedures needed to end the state of emergency, in co-ordination with the military council.
On September 10, however, Information Minister Osama Heikal announced that the SCAF was expanding the scope of application of the Emergency Law to cover strikes and demonstrations that disrupt traffic as well as “the spreading of false information harmful to national security,” a charge never used under Mubarak to justify detention under the emergency law.
In a report calling on Egypt’s new parliament to make a number of legal reforms top priorities, Human Rights Watch recommended that if an emergency arose threatening the life of the nation, any new declaration of a state of emergency should be strictly limited in time and geographical scope to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. Human Rights Watch also said that limits on human rights protections should be clearly and narrowly identified, strictly necessary, and proportionate. A state of emergency, and any measures adopted under it, should be subject to judicial review, with judges able to strike down measures that are disproportionate or no longer necessary to meet an emergency.
“The military’s insistence on retaining the Emergency Law means that Egyptians are still not safe from prolonged arbitrary detention without judicial review and unfair trials before emergency courts or military courts,” said Stork. “Real security will only come through better policing and an end to abuses by law enforcement officers.”
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared at Human Rights Watch
Egypt’s Youth Mark Anniversary with Calls for More Changes – Spiegel Online
What Egypt’s martyrs left behind - Al-Masry Al-Youm
January 25th and the Egypt the Revolution Has Made – Foreign Affairs