United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Egypt, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa384.html [accessed 5 July 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
EGYPT According to its constitution, Egypt is a social democracy in which Islam is the state religion. The President, Hosni Mubarak, was reelected unopposed to a third 6-year term by the People's Assembly in 1993. The President appoints the Cabinet, which is responsible to him. His party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), has governed since its establishment in 1978. It commands large majorities in the popularly elected People's Assembly and the partially elected Shura (Consultative) Council. Elections for the People's Assembly were held in November. The Government reported that 50 percent of registered voters turned out to vote for over 4,000 candidates vying for 444 seats. The NDP won 71 percent of the seats, independents 25 percent, and opposition parties 2.9 percent. There are several security services in the Ministry of Interior, two of which are primarily involved in combating terrorism: the State Security Investigations Sector (SSIS), which conducts investigations and interrogates detainees; and the Central Security Force (CSF), which enforces curfews and bans on public demonstrations, and conducts paramilitary operations against terrorists. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Terrorists committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Egypt is slowly moving from a command economy to a free market system. Manufacturing is still dominated by the public sector while agriculture, the single largest employer, is almost entirely in private hands. Remittances from approximately 2 million Egyptians working abroad are the largest source of foreign currency earnings, followed by petroleum and tourism. In the past 5 years, the Government has enacted significant economic reforms, which have reduced the budget deficit, stabilized the exchange rate, reduced inflation and interest rates, and built up substantial reserves. The Government generally respects many human rights, but others are restricted by the continuing imposition of the emergency law. The ruling NDP dominates the political scene to such an extent that the people do not have a meaningful ability to change their government. The security forces and terrorist groups remained locked in a cycle of violence. In fighting the terrorists, the security forces mistreated and tortured prisoners, held detainees in prolonged pretrial detention, and allegedly committed extrajudicial killings. They occasionally undertook mass arrests. Aside from the antiterrorist campaign, the local police have abused common criminal suspects. The Government prosecuted police officers accused of abusing detainees, but did not pursue most cases or seek adequate punishments. Prison conditions are poor. The use of military courts to try civilians continues to infringe on a defendant's right to a fair trial before an independent judiciary. For the first time since the mid-1960's, the Government tried members of the Muslim Brotherhood in military courts on charges of illegal political activities. These trials expanded the jurisdiction of the military courts beyond terrorism-related offenses. Although citizens generally express themselves freely, the Government continues to restrict freedom of the press. State security officers detained journalists for publishing articles critical of the Government, as well as several lawyers of accused terrorists for allegedly engaging in illegal activities. In many of these cases the detention appeared to be a form of government harassment. The Government restricts freedom of assembly and association, and does not legally recognize local human rights groups. However, these groups are allowed to operate openly. Women and Christians face discrimination based on tradition and some aspects of the law. Violence against women and children is a problem. Female genital mutilation continues to be widespread, despite government efforts to educate the public against it. The Government does not prohibit the mutilation, but has implemented new restrictions to curb its practice. Terrorist groups, seeking to overthrow the Government and establish an Islamic state, continued their attacks on police, Coptic Christians, and tourists. In June Egyptian terrorists attempted to assassinate President Mubarak in Ethiopia. Terrorists were responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings. There were several credible reports, however, that security forces were involved in what amounted to extrajudicial killings, because they allegedly were issued shoot-to-kill orders in certain antiterrorist operations. According to the Government, 71 prisoners died in custody in 1995, compared to 82 such deaths in 1994 and 97 deaths in 1993. Thirteen of the deaths occurred at the New Valley Prison which began receiving prisoners in February. The prison is located in a remote desert area and houses suspected and convicted terrorists. Authorities stated that the 13 inmates died of natural causes or as the result of hunger strikes. Human rights groups, family members, and defense lawyers alleged that at least some of the deaths were the result of torture and denial of food, water, and medical treatment. As evidence, they pointed to the prisoners' accounts of torture and the failure of prison authorities to provide a report on the cause of death. Authorities reportedly denied family members permission to view the bodies of their relatives. While denying charges of intentional mistreatment of prisoners, the Government stated that during a surprise inspection of the New Valley Prison in June, inspectors found that the medical facilities were deficient and ordered them brought up to standard. Other deaths in custody occurred in Istikbal Torah Prison and Abu Zaabal Prison. Government investigations concluded that the prisoners in those cases died of natural causes. In the case of Islamist lawyer Abdel Harith Madani, who died in police custody in April 1994, the Government stated that it had completed the investigation into his death but declined to publicize the results. In antiterrorist operations, the security forces killed approximately 181 suspected terrorists, some of them by the excessive use of lethal force. Three civilian bystanders were killed inadvertently by security forces. Five suspects died while attempting to escape arrest. Civilians killed two suspected terrorists, as well as six relatives of suspected extremists in apparent vendettas. Terrorist groups were responsible for the majority of the deaths in civil unrest. They killed approximately 200 people, compared to 141 in 1994. This total included approximately 107 police and security officers, as well as 89 civilians. Terrorists appeared to have increased their attacks on Christians, killing at least 30, including 6 in Minya Governorate in September. They also attacked churches and other properties owned by Christians. In June Egyptian terrorists attempted to assassinate President Mubarak while he was on a visit to Ethiopia. The President was unhurt in the attack, but his bodyguards and Ethiopian security forces returned fire killing several assailants.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. Of the 11 individuals that local human rights groups claimed had disappeared in 1994, 6 have since been located in detention facilities, but 5 remain missing. The Government has not responded to queries from human rights monitors regarding the 5 outstanding cases. There were no developments in the case of Mansur Kikhya, a former Libyan foreign minister under Colonel Al-Qadhafi and a prominent exiled dissident, who disappeared in Cairo in 1993. Observers believe that Libyan agents abducted Kikhya. His whereabouts are unknown.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits the infliction of "physical or moral harm" upon persons who have been arrested or detained. However, there is convincing evidence that some police and security officers, as well as prison guards, routinely abuse and torture detainees. Under the Penal Code, torture with the intent of obtaining a confession is punishable by 3 to 5 years imprisonment or hard labor, or execution if the torture results in the death of the victim. The mistreatment of a detainee falling short of torture is punishable by 1 year's imprisonment or a fine of $65. In addition, victims may bring a criminal or civil action for compensation against the responsible government agency. There is no statute of limitations in such cases. Despite these legal safeguards, there were numerous credible reports of mistreatment and torture. Police officials said that in some districts confessions in criminal cases were coerced because the courts rely heavily on confessions and eyewitness accounts. While the Government has investigated torture complaints in criminal cases and punished some offending officers, the punishments are not necessarily in line with the seriousness of the offense. In May the Minister of Interior stated that authorities investigated over 150 officers in the previous year on charges of torture and harsh treatment of citizens. Of those who were convicted, some were sentenced to prison, while others received administrative punishments. The Government has said that it will not disclose further details of individual cases of police abuse for fear of harming the morale of law enforcement officers waging the ongoing war against terrorists. Officers of the SSIS allegedly are responsible for most of the torture of suspected terrorists. Torture has reportedly taken place in police stations; SSIS offices, including its headquarters in Cairo; and at Central Security Force camps. Torture is used to extract information, coerce the victims to end their antigovernment activities, and deter others from such activities. Torture victims usually are taken to a SSIS office where they are handcuffed, blindfolded, and questioned about their associations, religious beliefs, and political views. Written records of detainees' whereabouts are not kept while in the custody of the state security police. The absence of such a record in the early days of detention invites abuse and effectively blocks the investigation of torture complaints. Records are maintained only after security forces deliver the detainee to a prison. The security forces also transfer detainees from prisons to other facilities where they are interrogated, tortured, and then returned to prison. No written records are kept on such transfers. Victims have reported the following torture methods: detainees are frequently stripped to their underwear; hung by their wrists with their feet touching the floor or forced to stand for prolonged periods; doused with hot and cold water; beaten; forced to stand outdoors in cold weather; and subjected to electric shocks. Some victims, including female detainees, report that they have been threatened with rape. In late 1994, public prosecutors charged a policeman with torture, unlawful detention, illegal entry, and excessive use of force in the case of Fateh Al-Bab Abdel Moneim who died in police custody in 1994. At year's end, the case was pending before the South Cairo Criminal Court. In early 1995, a local human rights group reported that Gamal EL-Shazly had been tortured on December 27, 1994, in a police station in Manshayit Nasser, a small town in southern Egypt. A representative from the group reportedly examined El-Shazly and found burns on his head and back. He notified the public prosecutor's office, which began an investigation. Information came to light during the year that in 1994 Saber Ahmed Mahmoud was beaten to death by four policemen. The Government later indicted the policemen, who were convicted, sentenced to 6 months' imprisonment, and ordered to make a small compensation payment to the victim's heirs. In their appeal, the defendants argued that the victim died from a preexisting medical condition. The prosecutor dropped homicide charges and recharged the defendants with excessive use of force. The court confirmed the convictions on the lesser charge and upheld the 6-month prison sentences. In April a court sentenced one police officer to 1 year in prison, two officers to 3 months, and acquitted two others in the 1994 death of Sayyed Hassan Fetouh Eleiwa. In November a court sentenced two police officers to 5 years at hard labor for the 1994 death of Hassan Salah Sayyed. State prosecutors ruled the 1994 death in custody of Eissa Taher Soliman a suicide and at year's end were still reviewing the 1994 death in custody of Amre Mohamed Safwat. There were no new developments in the case of Mohammed Abdel Hamid Hassan, who reportedly died in police custody in 1994. State prosecutors also closed the books on the following deaths in custody on grounds that the perpetrators could not be identified: Mohamed Abdel Hamid Hassan, Effat Mohamed Ali Wali, El-Mohammadi Mohamed Mohamed Mursi, and Mohamed Gomaa Abdel Sayyed El-Sudani. The completion of five new prisons has helped relieve pressure on the congested prison system. Nevertheless, overcrowding and unhealthy prison conditions are common. Prisoners have claimed that their cells are poorly ventilated, food is inadequate in quantity and nutritional value, and medical services were not always available. There were at least 71 reported deaths of persons in police custody (see Section 1.a.). Prisoners at two high security prisons, the New Valley Prison and Torah Prison, reported receiving a form of physical and psychological abuse upon their arrival at prison known as a "reception party." Under the supervision of a prison official and doctor, guards reportedly beat new arrivals for 30 minutes with fists and heavy plastic sticks. The inmates are then forced to crawl to their cells on their hands and knees. Other prisoners allege that they have been stripped to their underwear, forced to stand for prolonged periods in cold water, burnt with cigarettes, and subjected to electric shocks. Some claim that they have been threatened with rape or the rape of their relatives. The Ministry of Interior continued to ban visits by relatives and lawyers at Al-Aqrab Prison and Torah Istiqbal Prison, despite court orders annulling the bans. The bans have been in effect since December 1993 and September 1994, respectively. The Ministry justifies the bans as necessary to prevent cooperation between prisoners and terrorists still at large.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
As part of the Government's antiterrorist campaign, security forces conducted mass arrests and detained thousands of individuals without charge. These arrests were authorized under the provisions of the Emergency Law, which has been in effect since 1981. Under this law, the police may obtain an arrest warrant from the Ministry of Interior upon showing that an individual poses a danger to security and public order. This procedure nullifies the constitutional requirement of obtaining a warrant from a judge or prosecutor upon showing that an individual has likely committed a specific crime. The Emergency Law allows authorities to detain an individual without charge. After 30 days, a detainee has the right to demand a court hearing to challenge the legality of the detention order, and may resubmit his motion for a hearing at 1-month intervals thereafter. There is no maximum limit to the length of detention if the judge continues to uphold the legality of the detention order, or if the detainee fails to exercise his right to a hearing. Acting under the Emergency Law, security forces detained thousands of individuals suspected of having information about illegal organizations. In most cases, the individuals were released after several days, but in other instances, they were not released until after extended periods in detention. In January security forces conducted a large operation in the southern province of Minya, detaining over 3,000 young men on suspicion of having ties with the Islamic Group, a terrorist organization, or for failing to provide information about the Group. Almost all of the detainees were released by March without charges having been brought against them. From October 1994 to early 1995, the Government maintained a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Mallawi and several surrounding villages in Minya province. The Government stated that the curfew was necessary to maintain order and protect citizens from attacks by extremists. Human rights groups reported that nearly 200 persons detained under the Emergency Law have been incarcerated for several years without charge. The courts have ordered the release of several of these detainees, but prison officials have reportedly ignored the orders. Frequently, the Ministry of Interior reissues detention orders, sending detainees back to prison. From January through September, security forces detained over 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on suspicion of engaging in illegal political activities. The Brotherhood is an outlawed Islamist organization. The Political Parties Law of 1977 prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. The Government referred 82 of these Muslim Brotherhood detainees to trial in a military court on charges of membership in an illegal organization, maintaining links to terrorists, and plotting to overthrow the Government (see Section 1.e.). Several other detainees were released, but the remainder are still being held for investigation. In addition to the Emergency Law, the Penal Code also gives the State wide detention powers. Under the Penal Code prosecutors must bring charges within 48 hours or release the suspect. However, they may detain a suspect for a maximum of 6 months, pending investigation. Arrests under the Penal Code occur openly and with warrants issued by a district prosecutor or judge. There is a system of bail. The Penal Code contains several provisions to combat extremist violence. These provisions broadly define terrorism to include the acts of "spreading panic" and "obstructing the work of authorities." In January the Government released Adel Hussein, Secretary General of the Socialist Labor Party, who was detained for questioning in December 1994 concerning extremist publications allegedly found in his possession upon his return from a trip abroad. No charges were filed. In February the widow of Abdel Harith Al-Madani, a lawyer who died in custody under suspicious circumstances in 1994, was detained for 1 or 2 days. The detention came after an international human rights group published a report in which she alleged that the Government had harassed her and her family after the death of her husband. After her release, Mrs. Al-Madani declined to make further public comments on her husband's death. Government-controlled newspapers reported subsequently that she had denounced the human rights report and had denied that she had been detained. Official sources report the total prison population at approximately 33,000. Of these, 150 are convicted terrorists; 2,500 to 4,000 are suspected terrorists either charged and awaiting trial, or not charged and awaiting the results of investigations. By contrast, a local human rights group estimates that approximately 15,000 suspected terrorists are in detention. This estimate does do not include the undetermined number of detainees who have not been officially registered in the prison system (see Section 1.c.).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent and generally is credited with conducting fair trials. However, under the Emergency Law, cases involving terrorism and national security may be tried in military or State Security Courts, in which the accused do not receive all the Constitutional guarantees of the judicial system. There are three levels of regular criminal courts: primary courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation, the final stage of criminal appeal. The judicial system is based on the Napoleonic tradition; hence there are no juries. Criminal cases are heard by panels of three judges. Most trials are public, as required by the Constitution. Defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence under the Constitution, and have the right to be present at trial, consult with a lawyer in a timely way and at public expense if needed, present witnesses and evidence, and review government-held evidence. The Constitution provides for the independence and immunity of judges, and forbids interference by other authorities in the exercise of their judicial functions. The President appoints all judges upon recommendation of the Higher Judicial Council, a constitutional body composed of senior judges, lawyers, and law professors, and chaired by the president of the Court of Cassation. The Council regulates judicial promotions, salaries, transfers, and disciplinary actions. Defense lawyers generally agree that the regular judiciary respects the rights of the accused and exercises its independence. In the past, criminal court judges have dismissed cases where confessions were obtained by coercion. The Constitution provides detainees with the right to counsel, at state expense if necessary. In practice, most suspects are able to take advantage of this guarantee. The Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate provides free counsel to indigent defendants. However, detainees in certain high-security prisons alleged that they were denied access to counsel or such access was delayed until trial, thus denying counsel the time to prepare an adequate defense. Human rights groups and defense lawyers have claimed that the Government has intimidated lawyers representing terrorist suspects by detaining and questioning them on the activities of their clients. On one occasion in 1995, a human rights lawyer was detained and interrogated for 2 days by state security following his visit to the family of a detainee in Assiyut. The Government contends that some defense lawyers are suspected of collaborating in terrorist groups and that therefore the detention is legal. The use of military and state security tribunals under the Emergency Law has deprived hundreds of civilian defendants of their constitutional right to be tried by an "ordinary judge." In 1992, with extremist violence on the rise, the Government began trying cases of persons accused of terrorism and membership in terrorist groups before military tribunals. In 1993 the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the President may invoke the Emergency Law to refer any crime to a military court. From December 1994 to December 1995, the Government referred approximately 143 civilian defendants to the military courts. Of these, 61 were charged in three separate cases with committing or conspiring to commit terrorist acts. The courts sentenced 4 defendants to death, 41 to prison, and acquitted 16. In September the Government referred 49 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to a military court to stand trial on charges of engaging in illegal political activities, including contacts with terrorist groups. The defendants were not charged with any specific terrorist acts. The trials mark the first time since the mid-1960's that the Government has tried civilian defendants in a military court on political charges. In October the Government referred an additional 33 individuals, most of them Muslim Brotherhood members, to a military court on similar charges. The court handed down verdicts in both cases in November. It convicted 54 defendants, acquitted 27, and ordered the closing of the Brotherhood's headquarters office in Cairo. The court sentenced five prominent defendants to 5 years of hard labor. They are: Dr. Essam El-Erian, a former member of the People's Assembly and an official in the Egyptian Doctor's Syndicate; Mohammed El-Sayed Habib, a former member of the People's Assembly and president of the Assiyut University Faculty Club; Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, secretary general of the Arab Doctors' Federation; Mohammed Khairat El-Shater, chairman of the board of El-Mohandes Bank; and El-Sayed Mahmoud Ezzat, a professor of medicine at Zagzig University. Forty-nine other defendants received 3-year sentences. Defense lawyers walked out of the first trial, claiming that the trial of civilians by a military court was unconstitutional. They subsequently filed a petition with the Supreme Constitutional Court challenging the military court's jurisdiction. As of late December, the Supreme Court had not ruled on this petition. Meanwhile, the military court appointed other lawyers to replace those who walked out. A local human rights group that sent observers to the trials and interviewed defense lawyers stated that the lawyers lacked sufficient time to prepare their cases and were denied the opportunity to question key government witnesses thoroughly. The Government defends the use of military courts as necessary in terrorism cases, maintaining that trials in the civilian courts are protracted, and civilian judges and their families are vulnerable to terrorist threats. Some civilian judges have confirmed their fear of trying high visibility terrorism cases because of possible reprisal. The Government claims that civilian defendants receive fair trials in the military courts and enjoy the same rights as defendants in civilian courts. However, the military courts do not guarantee civilian defendants due process before an independent tribunal. While military judges are lawyers, they are also military officers appointed by the Minister of Defense and subject to military discipline. They are not independent or as qualified as civilian judges in applying the civilian penal code. There is no appellate process for verdicts issued by military courts; instead, verdicts are subject to a review by other military judges and confirmed by the President, who in practice usually delegates the review function to a senior military officer. Defense attorneys have complained that they have not been given sufficient time to prepare defenses and that judges tend to rush cases with many defendants. The State Security Courts share jurisdiction with military courts over crimes affecting national security. The President appoints judges to these courts from the civilian judiciary upon the recommendation of the Minister of Justice and, if he chooses to appoint military judges, the Minister of Defense. Verdicts cannot be appealed; sentences are subject to confirmation by the President. The President may alter or annul a decision of a State Security Court, including a decision to release a defendant. In 1995 State Security Courts tried at least 20 cases involving over 120 defendants charged with terrorist acts. There are no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Emergency Law has abridged the constitutional provisions regarding the right to privacy. Under the Constitution, homes, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication "shall have their own sanctity, and their secrecy shall be guaranteed." Police must obtain warrants before undertaking searches and wiretaps. Courts have dismissed cases in which warrants were issued without sufficient cause. Police officials who conduct searches without proper warrants are subject to criminal penalties, although these are seldom imposed. The Emergency Law empowers the Government to place wiretaps, intercept mail and search persons or places without warrants. Security agencies frequently place political activists, suspected subversives, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance, screen their correspondence (especially international mail), search them and their homes, and confiscate personal property. According to press reports and a local human rights group, in January security forces in Minya Province demolished the homes of 17 individuals who were suspected of membership in terrorist groups. The Government confirms that the demolitions took place, but maintains that they were not authorized. There were no further reports of similar demolitions.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. Citizens openly speak their views on a wide range of political and social issues, including vigorous criticism of the Government. There are significant limitations on freedom of the press. The Government owns most major daily newspapers and the President appoints their editors-in-chief. Although these papers generally follow the government line, they frequently criticize government policies. Opposition political parties publish their own papers but receive a subsidy from the Government and, in some cases, subsidies from foreign interests as well. Most are weeklies, with the exception of the centrist daily "Al-Wafd" and "Al-Shaab," the semi-weekly of the Islamist-oriented Social Labor Party All have small circulations. Opposition newspapers frequently publish tough criticism of the Government, inspiring rejoinders from the government-owned press. They also give greater prominence to human rights abuses than the state-run newspapers. All party newspapers are required by law to reflect the platform of their party. Some papers have been called to account when they have deviated from their party line. The Press Law stipulates fines or imprisonment for criticism of the President or a foreign head of state. In recent years, opposition party newspapers have, within limits, published articles critical of the President and foreign heads of state without being charged or harassed. Libel laws provide normal protection against malicious rumor mongering and unsubstantiated reporting. However, the penalties are so minimal and the judicial process so long and costly that individuals or officials who are wrongly defamed have no realistic legal recourse. This has given some opposition, and even government-controlled, newspapers license to publish rumors. On several occasions in 1995, the Government detained and interrogated several editors and journalists for publishing allegations of official misconduct and corruption. They were released within several hours. In June the Government obtained quick passage in the People's Assembly of legislation to stiffen penalties for criminal libel and broaden its definition. The Government introduced the amendments during an evening session without prior consultation with the Assembly. Passage was achieved after 2 hours of debate. The change allows the police to detain offending editors or journalists under normal criminal procedures. However, the vagueness of the definition of criminal libel imposes severe limitations on press freedom. The new law makes it a crime to publish news that may lead to "public panic," or "harms national interests," or "ridicules state institutions or the officials governing those institutions." Opposition to the new law was led by the Press Syndicate, which is dominated by the ruling party. The Syndicate declared its "outrage" and unsuccessfully urged the President not to sign the measure into law. In response to this opposition, the Government stated that it would suspend the implementation of the law, pending a review by a committee of interested parties. Nonetheless, in September security forces detained and the prosecutor charged with libel under the new law the editor-in-chief of Al-Shaab, the Labor Party's newspaper, in connection with an article critical of a cabinet minister's son. In December a journalist and his editor at the opposition paper Al-Ahali were sentenced by a criminal court to two year's imprisonment and fines of approximately US$ 15,000 for an article about a police raid. Various ministries are authorized to ban or confiscate books and other works of art upon obtaining a court order. In addition, the Ministry of Interior regularly confiscates leaflets and other works by Muslim fundamentalists. During the year, the Ministry prevented the public sale of audio cassette tapes by fundamentalist imams whose preachings were extreme and in some cases advocated violence against non-Muslims, apostates, and the government. The Ministry of Defense also may ban works about sensitive security issues. Plays and films must pass Ministry of Culture censorship tests as scripts and as final productions. Many plays and films, highly critical of the Government and its policies, are not censored. In August the Ministry temporarily banned a play, "The Constitution, Gentlemen," when actors began diverging from the script to make illegal satirical references to President Mubarak and senior government officials. The Ministry removed the ban after obtaining a pledge from the acting troupe to abide by the script. The Ministry of Culture also censors foreign films for viewing in theaters, but it is more lenient when the same films are released in video cassette format. Government censors ensure that foreign films made in Egypt portray Egypt in a favorable light. Censors review scripts before filming, are present during filming, and have the right to review the film before it is sent out of Egypt. The Ministry of Information owns and operates all domestic television productions and has the right to censor foreign news publications. The Ministry seldom exercises its right. However, the Ministry banned three issues of the English-language weekly, "The Middle East Times," in 1995. Those issues contained articles on allegations of human rights violations; one article reported that security forces had detained the widow of Abdel Harith Al-Madani (see Sections 1.a. and 1.d.). The Islamic Research Institute at Al-Azhar University has legal authority to censor, but not to confiscate, all publications dealing with the Koran and Islamic scriptural texts. In recent years the Institute has passed judgment on the suitability of nonreligious books and artistic productions. In January an administrative court ruled that the sole authority to prohibit publication or distribution of books and other works of art resides with the Ministry of Culture. This decision voided a 1994 advisory opinion by a judiciary council that had expanded Al-Azhar's censorship authority to include visual and audio artistic works. In the past, President Mubarak has publicly approved Al-Azhar's censorship role, but in 1994 he stated that the Government would not allow confiscation of books from the market without a court order. The Government does not directly restrict academic freedom at universities. However, some university professors claim that the Government tightened its control over universities in 1994 when a law was passed authorizing university presidents to appoint the deans of the various faculties. Under the previous law, faculty deans were elected by their peers. The Government has justified the measure as a means to combat Islamist influence on campus. As in recent years, moderate Muslims and secularist writers have found themselves under attack by Islamic extremists. In March an appeals court overturned a court-ordered ban on the film "The Emigrant." In 1994 a group of Islamist lawyers brought suit against the film, arguing that it violated Islamic tenets in its portrayal of the life of the prophet Joseph. The plaintiffs have filed a new suit against the film; nonetheless, the film is still being shown in Egypt. Hearings in the court case of Cairo University professor Nasser Abu Zeid continued into 1996. For the last several years, Islamic fundamentalist lawyers have asked the courts to rule that Abu Zeid is an apostate because of his controversial views regarding the origin of the Koran, and order him to live separately from his wife. The petitioners argued that as an apostate, Abu Zeid should not be allowed to remain married to a Muslim woman in a Muslim country. After a lower court threw out this suit, an appellate court in June gave the plaintiffs standing to pursue their suit. Jurists and secular intellectuals criticized the court's decision as an infringement on the principle of privacy and freedom of expression. The Government has joined Abu Zeid in his appeal. Meanwhile, Abu Zeid and his wife are residing together abroad.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Substantial restrictions on these freedoms continue. Under a 1923 law, citizens must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior before holding public meetings, rallies, and protest marches. Permits are generally granted for rallies held indoors or on university campuses. The police broke up several political rallies in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities during the parliamentary election campaigns in November. The authorities claimed that the organizers, who in most cases were opposition party candidates or independents, lacked the requisite permits. Under Law 32 of 1964, the Ministry of Social Affairs has extensive authority over Egyptian "associations and private foundations," including the right to license and dissolve them, confiscate their properties, appoint members to their boards, and intercede in other administrative matters. Licenses may be revoked if such organizations engage in political or religious activities. The law authorizes the Ministry to "merge two or more associations to achieve a similar function," a provision that may be used to merge an undesirable organization out of existence. Since 1985 the Government has refused under Law 32 to license the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) on grounds that they are political organizations. Nevertheless, both continue to operate openly (see Section 4). Similarly, the request made by Amnesty International (AI) in 1990 for legal status for its local chapter is still pending with the Government. Under 1993 legislation on professional syndicates, an association must elect its governing board by at least 50 percent of its general membership. Failing a quorum, a second election must be held in which at least 33 percent of the membership votes for the board. If such a quorum is impossible, the judiciary may appoint a caretaker board until new elections can be set. The law was adopted to prevent well organized minorities, specifically Islamists, from capturing or retaining the leadership of professional syndicates. Members of these syndicates have reported that Islamists have used such irregular electoral techniques as physically blocking polling places, and limiting or changing the location of polling sites.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites. However, there are important limitations. Most Egyptians are Muslim, but at least 10 per cent of the population, 5.5 million people, belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. There are other small Christian denominations, as well as a Jewish community numbering fewer than 50. For the most part, members of the non-Muslim minority worship without harassment and maintain links with co-religionists abroad. Under the Constitution, however, Islam is the official state religion and primary source of legislation. Accordingly, religious practices that conflict with Islamic law are prohibited. For example, it is a crime for non-Muslims to proselytize. At least 5 Christians were detained in 1994 and 1995 under this law. All were released after spending several weeks in detention. Similarly, Muslims face legal problems if they convert to another faith. Authorities have charged a few converts to Christianity under provisions of the Penal Code which prohibit the use of religion to "ignite strife, degrade any of the heavenly religions or harm national unity or social peace." In other cases, authorities have charged such persons with violating laws against falsifying documents, since Muslim converts to Christianity sometimes attempt to change their names and religious affiliation on their identification cards and other official documentation to reflect their conversion. These laws were upheld in a 1980 court decision. At least four individuals were detained in late 1994 and during 1995 under these laws and released. There were credible reports that State Security officers in Cairo detained, interrogated, and in at least one case, physically abused, several Christians and converts to Christianity in an effort to obtain information about the identities and activities of other converts. At least one of these cases was brought to higher authorities and is under review. An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain what is now a presidential decree to build or repair a place of worship. Coptic Christians maintain that they frequently have been unable to obtain such authorization, that such permits have been delayed, or that they have been blocked by the security forces from using the authorizations that have been issued. In January the press reported the arrest of three Christians in Alexandria for making unauthorized repairs to the bathroom of their church. As a result of these restrictions, some communities have been using private buildings and apartments for religious services. Since 1992, the situation has improved somewhat as the Government has increased the number of building permits issued to Christian communities to an average of more than 20 per year, compared to the average of 5 permits issued annually in the 1980's. Most permits appear to be for the repair of existing structures and not for new construction of churches, however. While Christian and Muslim reformers urge the abolition of the Ottoman decree, Islamists who oppose the spread of Christianity in Egypt defend the building restrictions. In 1994 the Alexandria government closed two buildings near the city which had been used by Coptic Evangelical Christians since 1990 for church activities. The Government claims that the church lacked a building permit. Lawyers for the church point out that the closures violated previous court rulings upholding the right to conduct religious services in private buildings without prior government approval. They also pointed out that the closed buildings were located in an area where unlicensed buildings are common. At year's end, the case remained with an administrative court in Alexandria. The Government continued to make efforts to extend legal controls to all mosques, which by law must be licensed. The Government appoints and pays the salaries of the imams officiating in mosques, and proposes themes for and monitors sermons. Of the country's approximately 70,000 mosques, nearly half remain unlicensed and operate outside the control of government authorities. In an effort to combat Islamic extremists, the Government announced that it intended to bring 10,000 unauthorized mosques under its control this year.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens and foreigners are free to travel within Egypt except in certain military areas. Males who have not completed compulsory military service may not travel abroad or emigrate, although this restriction can be deferred or bypassed. Unmarried women under 21 must have permission from their fathers to obtain passports and travel; married women require the same permission from their husbands. Citizens who leave the country have the right to return. In May and June, the Ministry of Interior refused a request for permission to travel by Omar Abdel Kafi, a preacher at a mosque in Cairo who had been banned from preaching because of his alleged extremist views. In recent years, the Government has denied permission to a small number of Christian converts from Islam to travel abroad. In October 1994, security officials arrested Ibrahim Sharaf Al-Din, an Egyptian convert, at Cairo airport as he attempted to enter Egypt from Kenya, where he had been granted asylum and resided with his family since the early 1980's. Al-Din was imprisoned for 8 months while prosecutors investigated the circumstances of his conversion. He was released without charge in June, but at year's end was unable to depart Egypt because, according to the Government, the prosecutor's case against him is still pending. The deportation of citizens and aliens granted political asylum is prohibited and is not practiced. Egypt hosts thousands of refugees, but only a few are officially allowed to resettle permanently.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) dominates the 454-seat People's Assembly, the Shura Council, local governments, the mass media, labor, the large public sector, and the licensing of new political parties, newspapers, and private organizations to such an extent that, as a practical matter, citizens do not have a meaningful ability to change their government. In 1993 President Hosni Mubarak was elected unopposed to a third 6-year term by the People's Assembly. In October of that year, his reelection was approved by 96 percent of the voters in a national referendum. Under the Constitution, the electorate is not presented with a choice among competing presidential candidates. Two opposition parties urged the public to boycott the referendum, and two other parties urged the public to vote against the President. The other opposition parties endorsed the President's candidacy. An election for the 454-seat People's Assembly was held in November. Run-offs took place in December. In the final tally, the NDP won 317 seats, independents 114, and opposition parties 13. After the second round, 99 of the independents applied to join the NDP, but the party accepted only 11 applicants. One Muslim Brother, running as an independent, was elected. After the election he joined the Socialist Labor Party. The election drew an unprecedented 4,000 candidates and a strong measure of public interest. It also brought an unprecedented level of campaigning by all candidates, including those with assumed safe seats. Both rounds of voting were marred by irregularities, many of which appeared to result from either inadequate crowd control at polling centers or a breakdown in the oversight system, which was designed to ensure the inviolability of the ballot boxes. Violent incidents, mostly among supporters of competing candidates, resulted in about 20 deaths. After the first round, over 100 losing candidates filed complaints in the Administrative Courts, alleging ballot-stuffing and other irregularities. The courts agreed with many of these claims and invalidated several first-round results. At year's end, the Higher Administrative Court in Cairo was considering about 100 cases on appeal. This court has the authority to rule on whether irregularities took place, but may not remove an elected member of the Assembly. The Assembly debates government proposals, and members exercise their authority to call cabinet ministers to explain policy. The executive initiates almost all legislation. Nevertheless, the Assembly maintains the authority to challenge or restrain the executive in the areas of economic and social policy, but it may not modify the budget except with the Government's approval. The Assembly exercises limited influence in the areas of security and foreign policy, and there is little oversight of the Interior Ministry's use of Emergency Law powers. Many executive branch initiatives and policies are carried out by regulation through ministerial decree without legislative oversight. The military budget is prepared by the executive and not debated publicly. Roll-call votes in the assembly are rare. Votes are generally reported in aggregate terms of yeas and nays, and thus constituents have no independent method of checking a member's voting record. There are 15 recognized opposition parties. The law empowers the Government to bring felony charges against those who form a party without a license. New parties must be approved by the Parties Committee, a semi-official body including a substantial majority of members from the ruling NDP and some members from among the independents and opposition parties. Decisions of the Parties Committee may be appealed to the civil courts. In 1995 the Parties Committee rejected the application for one new party, the Egyptian Republican Party; a second, the Equality Party, was approved on a court appeal. Appeals of rejections of seven other parties are pending before a court. According to the law, which prohibits political parties based on religion, the Muslim Brotherhood is an illegal political organization. However, Muslim Brothers are publicly known and openly speak their views, but have come under increasing pressure from the Government (see Sections 1.d. and 1.e.). Some have served in the Assembly as independents or as members of other recognized parties. Critics maintain that the Government's campaign of arrests of Muslim Brothers was designed to exclude the Brotherhood from the legislative elections. The Constitution reserves 10 Assembly seats for presidential appointees, which the President traditionally has used to assure representation for Coptic Christians and women. Five women and no Copts were elected in November. However, of the 10 presidential appointments, 6 were Copts and 4 were women. The National Democratic Party had no Coptic candidates.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government refuses to license local human rights groups as private entities under Law 32 of 1964 (see Section 2.b.). Since 1986 the Government has refused to license the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) on grounds that it is a political organization and duplicates the activities of an existing, although moribund, human rights group (see Section 2.b.). The EOHR has appealed the denial in the courts, and continues to conduct activities openly, pending a final judicial determination of its status. The Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), EOHR's parent organization, has a long-standing request for registration as a foreign organization with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry has not approved the request thus far, stating that the issue is dependent on the outcome of efforts within the League of Arab States to establish a human rights body. A request by Amnesty International (AI) for legal status for its local chapter has been pending with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 5years. In the meantime it is allowed to conduct limited activities. Despite their nonrecognition, the EOHR and other groups sometimes enjoy the cooperation of government officials. The Government allows EOHR field workers to visit prisons, to call on some government officials, and to receive funding from foreign human rights organizations. In August a senior government official met with leaders of the major human rights groups in Egypt for the first time to exchange views in what the groups hope will become a continuing dialogue. On the other hand, on at least six occasions during the year the Government banned meetings of human rights groups or denied permits for them to hold conferences. In May the Government denied permission for a video training workshop for regional human rights activists sponsored by EOHR and the U.S.-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. The Government denied the U.S. group permission to hold the workshop after its representatives had already traveled to Egypt. Other human rights organizations, such as the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid, are registered with the Government as corporations under commercial or civil law, thus avoiding the obstacles posed by Law 32 (see Section 2.b.). In January the Ministry of Justice issued a nonbinding advisory ruling stating that such organizations properly should be considered nongovernmental organizations as defined by Law 32 and registered accordingly, or face punitive action. Human rights advocates expressed their concern that this opinion, as well as a hostile press campaign against these groups by the government-controlled press, verbal attacks by senior government officials, and occasional bans on meetings by the organizations, may presage a move to close them down. However, the Government did not close down any group during the year.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equality of the sexes and equal treatment of non-Muslims, but aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women and Christians.
Family violence against women occurs and is reflected in press accounts of specific incidents. Official or nonofficial quantitative data do not exist. In general, the intervention of neighbors and extended family members tends to limit the prevalence and scope of such violence. Abuse within the family is rarely discussed publicly, owing to the value attached to privacy in this traditional society. Several nongovernmental organizations have begun offering counseling, legal aid, and other services to women who are victims of domestic violence. The law provides for equality of the sexes, but aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women. By law, women need their husbands' or fathers' permission to obtain a passport or travel abroad (see Section 2.d.). Only males can confer citizenship. In rare cases, this means that children born to Egyptian mothers and stateless fathers are themselves stateless. Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally correspond to an individual's religion, which for most Egyptians is Islam. A 1979 liberalization of the Family Status Law strengthening a Muslim woman's rights to divorce and child custody was repealed in 1985 after it was found unconstitutional for conflicting with Islamic law. However, in August a proposed new marriage contract won the support of Egypt's highest religious figure, the last major step before the Government can adopt it. The contract, which applies only to Muslims and would replace the current one drafted in 1931, stipulates negotiations between the partners to agree on the terms of the marriage, including the woman's right to work, study and travel abroad, as well as the man's right to take another wife. The contract also proposes agreement on division of property and financial settlement in the event of divorce. Under the contract, the bases for the wife's right to request a divorce would be broadened to include the husband's violation of any of the terms under the new contract. Under Islamic law, non-Muslim males must convert to Islam to marry Muslim women, but non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Muslim female heirs receive half the amount of a male heir's inheritance, while Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half her parents' estate; the balance goes to designated male relatives. A sole male heir inherits all his parents' property. Male Muslim heirs have the duty to provide for all family members who need assistance. Women have employment opportunities in government, medicine, law, academia, the arts, and, to a lesser degree, in business. Three women are in the Cabinet. Over 100 officers in the Egyptian diplomatic service are women, including 6 ambassadors. There are no female judges. Although there is no legal basis to prohibit female judges, a woman under consideration for promotion to magistrate was denied the promotion on the basis of gender in 1993 and is suing the Government. Social pressure against women pursuing a career is strong, and some Egyptian feminists say that a resurgent Islamic fundamentalist trend limits further gains. Women's rights advocates also point to other discriminatory traditional or cultural attitudes and practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and the traditional male relative's role in enforcing chastity and appropriate sexual conduct. There are a growing number of active women's rights groups working in diverse areas, including reforming the Personal Status Code, educating women on their legal rights, combating FGM and rewriting the marriage contract.
The Government remains committed to the protection of children's welfare within the limits of its budgetary resources. Many of the resources for children's welfare are provided by international donors, especially in the field of child immunization. Child labor is widespread, despite the Government's commitment to eradicate it. In education, the Government treats boys and girls equally at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. FGM is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. Statistics on the prevalence of FGM vary, but government and private sources agree it is common among 70 to 80 per cent of rural and poor urban women. The act is generally performed on girls between the ages of 7 and 10, probably with equal prevalence among Muslims and Coptic Christians. A 1959 decree and subsequent amendments, which described FGM as "psychologically harmful," limited the practice to excision. However, the more drastic infibulation is practiced in some parts of southern Egypt. The decree prohibited doctors from performing the excision in government health facilities; however, following public outcry in 1994 over a foreign television broadcast of the circumcision of a 9-year-old girl by a barber, the Minister of Health decreed that FGM should be performed 1 day per week in government facilities only by trained medical personnel. In announcing the decision, the Minister argued that making the practice illegal would only drive it underground; that it could be eliminated only by a sustained educational campaign; and that in the meantime it should be performed in clean, safe circumstances. Current law stipulates penalties for nonmedical practitioners of FGM. A barber was arrested in May for the death of a 10-year-old girl whom he had circumcised, the second such death in the child's family at his hands. However, the law does not stipulate punishment for parents who violate the law. The Government broadcasts television programs condemning the practice, and a number of NGO's work actively to educate the public of the health hazards attached to the practice. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, head of the world's oldest institution of Islamic learning, issued a decree in 1994 declaring FGM a religiously mandated duty. His ruling is opposed by another religious leader, the Grand Mufti, who is the official representative of Islam in the Government. Nonetheless, the Sheikh's ruling may hamper government education efforts.
People with Disabilities
There are approximately 5.7 million disabled persons, of whom 1.5 million are severely disabled. The Government makes serious efforts to address their rights. It works closely with United Nations agencies and other international aid donors to design job-training programs for the disabled. The Government also seeks to increase the public's awareness of the capabilities of the disabled in television programming, the print media, and in educational material in public schools. By law, all businesses must designate 5 percent of their jobs for the disabled, who are exempt from normal literacy requirements. Although there is no legislation mandating access to public accommodations and transportation, the disabled may ride government-owned mass transit buses without charge, are given priority in obtaining telephones, and receive reductions on customs duties for private vehicles.
The Constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on religion. For the most part these constitutional protections are upheld by the Government. Yet, discriminatory practices against Christians still exist. The approximately 5.5 million Coptic Christians are the objects of occasional violent assaults by Muslim extremists. During the year, extremists were responsible for killing at least 30 Copts, most in the Minya governorate in upper Egypt, where about 30 to 40 percent of the inhabitants are Christian. According to a senior police official in Minya, the extremists were carrying out a plan to assassinate prominent Coptic leaders. Many Copts in Minya still fear for their safety. Extremists also have obstructed church repairs and construction and harassed Copt-owned businesses. Some Christians have complained that the Government is lax in protecting Coptic lives and property. Security forces arrest extremists who perpetrate violence against Copts, but some members of the Coptic community do not believe that the Government is vigorous in its efforts to prevent the attacks and does little to correct nonviolent forms of discrimination, including its own. There were several credible reports of forced conversions of Coptic children to Islam, allegedly carried out by Muslim extremists. In one case, the father of a 15-year-old girl wrote to the Speaker of the Shura Council seeking his help in obtaining the return of his daughter, whom he claimed had been abducted by the Islamic Group in 1992 and forced to convert to Islam. He claimed that the local government had refused to help him. Government discriminatory practices include: suspected statistical underrepresentation of the size of the Christian population; anti-Christian discrimination in education; a public school ban on the hiring of Christian Arabic teachers as the curriculum involves the study of the Koran; the production of some Islamic television programs with anti-Christian themes; job discrimination in the public sector, the police, the armed forces, and other government agencies; reported discrimination against Christians in admission to state medical schools; and underrepresentation in government. Although there are two Coptic Christians in the Cabinet, there are no Coptic governors and no Copts in the upper ranks of the military, police, or diplomatic service. The ruling NDP nominated no Coptic candidates in the November parliamentary election.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers may join trade unions but are not required to do so. A union local, or workers' committee, may be formed if 50 employees express a desire to organize. Most union members, about 25 per cent of the labor force, are employed by state-owned enterprises. The law stipulates that "high administrative" officials in government and the public sector may not join unions. There are 23 industrial unions, all required to belong to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the sole legally recognized labor federation. The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts (COE) repeatedly has emphasized that a law requiring all trade unions to belong to a single federation infringes on the freedom of association. The Government has shown no sign that it intends to accept the establishment of more than one federation. The ETUF leadership asserts that it actively promotes worker interests and that there is no need for another federation. ETUF officials have close relations with the NDP, and some are members of the People's Assembly and the Shura Council. They speak vigorously on behalf of worker concerns, but public confrontations between ETUF and the Government are rare. Disputes are more often resolved by consensus behind closed doors. Some unions within ETUF are affiliated with international trade union organizations. Others are in the process of doing so. The Government is currently reviewing a new labor law for submission to the People's Assembly. The law is expected to be debated in the spring of 1996. The proposed law provides statutory authorization for the rights to strike and to collective bargaining. Under current labor laws such rights are not adequately guaranteed. Even though the right to strike is not guaranteed, strikes occur. The Government considers strikes a form of public disturbance and hence illegal. Several strikes occurred in 1995 at both private- and public-sector companies. In August workers at a government-owned automobile factory staged a 3-day sit-in strike to protest a proposed cut in benefits. Although security forces appeared on the scene, no violence was reported, and the parties eventually reached a settlement.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The draft labor law provides statutory authorization for collective bargaining. Under the current law, unions may negotiate work contracts with public sector enterprises if the latter agrees to such negotiations, but unions otherwise lack collective bargaining power in the state sector. Under current circumstances, collective bargaining does not exist in any meaningful sense because the Government sets wages, benefits, and job classifications by law. Larger firms in the private sector generally adhere to such government-mandated standards. Labor law and practice are the same in the export processing zones as in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The criminal code authorizes sentences of hard labor for some crimes.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The minimum ages for employment are 12 in non-agricultural and 6 in agricultural work. Education is compulsory until age 15. An employee must be at least age 15 to join a labor union. The Labor Law of 1981 states that children age 12 to 15 may work 6 hours a day but not after 7 p.m. and not in dangerous or physically demanding activities. Child workers must obtain medical certificates and work permits before they are employed. The Minister of Health disclosed that 2 million children between the ages of 6 and 15 are employed. A 1989 study estimated that perhaps 720,000 children work on farms. However, children also work as apprentices in repair and craft shops, in heavier industries such as brickmaking and textiles, and as workers in leather factories and carpet-making. While local trade unions report that the Ministry of Labor adequately enforces the labor laws in state-owned enterprises, enforcement in the private sector, especially in family-owned enterprises, is lax.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
For government and public-sector employees, the minimum wage is approximately $20 (about 65 Egyptian pounds) a month for a 6-day, 48-hour workweek. Base pay is supplemented by a complex system of fringe benefits and bonuses that may double or triple a worker's take-home pay. It is doubtful that the average family could survive on a worker's base pay at the minimum wage rate. The minimum wage is also legally binding on the private sector, and larger private companies generally observe the requirement and pay bonuses as well. Smaller firms do not always pay the minimum wage or bonuses. The Ministry of Labor sets worker health and safety standards, which also apply in the export processing zones, but enforcement and inspection are uneven. The law prohibits employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions and provides legal recourse for employees who are asked to work in such conditions.