Amnesty International Report 2005 - Egypt
|Publication Date||25 May 2005|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2005 - Egypt , 25 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/429b27df2.html [accessed 14 February 2016]|
Covering events from January - December 2004
At least 34 people were killed and more than a hundred others injured in car bomb attacks in the Sinai region in October. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people were arrested in connection with the attacks. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continued to operate under the restrictive NGO law introduced in 2002.
Scores of members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization were arrested; several of them remained 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 without charge or trial; some had been held for years.
Torture and ill-treatment in detention continued to be systematic. Deaths in custody were reported. In the majority of torture cases, the perpetrators were not brought to justice. Death sentences continued to be passed and carried out.
The state of emergency remained in place. In January the Shura Council, Egypt's Upper House, announced the creation of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) headed by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The body was mandated to receive complaints, advise the government and publish annual reports on the human rights situation in Egypt. It was received with scepticism by some national human rights groups. The NCHR communicated a number of complaints it received to the government and planned to issue its first annual report early in 2005 with recommendations on emergency legislation and amendments to preventive detention legislation, among other things.
In June the European Union-Egypt Association Council meeting took place within the framework of the Euro-Med Association Agreement, which entered into force earlier in the month. The Agreement contains, under Article 2, a legally binding clause obliging the contracting parties to promote and protect human rights.
The ruling National Democratic Party won the vast majority of seats in mid-term elections to the Shura Council in May. In July President Mubarak appointed a new government, including a new prime minister. The government approved the creation of two new political parties (al-Ghad and al-Dusturi), but refused to approve at least two others (al-Wasat and al-Karama).
Several hundred alleged members of the armed Islamist group al-Gama'a al-Islamiya were reportedly released in November. The releases were believed to have followed public renunciation of acts of violence, particularly by leading members of the group. Most of those released had reportedly been serving prison terms of between five and 10 years.
'War on terror'
Bomb attacks on the Hilton hotel in Taba and two backpackers' camps in Ras Shitani in Sinai region on 7 October killed at least 34 people and injured more than a hundred. Following the attacks, a large number of people were arrested in North Sinai in the latter half of October. Estimates of those arrested in connection with the attacks differed sharply; while official reports limited the number to 800, some national NGOs put the number of arrests at 3,000. Many of those released in November reported that they were tortured. Allegations of torture included beatings, suspension by the wrists or ankles and electric shocks. The vast majority of those still in custody at the end of the year were reportedly held incommunicado in State Security Intelligence (SSI) centres, including the SSI headquarters in Lazoghly Square, Cairo, where torture was frequently reported. Scores of complaints about the detention order of those arrested were addressed to the Public Prosecutor; 15 people received a ruling ordering their release in December, but only six were known to have been freed by the end of the year.
Prisoners of conscience
Prisoners of conscience continued to be arrested and sentenced for their peacefully held views.
- In March the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court in Cairo sentenced 26 prisoners of conscience, including three Britons, to prison terms of between one and five years. They were charged in connection with their alleged affiliation with the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami), which was not registered. Following their arrest in April and May 2002, several of the men were held incommunicado for weeks and reportedly tortured. The (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court is an exceptional court that violates international fair trial standards and denies defendants the rights of appeal.
Update: Ashraf Ibrahim
In March prisoner of conscience Ashraf Ibrahim, an active member of the anti-war movement formed to oppose the war on Iraq, was acquitted of all charges by the (Emergency) Supreme State Security Court. He had been detained in April 2003.
Torture and ill-treatment
Torture continued to be used systematically in detention centres throughout the country. Several people died in custody in circumstances suggesting that torture or ill-treatment may have caused or contributed to their deaths.
- Several members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization were reportedly tortured for several days after being taken from Mazra'at Tora Prison, where they were held in preventive detention, to the SSI branch in Madinat Nasr, Cairo. They were reportedly beaten, suspended by the wrists or ankles and given electric shocks; some of them reportedly sustained broken bones and ribs as a result. They were among 60 members of the organization arrested in the run-up to the May elections to the Shura Council. They were accused of affiliation to an unauthorized organization, possession of anti-government leaflets and working to overthrow the government by force, among other offences. Several others were also apparently denied medical attention in prison; one prisoner reportedly died as a result.
- Akram Zohairy, aged 42, who had diabetes, reportedly sustained a broken foot while being transported back to prison in a police van after interrogation. Despite his condition, he was reportedly denied adequate medical attention for several days and died hours after being moved to hospital late on 8 June. Following his death, members of a parliamentary committee visited the detainees to investigate allegations of torture and later confirmed these allegations. The detention order for the group was renewed several times before all of them were released without charge in November.
In the vast majority of cases of alleged torture, no one was brought to justice because the authorities failed to conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigations. However, some trials of alleged torturers did take place, but only in criminal, not political cases. Compensation was provided in some cases of torture.
Update: Muhammad Badr al-Din Gum'a Isma'il
In March, the Alexandria Criminal Court sentenced three police officers to one year's imprisonment and dismissal from their functions for a period of two years. Following an appeal by defence lawyers, they were referred to a disciplinary court, which issued an additional order for their complete dismissal. Three others were acquitted. They were all tried in connection with the arrest, detention and torture of school bus driver Muhammad Badr al-Din Gum'a Isma'il in 1996.
Human rights defenders
Several organizations, including the Egyptian Association Against Torture and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, continued legal proceedings to appeal against the Ministry of Social Affairs' decision to refuse them registration as NGOs. Under a 2002 law regulating NGO activities, NGOs have to apply to the Ministry of Social Affairs to officially register. Those whose applications are rejected and who continue to operate are liable to prosecution.
- The Cairo-based Nadim Centre for the Psychological Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence was apparently targeted by the authorities because of its human rights work. The Centre was visited by two inspection committees from the Ministry of Health in July and August and accused of a number of breaches, including carrying out unauthorized activities as a medical institution. Under the Law on Medical Institutions, the Centre had 30 days to rectify these breaches or face closure. However, the authorities did not take any action following the visit of the second committee in August and at the end of the year the Centre was continuing to work, uncertain of its future.
Restrictions on freedom of expression
People continued to be at risk of detention, trial and imprisonment in violation of their right to freedom of religion and expression. In June al-Azhar Islamic Research Council, the country's leading religious institution, was granted wide-ranging powers to ban and confiscate material it considers violates religious principles, raising concerns of further curtailment of freedom of expression. Despite President Mubarak's introduction in February of a Bill abolishing prison terms for publishing offences, journalists continued to be imprisoned, threatened and beaten.
- 'Abd al-Halim Qandeel, editor of the opposition newspaper al-'Araby and known critic of the government, was reportedly assaulted by men in civilian clothes as he was returning home early on the morning of 2 November. He reported that he was gagged and blindfolded, beaten and stripped before being dumped on the main motorway between Cairo and Suez. The attack was believed to be an attempt by the authorities to silence his criticisms as part of the "popular movement for change" which called, among other things, for constitutional reform and the lifting of the state of emergency.
Trials of civilians before courts established under emergency legislation, including state security courts, continued to take place. Cases involving national security or "terrorism"-related charges were often tried before military courts. These courts deny the right to an independent and impartial trial as well as the right of full review before a higher tribunal.
- In April, Ahmed Hussein Agiza was sentenced to 25 years in prison after an unfair trial before the Supreme Military Court. He had been forcibly returned to Egypt from Sweden in December 2001. After his return, he was held for more than a month in incommunicado detention and reportedly tortured, despite assurances allegedly given to the Swedish government by the Egyptian authorities that he would not be ill-treated. In June, President Mubarak reduced the sentence to 15 years. In December, the Swedish government reportedly admitted having received information that Ahmed Hussein Agiza had been tortured in Egypt. Ahmed Hussein Agiza was initially convicted in absentia in 1999 for his alleged links with an armed Islamist group; his second trial in 2004 constituted a retrial.
The authorities reportedly requested the extradition of Egyptian nationals from several countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Uruguay and Yemen. As a result, some people were threatened with extradition or were forcibly returned to Egypt, where they were at risk of human rights violations, including torture or ill-treatment.
- In February, the Yemeni authorities handed over 15 Egyptian nationals including Dr Sayyid 'Abd al-Aziz Imam al-Sharif, Muhammed 'Abd al-Aziz al-Gamal and Uthman al-Samman. The last two had been sentenced to death in absentia in 1999 and 1994 respectively. The fate and whereabouts of those returned were not known to AI or, reportedly, to their families and friends. Their extradition was reportedly in exchange for the return of the Yemeni opposition figure, Colonel Ahmed Salem Obeid. They had been held in Sana'a, Yemen, by Political Security, the branch of the security forces which deals with political and security suspects (see Yemen entry).
Death sentences continued to be passed and carried out. Many people remained under sentence of death. The local NGO community started a debate on the future of the death penalty in the country.
- Six members of a family known as 'Abd al-Halim were reportedly hanged in Qina Prison in Qina, Upper Egypt, in September. They had been sentenced to death for the killing of 22 members of a rival clan in August 2002 in Sohag, Upper Egypt.
With the deterioration of the situation in Darfur in western Sudan and the ongoing peace negotiations regarding southern Sudan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-Cairo decided to freeze individual determination status for Sudanese asylum-seekers for six months starting on 1 June, pending developments in Sudan. In August, 23 Sudanese refugees were reportedly arrested following a demonstration to protest against this decision. Those arrested were accused of rioting and damaging public property; they were all released in September. UNHCR-Cairo continued to provide protection against forcible return and provided all Sudanese asylum-seekers with temporary protection cards.
AI country visits
In May AI delegates met refugee and asylum-seeking families, UNHCR representatives and organizations working on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers. The visit focused on access to primary education for refugee and asylum-seeking children.
AI organized a regional consultative workshop in Cairo on media and violence against women in the Middle East and North Africa.