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Journalist and other peaceful critics arrested in clampdown on dissent; security forces raid book fair booth, confiscate literature

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a Human Rights Watch press release:

Egypt: Peaceful Critics Arrested in Clampdown on Dissent
Mubarak Government Should Release Detained Parliamentarian, Activists

(New York, February 4, 2005) - The Egyptian government should immediately release a member of parliament and other peaceful critics arrested in recent days on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Hosni Mubarak. The president should instruct security officials to cease the systematic harassment and intimidation of peaceful dissidents.

"The government raised hopes that Egypt was turning a new page on human rights when it permitted a public demonstration against President Mubarak in December," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "But today, the government's radical crackdown on peaceful dissent sends the message that there's no place for democratic freedoms under Mubarak."

The letter to President Mubarak raised the following recent incidents:

- On Saturday, January 29, security forces arrested Ayman Nur, elected member of the People's Assembly, in a public and physically abusive manner. He has been detained for 45 days while "investigations" continue into a complaint by an Interior Ministry office regarding his alleged forgery of signatures for the establishment of Al-Ghad, a legal opposition party which he heads.

- On Friday, January 28, security forces detained journalist Ibrahim al-Sahar, lawyer Marwa Faruq, and student Baho Baksh on charges of "incitement against public order" as they distributed leaflets at the annual Cairo International Book Fair calling for a demonstration on February 4 against President Mubarak standing unopposed for a fifth term. The three have been given a 14-day sentence.

- Also on January 29, security forces raided the Book Fair booth of Dar Mirit, an independent private publishing house, and confiscated the literature of the Socialist Studies Center, despite the fact that the center and its publications are both legal.

- The Ministry of Culture's National Book Authority, which sponsors the Book Fair, banned Dr. Mohamed al-Sayyid Sa'id, deputy director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, from scheduled appearances at the Book Fair after he made remarks at a public meeting with President Mubarak on the necessity for constitutional reform.

- On Monday, January 31, police reportedly carried out pre-dawn raids in Zagazig, a provincial capital in the Nile Delta, and arrested nine persons allegedly affiliated with the Muslim Brothers, among them medical doctors, engineers, a university professor and a mosque leader.

"The government has arrested and banned these critics simply for exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly and association," Whitson said. "The authorities should release them from custody at once and put an end to these repressive tactics."

To read Human Rights Watch's letter please see: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/02/03/egypt10118.htm

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