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Exceptions to ending emergency law invite abuse, says Human Rights Watch

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, January 25, 2012 - 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 continue 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.

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