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Peaceful protesters brutally treated, journalists assaulted

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - (New York, April 6, 2010) - Security officials should immediately free the at least 91 peaceful protesters arrested today and investigate the violence used against them, Human Rights Watch said.

At the demonstration, which called for an end to Egypt's restrictive "emergency laws," Human Rights Watch staff witnessed security officials beating and arresting the protesters, including two women. The state of emergency, which allows the authorities to restrict basic rights, has been continuously in effect for 29 years.

"The Egyptian authorities respond with lawless brutality to protesters peacefully demanding restoration of their human rights," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Let today's beating and arrests of demonstrators remind countries that finance and arm the Egyptian government what their ally is really all about."

The April 6 youth activist group organized this demonstration "to demand an end to 29 years of the state of emergency and amendments of Articles 76, 77 and 88 of the constitution," to allow for open and inclusive presidential elections". The security authorities had refused permission for the demonstration, using their powers under the emergency law, which bans all demonstrations.

Egypt has been governed under emergency law almost continuously since 1967, and without interruption since Hosni Mubarak became president in October 1981 after the assassination of president Anwar Sadat. The law gives the executive - in practice the Ministry of Interior - extensive powers to suspend basic rights such as prohibiting demonstrations, censoring newspapers, monitoring personal communications, and detaining people indefinitely without charge.

Because of massed security forces, the group of at least 70 protesters was unable to congregate today in Tahrir Square, the main square in central Cairo, as publicly announced. Central security vans were parked prominently on several side streets, and the square was full of riot police and groups of plainclothes security at every street corner and by the subway exits.

A group of about 50 to 60 demonstrators managed to regroup in front of the Shura Council on Kasr Aini Street, where a Human Rights Watch researcher who was present throughout observed them peacefully chanting slogans. They were surrounded by two rows of riot police wielding batons and dozens of plainclothes and uniformed security officials on both sides of the road.

After about ten minutes, security officials started dragging individual protesters away from the group and across the street. At least 21 were dragged across the road, beaten and kicked, and then taken into the garage of a building there, the Cairo Centre. Screams could be heard coming from the garage.

The security forces arrested at least 93 protesters in Kasr Aini Street and the vicinity of Tahrir square, according to a coalition of lawyers at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre who were documenting the arrests. The security officials put them into five vans and took them to the Interior Ministry's Department of Securing Roads and Exits on the Cairo-Ismailia road. Those arrested include two women, Janet Abdel-Alim and Safa Soleiman.

"Those locked up should not have been detained. They have not been charged, and even if they were the only conceivable offense would be their exercising the right to peaceful assembly," Whitson said, "The authorities should release them and lift the emergency laws so peaceful assembly is no longer a crime."

Security officers in uniform and plainclothes hit and kicked protesters and beat them with batons, including a number of young women. One protester, Ingy Hamdy, told Human Rights Watch: "They forced us up onto the pavement against the fence and whenever one of us started chanting they'd grab her and drag her out. They dragged me by my hair and hit me on the arm. They hit me on the face until I fell to the ground. They beat a friend of mine on the arm until her arm broke."

Another young woman, Nada Ta'ema, told Human Rights Watch: "At 10 this morning, a group of about eight security officers stopped me in Ramsis Square and asked me if I was a member of the April 6 group. I said I had nothing to do with them and left the area. When I got to the demonstration, I was standing at the edge and the security officers were breaking into the group to grab some of us. We'd try to stop them, and they would attack us in turn. A guy in plainclothes punched me on the head. My fiancée was behind me trying to protect me so they hit him too."

"Armed security officials supposedly in service to the Egyptian people are beating up its young women and men," Whitson said. "The government should ensure that all these incidents of police brutality are fully investigated and announce an end to this thuggery."

In Alexandria, security officers arrested Hassan Mostafa this morning as he was approaching the main train station, where the Alexandria April 6 members had planned to hold a demonstration at the same time. Lawyers from the coalition told Human Rights Watch that security officers had arrested at least another two protesters, Khaled Hosny and Sayeda Fouda, and are detaining them at an undisclosed location. The heavy security presence around the train station intimidated protesters and prevented the demonstration.

In Cairo, security officials also assaulted several journalists and took their cameras. Ibrahim Kamal Eddin, a journalist with Nahdet Masr newspaper, told Human Rights Watch: "I had only been at the demonstration a few minutes when more than 10 security men surrounded me. A plainclothes security official grabbed me by my neck; I said 'I'm a journalist,' and he said, 'Screw all journalists; get out of here.'"

A Human Rights Watch representative saw plainclothes security men hit and kick one foreign journalist who preferred not to be named. He told Human Rights Watch: "I saw the kids being arrested on the side street screaming so I went closer to take some pictures. A security officer came up to me and grabbed my arm. There were maybe seven of them around me trying to get (my camera) away but it was wrapped around my hand so I fell and they dragged me a bit and one guy kicked me. They managed to take my camera away from me so I tried to get it back and I went down to the garage to ask where my camera was and they pulled me into the police truck. There were three people already in there, but after around 5 minutes they came and let two of us go."

Another female journalist told Human Rights Watch that an officer yelled at her to leave the area and assaulted her sexually.

On April 3, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), in its capacity as legal representative of three members of the April 6 group, filed an official notification with the Cairo Security Directorate to inform them that the demonstration was planned. They filed the notification under the provisions of the Law of Assembly and Meetings, Law 14, from 1923.

On April 4, General Ismail El Sha'ir, head of Cairo security and an assistant to the interior minister sent a response saying, "In the context of the current security situation and the effect this type of march and demonstration would have on public order in the capital, we inform you that we do not approve the planned march for reasons of security and order and hold you responsible for any contravention of this."

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Click here for the full Human Rights Watch press release and a list of the arrested protesters
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