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Protesters and journalists assaulted and arrested

Egyptian protesters demanding an end to a 29-year state of emergency were kicked, beaten with batons and arrested by security forces in Cairo on 6 April, report the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS), the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and Human Rights Watch. At least 93 demonstrators were taken away in vans. Several journalists were also assaulted, their cameras seized. Critical journalists, writers and bloggers continue to be censored and imprisoned for their ideas and activism.

Prior to the day, on behalf of the 6 April group, ANHRI filed an official notification with the Cairo Security Directorate to inform them that the demonstration was planned. Authorities refused permission for the demonstration under the powers of the emergency law, which permit banning demonstrations, censoring newspapers, surveillance of personal communications and detaining people indefinitely without charge. During the review of Egypt's record by the UN Human Rights Council in February, Egypt agreed to end the state of emergency, which expires in May.

Security police made a coordinated effort to prevent demonstrators from gathering at Tahrir Square in Cairo. "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," reports Human Rights Watch.

Protesters were not given a chance to assemble and riot police and security officials attacked demonstrators before the protests could gain any momentum, says ANHRI. "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," reports Human Rights Watch.

Others were assaulted while they tried to chant slogans. "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," one protester told Human Rights Watch.

Journalists were specifically targeted. Plainclothes security men hit and kicked one foreign journalist, and sexually assaulted a female journalist, reports Human Rights Watch. Egyptian journalist Hisham Omar Abdel Halim of the independent "Al-Masry Al-Youm" and other independent journalists were briefly arrested, their press cards and video cameras confiscated, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Al Jazeera's cameramen were searched and their video footage taken. Demonstrators said their mobile phones, used to take photos or record video, were seized by police.

Protesters were also calling for changes to guarantee the integrity and impartiality of the coming presidential and parliamentary elections, constitutional amendments that would enable competitive presidential elections among a variety of independent candidates, and term limits on the office of the presidency. The 6 April group of activists has been campaigning for the National Coalition for Change, headed by the presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency.

Security forces illegally searched the home of one activist on 21 March, broke her mother's arm and threatened to arrest and torture her whole family if she continued her activism, says Human Rights Watch. Other activists were detained and held without charge for several days prior to the protest.

"Aimed at securing the ruling party's monopoly on power, the repression will only increase as this year's parliamentary elections and next year's presidential elections approach," commented CIHRS.

The International Publishers' Association (IPA) reports that an Egyptian publisher, Ahmed Mahana, was arrested on 3 April and released days later for publishing a book that calls for political change in the country: "ElBaradei and the Dream of the Green Revolution." Mahana's home was raided and copies of the book were confiscated.

Mosad Soleiman, known online as Mosad Abu Fagr, a blogger, novelist and activist who writes about social and political issues on his blog, Wedna N'ish (We Want to Live), has been in detention since February 2008, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

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