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Elections marred as journalists arrested and harassed on voting day

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Cairo, November 29, 2010 - Elections to Egypt's People's Assembly on November 28, 2010, were marred by reports that opposition supporters were barred from polling stations and subjected to violence, Human Rights Watch said today. There were reports of numerous irregularities including arrests and harassment of journalists, denial of access for opposition candidate representatives to 30 polling stations visited by Human Rights Watch across the country and widespread allegations of voter fraud.

"The authorities promised that Egyptian civil society could monitor the elections without the need for international observers," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division. "Unfortunately the repeated exclusion of opposition representatives and independent monitors from polling stations, along with reports of violence and fraud suggest that citizens were not able to partake in free elections."

Human Rights Watch did not monitor the voting or counting process and did not seek access to polling stations. Human Rights Watch representatives went to 30 polling stations in six governorates and interviewed voters, candidate representatives, as well as civil society observers and journalists outside polling stations in order to assess the human rights environment surrounding the elections.

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Attacks on Journalists

Security officers arrested and briefly detained at least 10 journalists and harassed and restricted dozens of others on voting day. Adam Makary, from Al Jazeera English, told Human Rights Watch that polling station officials denied him accesses to the six polling stations he had visited despite the fact that he had the required permits.

Photojournalist Bassem Mortada from Al- Masry al-Youm English told Human Rights Watch: "I was in Helwan, standing on the street outside a polling station taking pictures as five large buses arrived and large group of civil servants descended and went into the polling station. After a while an officer saw me and came over ordering me to stop. He made me go into the polling station with him, took my camera away and wiped off all the pictures. He questioned me for around 20 minutes and finally let me go after telling me that I was not allowed to take any pictures for the rest of the day."

In Shubra, officers arrested Ahram English Portal journalist Yasmine Fathy for half an hour.

Jano Charbel, a journalist with Al-Masry al-Youm English, told Human Rights Watch: "In Mahalla, I had been filming outside and went inside the gate to the polling station. When I went inside a police officer stopped me and questioned me for about 20 minutes about who I was and what I was covering. They told me that I had to leave Mahalla immediately and go straight back to Cairo without visiting any other polling stations.

"The evidence suggests that Egyptian officials made a concerted effort to prevent opposition candidates from exercising their rights during voting," Stork said.

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