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No justice for hundreds of Egyptian children detained in 2012

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - 20 November 2012 – Egyptian police and military officers have arrested and detained over 300 children during protests in Cairo over the past year, in some cases beating or torturing them, Human Rights Watch said today. Frequently, these children were illegally jailed with adult prisoners, tried in adult courts, and denied their rights to counsel and notification of their families, Human Rights Watch found.

Human Rights Watch found strong evidence that police and military officers beat many of the children and in some cases subjected them to treatment amounting to torture. Children told Human Rights Watch, their parents and lawyers that police and military officers kicked them, beat them with rifle butts, hit them with batons, and subjected them to electric shocks.

“President Morsi's government has promised an end to the practices we've seen over the past year, with police and military beating up and even torturing children,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If the government wants a real break with the past, it should make it a top priority to investigate the abuse of children at security officials' hands and prosecute the officials responsible.”

The arrests and treatment of detained children violated Egyptian and international law, Human Rights Watch said.

President Mohamed Morsi took a positive step when he issued a decree on October 9, 2012, granting amnesty for “crimes linked to the January 25 revolution,” which should end prosecutions of many children arrested in these incidents. The pardon extends only to the end of June, however, and does not include those arrested at the September protests.

The next step should be to investigate abuse of protesters in state custody, making abuse cases involving children a priority, and prosecuting officers found responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

During demonstrations from September 11 to 16 in front of the US embassy in Cairo in response to an online film considered offensive to Islam, police and central security officers arrested at least 136 children from various areas in central Cairo, according to arrest data collected by civil society organizations. It was the largest number of arrests of children linked to a specific protest in the past year.

Police or Central Security Force officers beat many of the children during the arrests, witnesses and victims told Human Rights Watch. Officials sent most of the children to adult prisons and adult courts, even though Egypt's child protection law requires authorities to refer juvenile offenders to child courts and separate them from adult detainees.

The beatings of children arrested during the September embassy protests reflect a repeated police practice over the last year of abusing child protesters, Human Rights Watch found. Through interviews with children released from detention, lawyers, and activists, Human Rights Watch documented rights violations during arrests and detention linked to five major protests over a 10-month period: anti-government protests on Mohammed Mahmoud street in downtown Cairo in November 2011, in December near the cabinet building, in February 2012 in front of the Interior Ministry, in May at the Defense Ministry in the Abbasiya neighborhood, and then at protests against the US government in September at the US Embassy.

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