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Governments stamp out Egypt solidarity protests

A Palestinian woman gestures in front of an Egyptian flag during a protest in Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem on 6 February
A Palestinian woman gestures in front of an Egyptian flag during a protest in Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem on 6 February

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Security forces are violently putting down protests that have flared up across the Arab world inspired by or in solidarity with Egypt's uprising, report Human Rights Watch and IFEX members in the region.

"Images of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have mesmerised the Arab public but have terrified their rulers," said Human Rights Watch. "They have responded with their usual mix of repression and intimidation to nip the buds of any wider democratic blossoming."

In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority used violence against peaceful demonstrators during a solidarity rally on 2 February. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that regular police and "special forces" - identifiable by their uniforms - punched, kicked and detained protesters, as well as at least two journalists and a Human Rights Watch research assistant.

On 30 January, Palestinian Authority security had shut down a solidarity demonstration in front of the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah, after repeatedly calling in one of the organisers for questioning and ordering him to cancel the event notice that he had created on Facebook.

Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip quashed a solidarity sit-in on 31 January, arresting six women - some of them journalists and bloggers - and threatening to arrest another 20 people who had responded to a Facebook call for a protest, report Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (Samir Kassir Eyes). According to MADA, some of the detainees complained of being insulted, beaten and subject to body searches.

Syrian activists have held daily protests in solidarity with Egyptian demonstrators, as well as to protest corruption and high cell phone communication costs since 29 January, says Human Rights Watch. One of the main organisers told Human Rights Watch that the Syrian security services showed up at each of the gatherings, filmed the participants and checked their identity papers.

In a 2 February vigil for Egyptian protesters in old Damascus, a group of 20 people in civilian clothing beat and dispersed 15 demonstrators. Police nearby failed to intervene, an organiser told Human Rights Watch. A security official insulted and slapped Suheir Atassi, one of the main organisers, and accused her of being a "germ" and an agent working for Israel.

Syrian "President Bashar al-Assad seems to have taken a page out of the rulebook of his Egyptian counterpart," said Human Rights Watch. "His security services are no longer content with simply banning protests; they seem to be encouraging thugs to attack peaceful demonstrators."

Sudanese authorities used excessive force during largely peaceful protests on 30, 31 January and 2 February in Khartoum and other northern cities to call for an end to the National Congress Party (NCP) rule and government-imposed price increases, reports Human Rights Watch.

Witnesses in Khartoum and Omdurman reported that armed riot police and national security personnel dispersed groups of protesters using pipes, sticks and teargas, injuring several people and preventing some people from joining the protests. The majority of those arrested were released within hours, but more than 20 are still missing and believed to be held by national security forces.

Sudanese authorities also censored newspapers covering the protests. On 2 February, security officials arrested more than a dozen staff of "Al Maidan", the communist newspaper, as well as student activists and opposition party members.

In southern Yemen, where security forces have violently suppressed large protests against the central government and calling for secession, police and military forces used live and rubber bullets to disperse protesters on 3 February. Six people were injured and 28 arrested, including a journalist, Abd al-Hafith Mu'jib, reports Human Rights Watch.

State security of the U.A.E. arrested Hasan Muhammad al-Hammadi, an active board member of the Teachers Association on 4 February at his home in the emirate of Sharjah, says Human Rights Watch. Al-Hammadi had spoken out publicly in solidarity with the Egyptian demonstrators earlier in the day during a mosque sermon.

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) reports that the government has taken steps to block news about Bahrain's own "Day of Rage," on 14 February. "In a step that reflects a state of confusion, apprehension and anticipation, the Bahraini authorities blocked an online group on Facebook, which calls on people to go out and protest against government policies," said BCHR.

Opposition leaders in Iran are calling for an Egypt/Tunisia solidarity rally on 14 February in Tehran, but the country's Interior Ministry has not yet issued a permit for it, reports the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Human Rights Watch says the clampdowns are an example of regular bans of public gatherings in the region. "Rather than learn the lessons of Cairo and Tunis, Arab leaders are keeping their heads in the sand, insisting on stifling even the smallest public gatherings," commented Human Rights Watch.

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