Monday, August 31, 2015

Amal Clooney calls on Dictator Sisi to issue presidential pardon for imprisoned Al-Jazeera staff

Sunday, August 30, 2015

International human rights lawyer and representative of Mohamed Fahmy, Amal Clooney, gave an interview late Saturday evening condemning the recent verdict in the Al Jazeera case and called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to pardon the accused journalists.

The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists, Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste to three years in prison each on charges of spreading false information, along with three students who did not work for Al Jazeera.

In an interview she gave immediately following the trial, and in a later interview on Saturday evening, Clooney called on Sisi to grant amnesty to the Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste.

She went on to say, “Unfortunately the prosecution’s position was absurd in the retrial, just as absurd as it was in the original trial and yet we saw another conviction and that’s deeply disappointing and something that President Sisi can intervene to correct.”

She cited the fact that the prosecution claimed the fact the journalists used the common editing tool “Final Cut Pro” was evidence of the intent to undermine national security as evidence of the verdict’s illegitimacy.

In the first trial the court repeatedly screened video evidence that was seen by many to be irrelevant, including pop songs and Al Jazeera documentaries on farming.

Clooney pointed out that the other evidence in the trial was that the journalists did not have permits for three of their mobile devices. However, she explained that even if that was true, the permits would be the responsibility of their employer, and not having a license for them was at most an administrative offense.

Clooney also stated that part of the reason why the trial was adjourned for so long was so an expert committee could examine videos produced by Al Jazeera to see if there had been any tampering. The committee concluded that there had been no tampering in any of the videos, which according to Clooney is key to the criminal charge.

She explained that under Egyptian law, false news is legally defined by four elements: “The news is false, the journalists knew of the falsity of the news, they had the intent to broadcast and, in doing so, there was an intent to undermine national security.”

Clooney also expressed her hope that Sisi would pardon the journalists in the case, explaining that Sisi “said when the judicial process is complete, he can’t interfere while it’s ongoing, but when it’s complete, I can exercise my power to pardon these journalists. He said in one interview at least that I’ve seen that he would do that. What we’re very much hoping that the president will now step in, in the way that he himself indicated he would. Today we saw the end of the completion of the judicial process, so I think it’s time for the presidency to put an end to this fiasco.”

The conviction of the Al Jazeera journalists sparked international outrage with international NGOs and governmental figures calling the sentence a violation of press freedom.

*Photo by Amr Nabil, courtesy of AP

International Condemnation of Prison Sentences Issued Against Al-Jazeera Staff

Egypt: Guilty verdict against Al Jazeera journalists affront to justice
August 29, 2015 

The guilty verdicts handed down against Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are an affront to justice that sound the death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt, said Amnesty International.

The Cairo criminal court ruled that the journalists broadcasted “false news” and worked without registration, sentencing Mohamed Fahmy to three years in prison and Baher Mohamed to three and a half years in prison. Their co-defendant, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, was convicted in his absence and sentence to three years in prison.

“This is a farcical verdict which strikes at the heart of freedom of expression in Egypt. The charges against Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were always baseless and politicized, and they should never have been arrested and tried in the first place,” said Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The fact that two of these journalists are now facing time in jail following two grossly unfair trials makes a mockery of justice in Egypt. Today’s verdict must be overturned immediately – Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed should be allowed to walk free without conditions. We consider them to be prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International is also urging the Egyptian authorities to facilitate Mohamed Fahmy’s request for deportation from Egypt to Canada.

Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed had been on bail since Egypt’s highest court of appeal overturned their previous conviction on 1 January 2015. They were previously serving seven and 10-year prison sentences respectively. Both men can now appeal the verdict once more before the Court of Cassation.

The court also sentenced a group of Egyptians tried in their presence on similar charges to three years, including students who said that security forces had beaten them following their arrest last year. One student told the court in a recent hearing that security forces had tortured him after re-arresting him in early June.

The authorities should ensure a prompt, independent and impartial investigation is conducted into the defendants’ allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.

“Today’s ruling is sadly only the tip of the iceberg. The Egyptian authorities are relentlessly cracking down on independent and critical media across the country to silence dissent – including foreign reporting. Dozens of journalists have been arrested over the past two years, and over 20 are today in detention,” said Philip Luther.


Committee to Protect Journalists
CPJ condemns conviction, sentence in Egypt's retrial of Al-Jazeera journalists

August 29, 2015

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the conviction of three Al-Jazeera journalists in their retrial in Egypt today. A Cairo court sentenced Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste to three years in prison each for "aiding a terrorist organization," spreading false news, and working without a license, according to news reports. Baher Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months in jail for possession of a spent bullet casing.

"This trial has been carried out with no evidence and has caused great pain to Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste, and their families," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. "We call on Egyptian authorities to put an end to the abuse of the law which has made Egypt one of the riskiest countries in the world to be a journalist."

The three journalists had been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in June 2014 for "conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood," which the government has banned. A retrial was ordered after a court said the journalists were convicted despite a lack of evidence, according to news reports. Greste, who is Australian, was retried in absentia.

The high-profile case is emblematic of the threats faced by journalists in Egypt. According to CPJ research, at least 22 journalists were behind bars for their reporting in Egypt on August 12, 2015. Most of the journalists jailed in Egypt are accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said in late 2014 that he would consider pardoning the three Al-Jazeera journalists.

*Photo by Khaled Desouki, courtesy of AFP

Newspaper Censorship Resumes Under Sisi

Aswat Masriya
Strong Indicators On Return of Newspaper Censorship' - Egypt's Press Syndicate

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Egyptian press syndicate condemned on Sunday "halting the printing of newspapers and intervening in their contents."

The syndicate voiced concern over the "emergence of strong indicators on return of newspaper censorship."

The contents of newspapers have been omitted or amended by "unknown oversight bodies", the syndicate's freedom committee said in a statement posted on its website, citing the chief editors of newspapers.

This has been recurring over the past period inside state printing houses, the syndicate added.

Gamal Soltan, the chief editor of ِAlmesreyoon said on Twitter on Saturday that "a sovereign authority decided to stop the printing" of the paper in objection to an article by the chief editor with the title, "Why does Sisi not stop playing the role of the Islamic thinker?"

The authority said the article must be changed.

The freedom committee at the press syndicate said it was observed that all of the topics which were not printed are about top state leadership, which indicates that there a direction to restrict press freedom and freedom of expression.

The press syndicate said one newspaper was shredded after printing and the printing of two newspapers was stalled on one day to change specific topics.

Almesreyoon among other newspapers that have been subjected to this.

"The freedom committee calls for an end to these violations," the statement said.

Article 71 of the Egyptian Constitution said the censoring, confiscation, suspension or shutdown of newspapers and media services is prohibited. It adds that they me placed under limited censorship in time of war.

Last week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified the anti-terrorism law, which issues the green light for a series of new penalties that can be applied onto people involved in terror-related activities.

Rights groups have feared that the law expands the definition of terrorism and that it will restrict press freedom.

The Egyptian state maintains that does not limit press freedoms. Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denied earlier in August that any journalists are detained in Egypt in cases related to publishing or press freedom.

Egypt: Establish International Inquiry into Rabaa Massacre

No Charges 2 Years After Security Forces Killed At Least 800 Protesters

Egyptian authorities have held no government official or member of the security forces responsible for the mass killing of protesters in Cairo’s Rab’a al-Adawiya Square two years ago. On August 14, 2013, security forces killed at least 817 people and most likely more than 1,000 at a mass sit-in in what probably amounted to crimes against humanity.

Given the Egyptian government’s refusal to properly investigate the killings or provide any redress for the victims, the United Nations Human Rights Council should establish an international commission of inquiry into the brutal clearing of the Rab’a al-Adawiya sit-in and other mass killings of protesters in July and August 2013. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should establish a similar investigation.

“Washington and Europe have gone back to business with a government that celebrates rather than investigates what may have been the worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “The UN Human Rights Council, which has not yet addressed Egypt’s dangerous and deteriorating human rights situation, is one of the few remaining routes to accountability for this brutal massacre.”

The United States and Egypt’s European allies, rather than seriously addressing the rank impunity of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, contend that it is a national security priority to resume their relationships with Egypt, including providing Egypt with military aid and hardware.

The dispersal of the Rab’a al-Adawiya sit-in occurred on August 14, 2013, a little more than a month after the Egyptian military – under then-Defense Minister al-Sisi – removed Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first freely elected president and a former high-level official in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsy’s ouster followed mass protests against his rule. Afterward, Brotherhood supporters and others opposed to the military’s actions held protests throughout Egypt. Security forces systematically confronted the protests with deadly force. Between Morsy’s ouster on July 3, 2013, and August 16, 2013, Human Rights Watch documented six instances when security forces unlawfully killed protesters, leaving at least 1,185 people dead.

The dispersal of the Rab’a al-Adawiya Square sit-in, where the crowd reached 85,000 at its height, was the worst of these incidents. The government announced its intention to clear the sit-in but did not announce a date.

At first light on August 14, security forces using armored personnel carriers and snipers fired on the crowd with live ammunition shortly after playing a recorded announcement to clear the square through loudspeakers. Police provided no safe exit and fired on many who tried to escape.

Authorities had anticipated a high number of casualties; both Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy said publicly after the dispersal that they had expected that more protesters would have been killed.

A year later, al-Beblawy was quoted as saying in an interview with al-Masry al-Youm, an independent newspaper, that “all options were bad” for resolving the sit-in and that anyone who “committed a mistake” should be sent to court.

Earlier, Egyptian military and police killed 61 protesters outside the Republican Guard headquarters on July 8 and 95 protesters at Cairo’s Manassa Memorial on July 27. On the day of the Rab’a dispersal, police killed at least 87 protesters while clearing another Cairo sit-in at al-Nahda Square. On August 16, police killed at least another 120 people who continued to protest Morsy’s ouster in Ramsis Square in downtown Cairo.

The widespread and systematic nature of these killings, and the evidence Human Rights Watch collected, suggests that the killings were part of a policy to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters, making them probable crimes against humanity.

In December 2013, the Egyptian government established the June 30 Fact-Finding Committee, named after the date on which protests against the Morsy government began, to look into the killings and the events that precipitated and followed them. The government released an executive summary of the committee’s findings on November 26, 2014, that did not recommend charges against any government official or member of the security forces.

The government has not released the full report and has not signaled any intention to do so. The Prosecutor General’s office, which has the prerogative and responsibility to open criminal investigations, has not announced any charges.

On July 16, al-Sisi’s cabinet approved renaming Rab’a square after Hisham Barakat, the prosecutor general who gave legal approval to the 2013 dispersal and who was assassinated in June.

The only prosecution to emerge from the mass killings of July and August 2013 concerned the suffocation deaths of 37 protesters on August 18, 2013. The men, who had been arrested at the Rab’a dispersal, died after a policeman fired a teargas canister inside the overcrowded prison van where they were temporarily held.

On August 13, 2015, a court reduced a 10-year sentence for a police lieutenant colonel involved in the deaths to 5 years following a retrial. The case could still proceed to Egypt’s highest appellate court. Three lower-ranking officers have all received one-year suspended sentences.

Police arrested hundreds of protesters during the Rab’a sit-in dispersal and held them in pretrial detention for nearly two years. On August 12, prosecutors referred the case to trial, accusing the protesters of a number of crimes, including blocking roads and harming national unity. Al-Shorouk, an independent newspaper, reported that prosecutors have not disclosed the number of protesters being sent to trial, though lawyers believe that more than 400 are being held.

US officials have refrained from characterizing Morsy’s removal as a coup, which would have triggered the immediate halt of military aid. But after the Rab’a killings, the US cancelled planned joint military exercises with Egypt and announced a review of “further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the US-Egyptian relationship.”

In October 2013, the US suspended the delivery of four major weapons systems to Egypt. In August 2014, it lifted that suspension and delivered 10 Apache attack helicopters. In March 2015, the administration lifted all suspensions, allowing delivery of 12 F-16 fighter jets and up to 125 M1A1 tank kits, while also announcing plans to tighten restrictions on Egypt’s military aid buying power.

In August, Secretary of State John Kerry went to Cairo to lead the first Strategic Dialogue with Egypt since 2009.

European governments – particularly France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – have embraced al-Sisi’s government. Al-Sisi met President Francois Hollande in France in November 2014, and France subsequently sold Egypt 24 Rafale fighter jets and delivered the first 3 on July 21.

In June 2015, al-Sisi met with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on the same day that the German industrial company Siemens signed an 8 billion euro deal to supply gas- and wind-power plants to Egypt. The government of UK Prime Minister David Cameron has also invited al-Sisi to meet.

“The lack of justice for the victims of the Rab’a massacre and other mass killings is an open wound in Egyptian history,” Stork said. “Addressing this crime is necessary before Egypt can begin to move forward.”


In Arabic:

 مصر ـ ينبغي إقرار تحقيق دولي في مذبحة رابعة


*Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Workers protest civil service law in one of biggest street actions since 2013

Mada Masr
Workers protest civil service law in one of biggest street actions since 2013

Monday, August 10, 2015

Jano Charbel

Thousands of public sector workers took to the streets on Monday in protest against the civil service law issued in March, which they say negatively impacts up to 7 million individuals by decreasing their income, increasing the managerial powers of administrators and introducing a host of vaguely worded regulations that could infringe on basic workers’ rights.

Starting at noon, over 2,000 people — the vast majority of whom are tax authority employees — gathered at the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo to protest the law. The demonstration was originally scheduled to take place in front of the Cabinet, but the police refused to grant permission for that location.

Although some sources called it one of the largest street protests since 2013, the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported that only “dozens” showed up for the demonstration — though photos suggest a much higher number.

Despite the stifling August heat, throngs of angry protesters used words like “illegitimate” and “depart” as they loudly chanted against the law. Some of the tax collectors carried banners respectfully calling on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to amend the law. Others carried banners denouncing the presidential decree, calling it the “Forced Labor Law.”

Alongside the tax authority workers’ protest, hundreds of Public Transport Authority employees announced partial strikes and slow-downs on Monday at three bus stations around Cairo, including the Badr, Nasr and Gesr al-Suez stations.

These industrial actions were largely organized by independent labor unions. Members of independent unions of tax collectors, customs employees, bus drivers and Antiquity Ministry workers, among other groups, joined demonstrations and strike actions alongside representatives from syndicates for doctors, teachers, engineers and veterinarians.

The state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), however, did not take part.

“While it has raised some objections with the authorities regarding certain provisions of the new civil service law, the ETUF has not sided with us in this struggle,” Sales Tax Authority employee Sameh Mahmoud told Mada Masr. “The ETUF is largely committed to promoting the administration’s policies, yet is entirely disconnected from our own demands and rights.”

“We will continue to escalate our protests if our demands are not met in terms of amending this poorly formulated and unjust law,” Mahmoud declared. He said he would join his colleagues in Cairo to gather at the Journalists Syndicate once again on August 17, as part of a protest organized by Real Estate Tax Authority employees.

“If the authorities disregard our demands, or take punitive measures against us for protesting — as they have threatened to do — then we will surely escalate our actions even further by launching a strike on August 30. This work-stoppage is already being planned,” Mahmoud warned.

At the Journalists Syndicate, Rabeah Mohamed, a General Tax Authority employee from Monufiya, told Mada that “our chief grievances are that this law is being used to limit our bonuses and diminish income. Our income used to increase month by month, year by year. Now our salaries are stagnating, and our families will be the ones most directly impacted by this law.”

Mohamed, along with five of his coworkers from Monufiya, claimed their July and August salaries stayed flat due to the newly imposed caps on workers’ bonuses.

“We didn’t expect that this law would diminish our income, but when we did realize this bitter truth last month, we just couldn’t remain silent. We cannot let the government erode our rights,” Mohamed asserted.

“We have other objections, including the sweeping powers granted to administrators,” he continued.

“Our administrators and managers are now empowered to determine the extent of each employee’s pay raises or pay cuts, promotions or dismissals. These wide-ranging powers allow those in managerial positions to appoint employees of their choice, such as from among their family members and friends, and to fire anybody who disagrees with them.”

However, while speaking at a press conference on Monday, Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby dismissed claims of favoritism, preferential treatment or nepotism associated with the civil service law. The minister claimed that the legislation was “part of the general administrative reform plan agreed upon by the government.”

Seeking to allay the workers' concerns, Araby added that the provisions of “this law would not be enforced upon public school teachers, doctors at public hospitals or employees of the Public Transport Authority.”
And, Araby promised, in the near future further executive decrees regulating the provisions of the law would be open to public discussion and the participation of civil society groups.
But Ikram Mustafa, an employee of the General Tax Authority in Alexandria, didn’t buy Araby’s explanation.

“If there was a public budget crisis affecting the state, then we would happily sacrifice some of our wages for the good of the nation,” Mustafa argued. “However, what we are faced with is decreased income for us employees, and greater income for those in managerial positions.”

Furthermore, warned Tarek Murad of the Sales Tax Authority in Alexandria, “tax collectors are much like judges. If they receive insufficient salaries, then they grow prone to accepting bribes and corruption.”

But “the biggest difference between us tax collectors and the judges is that judges get paid above the maximum wage [LE42,000 per month], whereas the starting salaries for us tax collectors are just above the minimum wage [LE 1,200 per month],” Murad clarified.

In March, the State Council Court issued a ruling exempting judges and prosecutors from the national maximum wage. Murad claimed that the average income for sales tax collectors, on the other hand, is between LE2,000 to LE3,000 per month.

“If laws like the civil service law are to be applied, then they should be applied to all civil servants and public sector workers. However, this is not the case,” he concluded.

Sisi also issued another presidential decree on May 7 that exempted the presidency and the Cabinet from two articles in the law which stipulate that state officials must publicly announce all the candidates applying for high-ranking governmental posts and contracts.

Many workers attending Monday’s protest at the Journalists Syndicate agreed that neither Sisi nor his administration adequately consulted with labor unions or professional syndicates prior to issuing the legislation.

“We were all surprised by the issuing of such a detailed and comprehensive law,” said Mahmoud. At 72 articles long, this piece of legislation is more of a comprehensive booklet than the average presidential decree.

And “we were even more surprised that trade unions were kept out of this law’s drafting process,” Mahmoud continued. “We hope that President Sisi will rescind this law. We also hope that an elected parliament can discuss and draft new proposals for a more just civil service law inclusively with workers, employees and unions across Egypt.”

*Photos by Jano Charbel

Two factory fires kill eight workers, several others injured

Mada Masr
Five die in Shubra al-Kheima factory fire; Three in Sixth October factory fire

What Sisi didn't say about labor conditions in constructing "New Suez Canal"

Mada Masr
What Sisi didn't say about labor conditions in constructing the New Suez Canal

August 7, 2015 

Jano Charbel

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi omitted to mention the 10 workers who died and 145 who were injured while working on the New Suez Canal project from August 2014 to August 2015.

During the canal's inauguration speech on Thursday, Sisi and the Chief of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Mohab Mamish, paid tribute to those who died as “Egypt’s martyrs” in terrorist acts, including members of the police and Armed Forces, but didn't mention those who died during construction of the new passageway.

They glossed over the hazardous and precarious working conditions under which thousands labored for a year in order to build a 72 kilometer-long expansion of the existing Suez Canal.

Using patriotic rhetoric, Sisi and Mamish praised the timely efforts of all those who were involved in the mega project, including around 44,000 workers, military engineers, machinists, technicians, and Suez Canal employees.

Spokesperson for the Health Ministry Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, told Mada Masr that of the 10 workers, including one medical doctor, who died while working on the new project, five are reported to have died of natural causes, such as pre-existing medical conditions and heart attacks, while the five others are reported to have died in industrial accidents on site.

145 others were injured and required medical attention. The Health Ministry’s crews reported treating 103 workers who collapsed due to sunstroke. Another 41 were treated for venomous scorpion stings and one worker received medical attention after being bitten by a wild dog.

While the exact compensations paid per death or injury have not been disclosed, the ministry points out that comprehensive health insurance was provided for all those working on the New Suez Canal.

Abdel Ghaffar added, that from its very beginning, dozens of field hospitals and mobile medical units covered the entire project site, providing round the clock service for those working on and around it.

Seoud Omar, an independent union organizer and SCA employee in Suez City, commented that thousands of the SCA’s fulltime employees received “decent salaries and bonuses in light of this new project, with some professions and ranks being particularly well paid — to the tune of several thousand pounds per month.”

However, Omar continued, “The situation for thousands of other part-time workers and precarious laborers was less rewarding, in terms of their hourly pay rates, lengthy work schedules and very strenuous working conditions.”

Omar commented that several private contractors, who recruited the workers, in coordination with SCA, imposed harsh working and living conditions on the workers.

In his speech for the inauguration of the New Suez Canal, Mamish acknowledged the hard labor associated with the project. He stated that, from the very start of the project, no holidays were taken and 24-hour daily work shifts continued non-stop. Yet the SCA chief did not delve into the details of everyday working conditions.

Abdel Aziz Abdel Gawwad, a SCA employee and dredger-operator from Ismailia, who worked on the New Suez Canal, indicates that he and all his fellow workers were paid above the national minimum wage (amounting to at least LE1,200 per month) while working on the project.

However, working hours could extend from 10 to 12 hours per day, while conditions were often back-breaking.

Abdel Gawwad indicated that part-time workers employed by private contractors had even harder working conditions, often sleeping in the open, with little access to running water or restrooms.

It is reported that in many cases, such temporary and non-unionized workers, who were typically involved in the dry-digging phase of the project, often had to pay for their own food and drinking water purchased from local vendors, at above-market prices.

These workers often complained of exposure to intense heat during the day and cold at night, while also being exposed to snakes, scorpions and wild dogs, along with mosquitoes and other insects. It is not known if all these workers received full remuneration, or adequate compensation for their labor.

Another point not mentioned by Sisi or Mamish during their inaugural speeches, is that several hundred locals were denied work on the New Suez Canal project for unspecified “security reasons.”

This exclusionary policy is reportedly linked to the forced relocation of some 2,000 local residents, who were displaced by the canal's construction since September 2014.

Sisi claimed that this is just one of many national projects to be undertaken in the future, particularly along the Suez Canal. The government asserts that one million jobs will be created in light of the planned development in the canal zone.

Sisi also stated that the state’s public works project aims to realize the goal of “social justice and human dignity.”

However, the validity of his claims, whether in terms of job creation, social justice or human dignity, have yet to be assessed.

Sisi concluded his speech on Thursday by mentioning that historically, the Suez Canal “has left its fingerprints on the geography of world and on the map of humanity.”

Also unacknowledged by Sisi were the tens of thousands of locals pushed into forced labor, along with hired hands, who died between 1859–1869 to construct the 160 km-long Suez Canal.

While the SCA’s official website does acknowledge the exploitation of thousands of workers associated with the building of the original canal, it doesn't mention the number of those who died in its construction, estimated to be around 120,000.

*Photo courtesy of Reuters/New Suez Canal Facebook page