Friday, May 8, 2015

Egypt: No reason to celebrate Labor Day this year

Mada Masr

In unusual break with tradition, no Labor Day celebrations in Egypt this year

For the first time in living memory, Egypt is not celebrating Labor Day.

The only official commemoration took place on Monday, April 27 behind closed doors at Cairo’s Police Academy in the presence of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, governmental officials and state-appointed leaders from the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF.)

This commemoration, which was not televised, is reported to have involved 10 workers who received honorary medals. It is the first time ever that the president of Egypt has not delivered a Labor Day address.

During Monday’s commemoration, Gebali al-Maraghi, chief of the state-controlled ETUF, presented Sisi with a declaration from his federation vowing that its members would reject strikes and refrain from protests, sit-ins or other industrial actions.

ETUF leaders called instead for dialogue and collective bargaining between workers, the state and employers, according to the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

The Cabinet also announced that there would not be a working day off, as this year the official holiday coincides with the weekend.

This comes during the same week in which a judicial decree was issued by the Supreme Administrative Court dictating that public sector employees who partake in strikes will be forced into early retirement. The judges who issued this decree, which cannot be appealed, claimed that a military decree issued in 2011 and Sharia law both prohibit labor strikes.

statement was issued by a host of Egyptian human rights organizations on Labor Day in which they denounced the aforementioned judicial decree as violating Article 15 of the 2014 Constitution, as well as international rights conventions to which Egypt is party.

“We are witnessing the worst Labor Day in Egyptian history this year,” commented Ali Fattouh, an independent union organizer and bus driver employed at Cairo’s Public Transport Authority.

Fattouh argued that the government is pushing back on workers’ rights and the organizational freedoms of unions, while Egypt’s largest independent labor federation — the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (ETIFU) — “is falling in line with the government’s dictates, denouncing workers’ right to strike while championing the policies of the ruling regime.”

Like Fattouh, many other independent unionists, labor rights organizations and leftist groupings are not celebrating Labor Day this year, as they believe there is nothing to celebrate in 2015.

Since their emergence in the 2011 uprising until 2013, independent labor federations had celebrated Labor Day in Tahrir Square. However, they were only capable of organizing small rallies involving just a few hundred workers, revealing the inability of these independent federations to mobilize their ranks.

Following the military led regime change on July 3, 2013, Tahrir Square was made off-limits for workers’ rallies, and in 2014 independent unionists celebrated Labor Day indoors.

Workers at the state-owned petroleum services company Petrotrade issued a statement on Thursday declaring, “We are not celebrating Labor Day this year, as there is no cause for celebration.”

“This is the fifth Labor Day since the January 25 revolution, and yet none of the revolution’s demands have been achieved, nor has social justice been realized,” the statement added.

Despite government pledges since 2011, neither a new labor law nor a new trade union law has been issued to replace the repressive and outdated laws regulating workers rights, the Petrotrade workers continued.

The statement argued that Egypt is suffering from a counter-revolution, indicated by the fact that a host of striking workers and independent unionists have been subjected to punitive measures nationwide, including disciplinary hearings, relocations, lay-offs, prosecution and trials.

Dozens of workers across the country are presently being prosecuted for instigating strikes and labor unrest, as well as incurring losses for industries with their work stoppages.

Fattouh explained that he and 31 of his co-workers at the Public Transport Authority are standing two separate trials on May 15 and June 13 before the State Council Court on charges of instigating strikes in the years 2012 and 2013.

“We are being sent to court, and possibly to jail, simply for exercising our right to organize a peaceful strike at our workplaces,” said Fattouh.

 “When you have a court of law outlawing the right to strike, which is clearly safeguarded by international conventions and domestic legislation, what is there left to celebrate on Labor Day?” he argued.

But Maraghi is quoted in Al-Ahram as declaring that “Egypt is currently blessed with a climate of freedom and democracy,” and “that the ETUF is the only legitimate representative for all of Egypt’s workers, regardless of their political tendencies.”

Maraghi concluded by singing Sisi’s praises, while claiming: “there is no room for politicization of the union movement.” 

Yet even Ibrahim Eissa, a TV anchor on the show 25/30, which broadcasts on the privately owned ONtv channel, criticized Sisi’s labor commemoration this year.

Eissa argued that Labor Day should be celebrated on May 1, as is the national and international tradition.

“Labor Day should be commemorated in a factory, company or workplace,” he added, asking Sisi, “Oh president, if you celebrate Labor Day at the Police Academy, then where are you going to celebrate Egypt’s National Police Day?”



*Photo of 2011 Labor Day rally in Tahrir Square, by Jano Charbel

Whatever happened to Egypt's independent labor unions?

Mada Masr
Whatever Happened to Egypt's Independent Trade Unions

Friday May 1, 2015

Jano Charbel


Independent labor unions flourished across Egypt with the popular uprising of 2011, but this growth translated neither into unity nor strength, and these independent associations appear to have withered away since the military-led regime change in July 2013.

State-controlled trade union federations are presently attempting to dissolve these independent associations, which have never been formally recognized by the government. Members also face punitive measures from their employers, political polarization within their own ranks, organizational schisms and a lack of resources.

These factors threaten the viability and utility of independent unions as agents of labor reform. Meanwhile, Ministry of Manpower politics also cast a shadow on these independent associations, with some independent unionists claiming the ministry is striving to marginalize them.

The two chief federations for such unions emerged in the form of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), which was established on January 30, 2011, and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Confederation (EDLC), established on April 24, 2013. These two federations have not succeeded in uniting their ranks.

Moreover, a host of smaller independent federations have since been established outside the realm of both the EFITU and EDLC, several of which broke off from these two larger federations.

Hoda Kamel, a former EFITU board member, explains there are a total of six labor union federations in Egypt, and “of these, the independent federations are in disarray. They are weak, divided and underfunded."

EFITU and EDLC are both headquartered in Cairo, with no regional offices or strong presence elsewhere in the country.

Mostafa Bassiouny, an analyst of worker politics and the author of several books on the trade union movement, says that “over the past four years, Egypt's independent unions have proven they are unable to build solid labor structures, to organize general strikes or to mobilize on the national level."

Several leaders of the independent union movement — particularly from the largest federation, EFITU — "moved to support state politics since July 3, 2013, to align themselves with the Ministry of Manpower and to oppose strikes,” he argues.

"In doing so, an independent federation loses its independence, identity and purpose," Bassiouny adds.

While EFITU's former leader, Kamal Abu Eita, was appointed minister of manpower following the deposition of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, hopes for a political climate conducive to independent union organizing quickly evaporated with the arrival of Nahed al-Ashry, who replaced him as minister in March 2014.

Ashry gradually rose to prominence during the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, becoming the ministry's leading go-to official for labor arbitration and dispute resolution.

Although she has described herself as neutral, with a hands-off approach to all unions, Ashry and her ministry have been accused of obstructing the authorization of new independent unions and siding with the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF.)

Ashry has shown resolve to end strikes in order to increase investor confidence and employment opportunities, and in the past, she accused independent unions of being the main instigators of work stoppages and labor unrest in the country.

Kamel believes independent unions have become a scapegoat for the nation’s economic woes. "The ETUF's affiliate unions have led strikes, as have independent unions and non-unionized workers alike,” he says.

Several labor activists claim Ashry favors the ETUF over other unions, as leaders of this state-controlled federation have officially authorized only two strikes in its nearly 58 year history.

Numerous articles posted on the official ETUF website claim independent unions are illegal and illegitimate, undeclared recipients of foreign funding, political agents and threats to national security — all accusations with serious legal penalties.

Some ETUF leaders even claim independent unions are involved in sabotage and sponsoring terrorist activists.

The treasurer and co-founder of the Independent Federation of Petroleum Employees, Hatem Abdel Dayyem, dismisses such claims as "baseless accusations."

"It's the state-controlled, yellow federation which has no legitimacy,” he argues.

Abdel Dayyem points out that ETUF's leadership was last elected in 2006, in elections which the Administrative Court ruled null and void due to a lack of judicial supervision. Nonetheless, its leaders remained in office until their terms expired in 2011, and ministers have been appointing ETUF leaders since then.

"The ETUF claims we independent unions receive illegal foreign funding. Let them look inside our coffers — we are struggling financially, and all the money at our disposal is LE3,015. What kind of foreign funding or currency is that?" he asks.

Abdel Dayyem added that the application papers for the Independent Federation of Petroleum Employees were rejected by the Manpower Ministry in December 2014, "due to unspecified reasons."

"We know all our paperwork is valid and in order. We also know our rights, and that our federation is officially established upon notification," Abdel Dayyem claims.

The Manpower Ministry’s spokesperson could not be reached for clarification regarding the official recognition of this independent federation, or other questions regarding the independent union movement.

“Historically, there exists a sort of umbilical chord relationship between the ministry and ETUF. They both want to maintain these direct links,” Bassiouny explains.

“Despite their shortcomings, independent unions are still closer to genuine concerns of the labor movement than ETUF, which functions more like a union police than a workers' organization. Ashry is not seeking to wipe out independent unions, but rather to have them sidelined or co-opted,” he claims.

When Ashry addressed the Arab Labor Organization last month, the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram quoted her as saying, "While Egypt is a law-abiding state, its ratification of International Labor Organization Convention 87 [concerning freedom of association and protection of the right to organize] is not synonymous with the plurality of unions."

According to statements published on ETUF’s official website, Ashry then went on to say, "Independent unions cannot take the place of legitimate unions." Ashry has consistently argued for the unity of the union movement, and warned against independent or alternate unions that could fragment such a unity.

Ashry commented she couldn’t overturn the recognition of independent unionists who had filed their application papers under former Manpower Minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borei.

Borei says that the foremost obstacle in the path of independent unions is their ambiguous legal status, as Trade Union Law 35/1976 — which solely recognizes the legitimacy of the state-controlled ETUF — is still in effect.

During his brief term as minister in 2011, Borei oversaw a host of unionists, labor lawyers and political figures who drafted a bill on trade union liberties to replace Law 35. The bill recognized the right to freely establish trade unions upon notification to the Ministry of Manpower. However, the consecutive ruling authorities of the past four years have kept it shelved, and the bill has yet to be ratified.

Borei explains that Law 35 runs against the essence of union freedoms stipulated for in ILO Convention 87, which Egypt ratified in 1957. Without a new trade union law guaranteeing the freedom to establish their labor organizations, he says, independent unions will continue to be left in a gray zone of isolation and marginalization.

"If Egypt does not issue legislation allowing its workers to freely organize, I fear it may be placed back on the ILO's short-list of states violating union rights,” he cautions.

"ETUF membership is mandatory for all unionized workers according to Law 35,” Borai adds. “Automatic deductions of union dues from workers' wages may often deter them from joining an independent union, where they would also have to pay dues."

While their membership figures are frequently contested, ETUF claims some 5 million members.

Similarly, EFITU's membership figures are contested. By 2013, EFITU chief Abu Eita was claiming a membership of some 2 million.

Bassem Halaqa, Secretary General of EFITU, claims his federation currently has a membership of around 800,000.

"We had around 1.4 million memberships. However, we've found that several of our affiliate unions are merely entities on paper" said Halaqa. "We're filtering out such entities, as they have no actual presence."
Kamel claims that the "total membership of all independent unions and federations probably does not exceed a few hundred thousand."
 
It’s nearly impossible to know the real number of independent unions or their members, because "many of them are not affiliated to any federation, other unions have quit federations, while others are still forming federations, and yet others are merely unions on paper, not really existing in workplaces,” Kamel explains.

Challenges to the independence and legitimacy of these unions haven’t stopped at legal measures, however. New leadership has shown a penchant for state alignment that flies in the face of their ultimate aims.

Last year, Kamel and other EFITU co-founders froze their memberships in their federation following the actions of the incumbent president, Malek Bayoumi. Under his leadership, EFITU representatives signed a declaration sponsored by Ashry in May 2014 to halt strikes for a year.

Bayoumi was also accused of using EFITU as a platform to endorse the 2014 presidential campaign of then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Kamel and other EFITU members sought to issue a vote of no confidence against Bayoumi due to his political alignment with the ruling regime. However, their attempts failed, as they were not able to reach the required quorum of members for such a motion.

EFITU's secretary general, distanced himself and Bayoumi from such actions.

"There are no schisms in our federation,” Halaqa claims. “However, we are facing very difficult financial circumstances. We're not a big federation like ETUF, and we're not propped up by the state."

Echoing Ashry's rhetoric, he adds, "We need some time out from strikes. We need to take into consideration our labor rights along with Egypt's economic needs."


Halaqa hopes in the near future, EFITU and EDLC will unite the ranks of Egypt's independent unions by forming a confederation amongst themselves.

EDLC member Talal Shokr, said he also aspires to see such a confederation taking shape.

However, Shokr added: "Presently there are no prospects for unity between the EDLC and EFITU. There seems to be no structural plans for such a merger. Nor are there currently any concerted efforts to bring all these independent unions and federations under one umbrella."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Judicial Fascism - Striking public workers to be forced into retirement

Aswat Masriya/Thomson Reuters

Striking public employees to be sent to retirement, court rules

Tuesday April 28, 2015


CAIRO - Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court decided on Tuesday to send to retirement any public employee who strikes or holds a sit-in at a work place, stalling public facilities.

The court's decision is based on the teachings of Islamic sharia, the court said in a statement, citing an Islamic rule which puts avoiding harm before pursuing benefits.

In the details of its ruling, the court said that sit-ins are not similar to protests or assemblies, as they involve stalling work yet while employees hold on to their positions.

The decision is final and cannot be challenged.

The supreme court referred to the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Egypt signed and ratified. It said that though Egypt has vowed to preserve the right to striking, as per the covenant, this right could only be exercised if it complies with Islamic sharia.

"If strikes cause harm to those dealing with the public facility, then Islamic sharia does not allow such a path as it harms citizens," the court said in its statement.

The court had referred three officials at the Menoufia governorate to retirement for striking and stalling the operation of the facility where they work. It also postponed the promotion of 14 more officials involved in the same strike for two years.

Dictator Mubarak calls on Egypt to support Dictator Sisi

Daily News Egypt
Mubarak calls on Egyptians to stand behind Al-Sisi

  
Former president spoke on satellite channel Sada Al-Balad on the commemoration of 33rd anniversary of Sinai Liberation day

 
Ousted president Hosni Mubarak called on Egyptians “to stand behind and support” current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

Mubarak made these comments during a phone interview Sunday evening on satellite channel Sada Al-Balad with TV host Ahmed Mousa.

The former president narrated events relating to the withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai Peninsula in 25 April 1982, in commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of Sinai Liberation Day.

“Egypt is facing great challenges, without doubt, the variables surrounding us are very complicated, the region is complicated and our national security is linked everything happening in the region,” he said.

He further said that Egypt has a “strong army” that is capable of defending its land as “sons of the military establishments, currently headed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi know the meaning of national sovereignty”.

Since being toppled as president after the 25 January Revolution, Mubarak was charged in several cases including corruption cases, abuse of power and killing protestors during the revolution.

In November 2014, Cairo Criminal Court dismissed the murder charges against Mubarak as the court was “inadmissible” to rule on the case. He was also acquitted on the corruption cases.

Mubarak was interviewed on Sada Al-Balad following his acquittal, where he stressed that he “didn’t commit” any crimes against protestors.

Mubarak’s era was followed by the Muslim Brotherhood coming into power when Mohamed Morsi held the position for a year between 2012 and 2013. Mass protests against his tenure took to the streets led to his ouster.

Morsi is charged on other cases that include: espionage with Qatar, espionage with Hamas Palestinian movement and Prison break.

Unlike Mubarak, the Islamist president was handed a 20-years imprisonment sentence on 21 April, on charges of ‘demonstrating power and violence’ and ‘inciting violence’ against protestors in December 2012 outside the Presidential Palace.


*Photo by Hassan Mohamed courtesy of AFP

Dutch lawsuit - Egyptian massacres constitute crimes against humanity

Counterpunch 
 
Dutch Lawsuit Charges Crimes Against Humanity During Egyptian Massacres
 
MARJORIE COHN

April 24, 2015

On July 3, 2013, the Egyptian military staged a coup’etat and deposed the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands of Egyptians staged demonstrations throughout Egypt to show support for Morsi.

One month later, the Egyptian army and police carried out several massacres in Cairo, killing hundreds of unarmed protesters. Authorities mounted a military response to largely peaceful protests by supporters of the Brotherhood against the illegitimate Egyptian government. Although aimed primarily at the Brotherhood, the crackdown included other political opposition groups and individuals.

Four Dutch citizens of Egyptian origin, who were present during three of the most brutal massacres in summer 2013, filed a petition in the Netherlands that charged Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim with crimes against humanity.

In September 2014, the Dutch law firm of Seebregts & Saey submitted a formal request to the Dutch prosecutor to prosecute Ibrahim. Dutch criminal courts have jurisdiction under the International Crimes Act when a Dutch national has been the victim of a crime. Due to head of state immunity, the lawsuit did not name Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ordered the Rab’a massacre when he was Defense Minister.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) undertook a one-year investigation into the conduct of security forces responding to the demonstrations. In its report titled “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” HRW concluded, “police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.”

HRW also determined “the killings not only constituted serious violations of international human rights law, but likely amounted to crimes against humanity, given both their widespread and systematic nature and the evidence suggesting the killings were part of a policy to attack unarmed persons on political grounds.”

Although HRW was able to confirm that some protesters used firearms in a few instances, they did not justify “the grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.”

THE RAB'A MASSACRE

There were over 20,000 protesters in Rab’a Square. In what HRW called “the gravest incident of mass protester killings,” Egyptian police, snipers and military personnel opened fire on unarmed demonstrators on August 14, 2013, “killing at least 817 and likely more than 1,000.” Security forces used live ammunition “with hundreds killed by bullets to their heads, necks, and chests.” Snipers fired from helicopters over Rab'a Square.


“Much of the shooting by police appears to have been indiscriminate,” HRW found, “openly firing in the general direction of crowds of demonstrators instead of targeting armed protester gunmen who may have posed a serious threat.”

The Rab’a mosque, which served as a refuge, particularly for women and children, “held so many corpses that it felt like it ‘had turned into a cemetery,’” one protester told HRW. An 18-year-old boy came into the hospital and said his stomach hurt.
A doctor noted, “I looked down and his intestines were all out. He had taken several bullets and [later] died.” The doctor also reported that another person “took a bullet in the face, causing his face to open and tongue to fall out . . . He spent 40 minutes looking at me and gesturing for help, but I couldn’t do anything. Surgery was not possible.”

The deaths “amounted to collective punishment of the overwhelming majority of peaceful protesters,” HRW concluded.

One of the petitioners, who was present at the demonstration, was not wounded but people on his left and right were being shot. He was also present when the authorities set fire to the hospital on Rab’a Square, killing about 300 patients who were not able to leave.

REPUBLICAN GUARD SIT-IN
On July 7, 2013, about 2,000 Brotherhood supporters began a peaceful sit-in. Shortly before dawn on July 8, police and army units opened fire, targeting those in the protest and others emerging from prayers at the mosque. Authorities killed 61 protesters with live ammunition and injured 435. Most suffered gunshots to the head, neck and chest
.
One of the petitioners was hit by a bullet, but survived.

MANASSA MEMORIAL
At least 95 protesters were killed on July 27, 2013. A field hospital doctor reported, “From 2 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. it was a steady stream; the bodies kept coming. Most had gunshot wounds in the head, neck or chest. The hospital was overflowing; we were completely over capacity.” Another field house doctor told HRW: “All of the dead were either dead on arrival or died immediately after they arrived, because of where they were hit; if you’re hit in the head or chest, you won’t last very long. The entire hospital floor was covered with injured people. It was beyond imagination.”

The two petitioners who were present at this demonstration were not wounded but were in danger of being hit. Others a short distance away were hit by bullets.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
Dutch law provides for sentences up to life in prison for convictions of crimes against humanity. The crime is defined as intentional killing or other inhumane acts of a comparable nature which intentionally cause severe suffering or severe physical or psychological damage, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to State policy.

HRW found that “security forces systematically and deliberately killed largely unarmed protesters on political grounds . . . in a widespread manner, resulting in the deaths of over 1,150 protesters, in July and August of 2013.”

HRW further concluded, “[t]he manner in which security forces used force to disperse protests appears to reflect policies set by the Egyptian government.” In fact, “the government anticipated and planned for the deaths of several thousand protesters.”

The Rab’a massacre was “executed pursuant to a plan formulated by the Interior Ministry and approved by the Cabinet and National Defense Council after three weeks of preparation,” HRW determined, citing statements of Ibrahim that he anticipated the dispersal would kill large numbers of demonstrators.

Ibrahim made public statements revealing he knew beforehand that many people would die during the police and military actions to end the demonstrations. The day after the Rab’a massacre, Ibrahim said “the dispersal plan succeeded 100 percent,” indicating that it adhered to a plan that had been put in place.

In a televised interview on August 31, 2013, Ibrahim confirmed that the Interior Ministry expected losses of “10 percent of the people,” adding, “you will find thousands lost from their side.”

"ABJECT POLITICIZATION OF JUSTICE"
HRW learned that “[s]ecurity forces detained over 800 protesters on August 14, 2013, some of whom they beat, tortured and in some cases summarily executed.”

On April 11, 2015, 51 Brotherhood supporters were convicted in a mass trial, based on the testimony of a single police officer. HRW said the evidence presented at the trial demonstrated that the men were disseminating news about and organizing peaceful protests in opposition to the military coup and removal of Morsi.

Fourteen of the defendants were sentenced to death and the other 37 were given life sentences. According to Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of HRW, “The fact that people who covered and publicized the mass killings in 2013 could go to prison for life or be executed while the killers walk free captures the abject politicization of justice in Egypt.”

Morsi was convicted of charges including incitement to violence and torture from 2012 demonstrations that resulted in the deaths of 10 people outside the presidential palace. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

THE DUTCH LAWSUIT
The case against Ibrahim is under consideration by the Dutch prosecutor’s office. Should the prosecutor refuse to prosecute Ibrahim, the petitioners can request that the superior court in The Hague order the prosecutor to prosecute.

There has been no legal accountability for the massacres conducted by the Egyptian military government against the largely peaceful protesters. If high government officials in Egypt are permitted to commit crimes against humanity with impunity, it will encourage similar actions in the future – both in Egypt and elsewhere.

Since there is little prospect for justice in Egypt itself, the Dutch lawsuit may be the only vehicle for accountability for these most serious crimes.

Egypt: Draconian sentences for 51 including journalists & media workers

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Draconian Sentences for 51 Including Journalists and Media Workers
April 19, 2015
 
A review of the prosecution’s evidence in a mass trial of 51 alleged supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood shows that the government presented no evidence of criminal behavior besides the testimony of one police officer.

On April 11, 2015, an Egyptian judge convicted and sentenced 37 people to life in prison and confirmed the death penalties of 14 others for their alleged roles in organizing opposition to the military’s removal of former President Mohamed Morsy in July 2013.

The charges ranged from publishing false news to conspiring to overthrow the interim government installed by the military following the removal of Morsy. But a review of the case file by Human Rights Watch shows that the state presented little evidence that the defendants did anything but spread news about a mass sit-in opposing the coup or organize and publicize peaceful opposition to Morsy’s removal.

Security forces violently dispersed the sit-in at Cairo’s Rab’a al-Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013, killing more than 800 mostly peaceful protesters. The killings were a probable crime against humanity for which no government official or member of the security forces has faced investigation or prosecution.

“The fact that people who covered and publicized the mass killings in 2013 could go to prison for life or be executed while the killers walk free captures the abject politicization of justice in Egypt,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

The April 11, 2015 verdict came after United States President Barack Obama announced, following a call with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on March 31, that he would allow the release to Egypt of F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tanks, and Harpoon missiles that the US had withheld since Morsy’s removal.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said in a statement that rather than wait until the administration could certify to Congress that Egypt had taken steps toward a restoration of full democracy, Secretary of State John Kerry would invoke a waiver citing US national security interests to request military aid without such a certification.

Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of 107 pages of the government’s file in the case of the 51 alleged Brotherhood supporters and verified the contents with a lawyer on the coordinated defense team. The file included evidence logs, prosecutors’ notes, and the full charge sheet and testimony from investigating police officers.

Judge Nagi Shehata, who presided over the case in his capacity as a special circuit judge assigned to hear cases of terrorism and national security, did not immediately release the text of his verdict. Human Rights Watch did not monitor the trial.

A review of the file showed that prosecutors presented no evidence other than testimony from a police major in the National Security Sector of the Interior Ministry to support their accusation that the defendants planned to use violence to overthrow the government.

The police major alleged that Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and other top leaders in the organization planned to cause chaos in Egypt by spreading false news of police abuse, confronting police in the streets, staging sit-ins at government buildings, and eventually arresting the coup leaders and forming their own government.

Other evidence meant to support the prosecution’s case – including seized papers and text messages – suggested only that the defendants had helped publicize and organize protests against Morsy’s removal.

“Peacefully advocating a political point of view or doing your job as a journalist should never be a crime,” Stork said. “This trial appears to be simply another effort by the Egyptian government to silence its opponents.”

The defendants included 10 journalists and seven people who worked as Brotherhood spokesmen or for Brotherhood-owned news outlets, as well as Mohamed Soltan, a 27-year-old Egyptian-American who volunteered to arrange news coverage of the sit-in, and was sentenced to life in prison. Walid Abd al-Raouf Shalabi, a writer at the Brotherhood’s official Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) newspaper, was sentenced to death.

On April 11, the White House issued a statement saying that the United States condemned the sentence against Soltan and calling for his immediate release.

Badie and other prominent leaders in the Brotherhood also received death sentences. In Egypt, a life sentence is 25 years, and defense lawyers have said they will appeal all the sentences.

Soltan has been on hunger strike for more than 400 days and has suffered potentially permanent damage to his health, his family has said. Unlike the Australian Al Jazeera English journalist Peter Greste, who was convicted by Shehata in an earlier case and deported under a decree issued by al-Sisi permitting the “extradition” of foreign defendants, or Greste’s colleague Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian who remains on trial in Egypt after renouncing his Egyptian citizenship in the hope of taking advantage of the decree, Soltan has not yet given up his Egyptian citizenship. On April 11, however, his family called for the US to demand that al-Sisi release Soltan “the same way he released … Peter Greste.”

The authorities should quash the convictions of the journalists and media workers who were convicted solely for their reporting or for exercising their right to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said. If there is credible evidence that the other defendants planned or promoted violence, prosecutors should retry them in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards and present such evidence.

The case is the latest of more than a dozen mass trials since 2013 targeting Brotherhood members and others who have opposed the new government of al-Sisi, the former defense minister who orchestrated Morsy’s removal. Shehata, a criminal court judge in Giza governorate, was appointed by the country’s highest appeals court in January 2014 to one of nine special circuits meant to hear terrorism cases and those affecting “national unity and peace.” He has since overseen multiple mass trials. On February 4, 2015, he sentenced 230 protesters and activists to life in prison, while on February 2, he confirmed 183 death sentences for a deadly attack by alleged Brotherhood supporters on a police station.

In June 2014, Egypt’s grand mufti, who is legally required to give his opinion on death sentences in his role as the country’s highest Islamic legal official, rejected 14 death sentences handed down by Shehata against Badie and other Brotherhood members in a separate case. One of the assisting judges on the panel overseeing the case said that the mufti had found that “the investigations and evidence were not enough to carry out the death sentence,” Reuters reported.

THE PROSECUTION'S CASE
According to the case file obtained by Human Rights Watch, the prosecution alleged that 14 of the defendants, among them Badie and other prominent Brotherhood officials, had planned to “overturn the constitution” and form a new government by force, prevent state institutions from working, and attack security forces and places of Christian worship, or had provided the Brotherhood with money and weapons to do so.

All of the defendants except Badie and Mahmoud Ghozlan, another top Brotherhood leader, were charged with participating in this “criminal agreement” and preparing a plan to “spread chaos in the country.”

Prosecutors accused 35 defendants – among them Soltan, journalists, and media workers – of publishing “rumors” and “false news” that they allegedly knew would “weaken the prestige of the state,” “spread terror,” “disturb the general security,” and convince the international community that the government could not administer the country.

The judge convicted thirteen defendants in absentia. Two defendants – Ghozlan and Amr Farrag, a journalist – remain at large, while 11 were officially listed by the prosecution as fugitives but are actually being held by the authorities and are defendants in other cases, a defense lawyer told Human Rights Watch.

In his testimony, Maj. Mostafa Khalil, the National Security Sector officer who provided the bulk of the prosecution’s evidence, alleged that after security forces dispersed the sit-in in Cairo on August 14, 2013, Badie ordered Ghozlan to set up “operation rooms” under the supervision of Hossam Abu Bakr, a former Morsy-appointed governor of the Qalyubiya governorate, who was also sentenced to death on April 11, 2015.

Major Khalil said that Abu Bakr and nine others agreed to “execute a plan” that would include publishing falsified accounts of protesters’ deaths and injuries in order to claim that security forces had “violated international human rights standards.” This coverage, he theorized, would allow the Brotherhood to rally supporters and organize armed marches that would distract security forces and provide the Brotherhood with an opportunity to loot weapons from police stations.

Major Khalil alleged that Saad al-Hosseini, a former member of parliament who was among those sentenced to death, oversaw an agreement to hire “criminal elements” to join Brotherhood marches and confront security forces, and that other defendants were responsible for recording the confrontations and sharing the information with the international media.

Among the properties used as “operation rooms,” prosecutors alleged, was the headquarters of the independent news website Rassd. Major Khalil said that when police arrested Soltan on August 26, 2013, he was meeting in an apartment with two Rassd journalists – Abdullah al-Fakharany, the executive director, and Samhi Mustafa, a co-founder – as well as Mohamed al-Adly, a correspondent for the Amgad satellite television channel, and that the four were planning future coverage and how to communicate securely. Farrag, the journalist who remains at large, also worked for Rassd and was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia.

The police who arrested Soltan – then recovering from a bullet wound in his arm suffered at the sit-in – had been looking for his father, Salah, a Brotherhood member, Soltan’s family has said. Soltan’s sister told Human Rights Watch that when Soltan asked for a warrant during the arrest, an officer laughed and said he was told to “round up” whomever he found in the house. Soltan’s father was sentenced to death in the same case.

Ten days before Soltan’s arrest, the prosecution said, police had arrested four Brotherhood leaders in another apartment, where they found “stacks of paper” with titles such as “Scenario,” “Characteristics and Types of Weapons,” and “Description of Movements in Some Places.” The authorities said they had found $887 in US dollars and 418,000 Egyptian pounds (US$54,800) in cash, as well as an order from a hawala – an informal money-transfer system – for another 400,000 Egyptian pounds.

Besides Major Khalil’s testimony, the prosecution’s case file includes no evidence that any of the defendants planned or advocated violence. Among the items listed as seized from various alleged “operation rooms” were cameras, laptops, CDs, hard drives, mobile phones, and papers related to legislative projects of the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), such as “Elections Program” and “Egyptian Constitution Project.”

Other “evidence” included a document called “I Refuse the Coup Against Legitimacy in Two Languages: Arabic and English.” The prosecution’s file did not describe the documents in more detail.

The defense lawyer, who asked not to be named, told Human Rights Watch that police found no weapons in possession of any of the defendants and that prosecutors presented no corroborating evidence, such as emails or text messages, to support Major Khalil’s testimony.

In a section of the case file labeled “prosecution notes,” the authors cite “many media publications” found by police in a Cairo apartment used by the Brotherhood that included remarks by Badie explaining “how to occupy and control government buildings and confront police forces with the use of violence.”

But much of the prosecution’s evidence describes only alleged plans by Badie and other high-ranking Brotherhood members to bring down the interim government through nonviolent civil disobedience. In another Cairo apartment, prosecutors wrote, police found written papers addressed to Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater and labeled “Scenario” that contained, among other sections, one titled “Nonviolent Weapons of War.”

This section suggested plans for a “social and economic boycott of state institutions,” occupying government offices, and publishing “a parallel government.” It suggested allying with other revolutionary groups, such as the April 6 Movement and Ultras soccer fans.

 It also allegedly contained plans for a 3-day “rally” that would involve occupying public squares, “fatiguing” security forces with clashes, surrounding embassies and government buildings, and conclude by “storming” the constitutional court, “besieging” the Ittihadeya presidential palace, and arresting the interim president and defense minister.

Other purportedly criminal plans discovered by police included a paper that suggested organizing a large march of protesters to Cairo Stadium for a day called “Sports Against the Coup” that would feature the demonstrators from the Rab’a sit-in playing against those from the other main sit-in in the capital, at Nahda Square.

Among those sentenced on April 11, 2015, were several people who served as key liaisons between foreign journalists and the Brotherhood and FJP, including Khaled Hamza, director of Ikhwanweb, the Brotherhood’s main English-language website; Ahmed Aref, a main Brotherhood spokesman; Murad Ali, chief FJP spokesman; and Gehad al-Haddad, the son of Morsy’s foreign policy advisor. Al-Haddad often gave interviews and background briefings to English-language media during the Rab’a sit-in.

In the prosecution’s notes, investigators wrote down paraphrased “confessions” from some of these defendants. Most of these statements consist only of acknowledgments that the individual was a Brotherhood member, participated in the Rab’a sit-in, or helped spread news about protests opposing Morsy’s removal.

The defense lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the confessions were fabricated and that all the defendants had declined to speak with prosecutors.

Al-Haddad’s “confession” states that he served as a spokesman for the Brotherhood, helped arrange official statements, and set up a media center in a hall inside the Rab’a al-Adawiya mosque, where the Brotherhood often held news conferences during the sit-in. The prosecution said that al-Haddad also “confessed” to giving three interviews to foreign media – to a Spanish newspaper, an American television channel, and the New York Times – after the Rab’a dispersal.

Soltan’s “confession” states only that he frequented the Rab’a sit-in and was responsible for dealing with the foreign journalists who covered it.

EARLIER MASS TRIALS
The number of defendants charged in mass trials since 2013 has ranged from two dozen to 494, and the charges have spanned from murder to participation in anti-government protests. Hundreds of defendants have been sentenced to death or life in prison. As of late March 2015, 435 alleged Morsy supporters had received death sentences and appealed their case to the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court, according to a count by the Moheet news website.

In March, Egypt carried out the first execution to stem from Morsy’s overthrow, after an alleged anti-coup protester was convicted of murder in mass trial involving 58 defendants. Six men convicted in a separate, military trial of belonging to a terrorist group and attacking security forces currently face execution.

The April 11 Sentences of Journalists and Media Workers
The 18 journalists and media workers sentenced on April 11, 2015, are:

Sentenced to death:
  1. Walid Abd al-Raouf Shalabi – Writer for Freedom and Justice Party newspaper
Sentenced to life in prison:
  1. Hani Salahuddin – broadcaster and former journalist at Al-Youm Al-Sabaa newspaper
  2. Gamal Nasar – journalist and broadcaster
  3. Ibrahim al-Taher – journalist
  4. Abdou Desouki – journalist
  5. Mohamed al-Adly – Amgad television channel correspondent
  6. Mosaad al-Barbari –Ahrar 25 television channel director
  7. Hussein al-Qabbani – Journalists for Reform group coordinator
  8. Amr Farrag – Rassd news website director
  9. Samhi Mustafa – Rassd news website executive director
  10. Abdullah al-Fakharany – Rassd news website founding member
  11. Mohamed Soltan – Rab’a sit-in media volunteer
  12. Ahmed Aref – Muslim Brotherhood spokesman
  13. Murad Ali – Freedom and Justice Party spokesman
  14. Gehad al-Haddad – Muslim Brotherhood English-language spokesman
  15. Khaled Hamza – Muslim Brotherhood English website, Ikhwanweb, director
  16. Ahmed Subei – Muslim Brotherhood Arabic website, Ikhwan Online, employee
  17. Magdi Hammouda – Muslim Brotherhood Arabic website, Ikhwan Online, employee

Another two detainees die in custody of Egyptian police

Daily News Egypt

Two detainees die in Old Cairo police station

April 19, 2015 

Two detainees have died in an Old Cairo police station due to the lack of ventilation, with the prosecution ordering an autopsy of the bodies, state media said.

The Ministry of Interior said the deaths were due a “circulatory failure.”

The first incident happened last Thursday, when a prisoner suffered a heart attack due to the police station’s crowded detention room. The deceased was accused of stealing a car battery.

The second case, the prosecution said, suffered circulatory failure and received first aid from his fellow inmates and the police station medics, but died instantly. He was charged with narcotics possession.

After investigating the death, the prosecution said the number of detainees in the cell was 380, while its capacity allows only 100 prisoners.

Since the beginning of the year, the number of deaths in police custody has been increasing.

Last week, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat organised a visit to detention centres at a number of police stations, where he observed several “violations,” such as the presence of insects and rubbish, state media reported.

The police stations included the Ain Shams, El-Marg, Shubra El-Kheima, and Matariya.

Matariya police station is controversially known on the political scene as the “slaughter house”, in reference to the abundance of torture cases against detainees who are pending investigations.

Other violations observed by the prosecution were overcrowdedness, which “can lead to the spread of diseases and the deaths of diabetes and blood pressure patients”. The members of the prosecution said that the conditions of the cells were “inhumane.”

Last January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report strongly criticising Egyptian authorities for failing to improve detention conditions or to independently investigate reported detainees’ deaths as a result of physical torture inside prisons.