Friday, October 31, 2014

Army forcefully displaces 10,000 residents & destroys 100s of homes by Gaza border

Associated Press 
Egyptian army demolishes homes along Gaza border

Thursday - October 30, 2014

EL-ARISH, Egypt - With dynamite and bulldozers, Egypt's army demolished dozens of homes along its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after the military ordered residents out to make way for a planned buffer zone meant to stop extremists and smugglers.

The plan to clear 10,000 residents from some 800 houses over just several days has angered the area's population, which has long held grievances with Cairo.

"To throw 10,000 people into the street in a second, this is the biggest threat to national security," said Ayman Mohsen, whose sister left her house about 350 yards from the border. Speaking to the Associated Press via online messages, he said the army told residents to leave on Tuesday within 48 hours, and that houses would be blown up even if people remained inside.

Over the last decade, the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula has become a hub for Islamic extremists, although insurgency has spiked since last year's military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. It has also spread to other parts of Egypt, with extremists targeting police in Cairo and the Nile Delta.

The move to set up the planned 8-mile buffer zone, which will be 500 yards wide, comes after extremists attacked an army checkpoint near Sheikh Zuweyid town last week, killing 31 soldiers. No group claimed responsibility.

After the attack, Egypt declared a three-month state of emergency and dawn-to-dusk curfew there and indefinitely closed the Gaza crossing, the only non-Israeli passage for the crowded strip with the world.

Mona Barhomaa, an activist who lives 800 yards from the border and who is not affected by the evacuation order, said she supported the demolitions.

"The tunnels to me are like windows that for years my neighbors have used to infiltrate my house," she said, referring to the underground passageways used to smuggle goods and weapons. "The tunnels led us into this hellish situation."

Many residents were angered by the short notice and poor local organization, as well as a hostile media campaign unleashed days earlier that saw private and public television commentators equating opposition to the plan with treason.

Tanks and armored vehicles sealed off all of Rafah as thick gray smoke rose in the sky each time demolition charges went off and another house was toppled.

The corridor will eventually be monitored by surveillance cameras and feature a water-filled trench that will be 40 yards wide, 20 yards deep, and run all along the border to the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.

*Photo by Said Khatib, courtesy of AFP/Getty Images 

Interpol rejects Egypt's request for arrest of Al-Jazeera journalist

No Interpol arrest warrant for Al-Jazeera journalist

Global police body says Egypt's request for international arrest warrant against Ahmed Mansour "did not meet its rules."

October 28, 2014         

The global police organisation Interpol has rejected Egypt's request for an international arrest warrant against Ahmed Mansour, a senior Al Jazeera Arabic TV journalist.

Mansour, who is facing a 15-year jail term in his home country, is one of several journalists working for the Qatar-based media network convicted in absentia by Egyptian courts.

In a statement on Tuesday, Doha-based Al Jazeera quoted Interpol as saying that the "red notice request" issued by Egyptian authorities "did not meet Interpol’s rules."

Egypt has stepped up efforts to curb dissent following the military coup in 2013 that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, ordering the arrest of prominent opposition leaders, Muslim Brotherhood members, activists and journalist.

Three Al Jazeera English journalists - Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste - were arrested late in 2013 and recently marked their 300th day in jail.

An Egyptian court convicted Mansour earlier this month of "carrying out torture against a lawyer in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the revolution" of January 2011.

Mansour has vigorously rejected the charges, which Doha-based Al Jazeera has dismissed as "a flimsy attempt at character assassination."

Speaking to Al Jazeera English on Tuesday, Mansour said the Interpol's rebuff casts doubt on the Egyptian judiciary's decisions.

"The Interpol decision means that all Al Jazeera employees including Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, convicted by Egyptian courts are completely innocent."

An Al Jazeera Media Network spokesman in the Qatari capital Doha said the Egyptian "campaign" to intimidate journalists is "not working" and called on the government to stop going after journalists including Mansour.

The spokesman also repeated the media network's call for the release of Greste, Mohamed and Fahmy.

Sisi expands army's power to send civilians to military trials

Egypt’s leader grants military broad powers to put civilians on trial

October 27, 2014

Egypt’s president expanded the powers of the country’s armed forces Monday to enable the prosecution of civilians in military courts, a move that rights activists fear will intensify an already searing government crackdown on dissent.

The measures by President ­Abdel Fatah al-Sissi give the military even broader reach than during the decades under Hosni Mubarak, who applied relentless pressure on perceived opponents until his ouster in early 2011.

Sissi’s decree allows the military to try civilians for a wide variety of crimes, including destroying public property and blocking roads.

Egypt’s constitution already grants the army the ability to try cases that directly involve a military officer or an army installation. But Monday’s edict extends the military’s jurisdiction to cover attacks on “vital” institutions such as power plants, oil fields and bridges.

The move by Sissi, a former defense minister who rose to power as a military strongman, follows a devastating attack last week on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, where militant groups have flourished in recent years.

The suicide car bombing killed more than 30 soldiers, making it the deadliest attack on Egyptian army personnel in decades. Government officials said Monday that the law is necessary to ensure the safety of citizens and that it will remain in force for two years.

But military trials in Egypt are often held in secret, and judges mete out swift verdicts that can be challenged only before a military appeals court. Activists say civilian lawyers have trouble navigating the military justice system, leaving defendants without proper legal counsel.

Experts are worried that the scope of the military’s expanded jurisdiction will permanently sideline civilian courts in favor of army tribunals.

“This decree means we will destroy the civilian courts and make military justice the norm,” said Mohamed Zarea, director of the Cairo-based Arab Penal Reform Organization, which offers legal assistance to prisoners. “We can’t just turn all of our state institutions into military institutions.”

The current government has presided over one of the most repressive periods in Egypt’s history, beginning when Sissi toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013.

The subsequent rise of a low-level insurgency has contributed to steady attacks against security personnel, killing hundreds.

Authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people in a bid to cripple the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that backed Morsi and that is Egypt’s largest opposition movement. But the clampdown also has extended to secular activists and students opposed to Sissi’s rule.

On Sunday, an Egyptian judge sentenced 23 activists to three years in prison for violating a protest law adopted late last year. In the wake of the Sinai attack, Egyptian media personalities have urged the local press to refrain from publishing stories that would “undermine” the army’s efforts to fight terrorism.

“This is just the imposition of authoritarian power through emergency law,” said Amir Salem, an Egyptian human rights lawyer. “And what it means is that there will be more decrees like this and probably more crackdowns.”

*Heba Habib contributed to this report.

Mainstream media pledges to limit criticism of Sisi's dictatorship

New York Times
Egyptian Media to Limit Criticism of Government

OCT. 26, 2014

CAIRO — A group of Egyptian newspaper editors pledged Sunday to limit their criticism of state institutions, a day after Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, warned of a “conspiracy” behind a militant attack last week that killed at least 31 soldiers.

The editors said they condemned the attack, which occurred on Friday in the Sinai Peninsula, while promising to confront the “hostile culture toward the national project and the foundations of the Egyptian state.”

The statement raised the likelihood of growing limits on dissent, and appeared to be an attempt to please Mr. Sisi, who drastically sharpened his own tone on Saturday in dealing with the simmering Islamist insurgency centered in the Sinai Peninsula that escalated after the military takeover in July 2013.

In discussing Friday’s attack — the deadliest assault on the Egyptian military in years — Mr. Sisi grew visibly angry, vaguely blaming foreign plots that he said sought to “break Egypt’s will.”

Court sentences 23 activists to 3 years in jail for partaking in peaceful protest march

Three Years in Prison for Rights Activist, Others
October 26, 2014
(Beirut) – A Cairo court of minor offenses handed down three-year sentences to 23 people for breaking an anti-protest law that allows Egyptian authorities broad powers to ban or disperse most public demonstrations. 
One of those sentenced on October 20, 2014, Yara Sallam, is a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the country’s leading human rights organizations. The court also fined the defendants 10,000 EGP (US$1,400) each.

Police arrested the group on June 21 at a peaceful protest where they were calling for the repeal of the law, which then-interim President Adly Mansour issued by decree on November 24, 2013. The defendants can appeal the verdict.

“It’s back to business as usual in Egypt, with the Egyptian government brazenly trampling on the rights of its citizens and Western governments supporting it,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “The Sisi government will clearly go to any length to crush domestic opposition, whether secular or Islamist.”

Rights activists estimate that authorities have arrested hundreds for breaking the law, which grants the Interior Ministry an absolute right to ban protests or public meetings on the basis of “serious information or evidence that there will be a threat to peace and security,” without requiring any proof.

In June 2014, the United States released $575 million in military aid to Egypt that it had frozen since a July 2013 military coup led by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that ousted former President Mohamed Morsy. 
It did so on the basis of a national security exception to requirements that the State Department certify that Egypt was “taking steps to support a democratic transition… and for the development of…basic freedoms, including civil society and the media.” 

Student dies from injuries sustained following police raid of campus

Aswat Masriya

Egypt: Student Dies Due to Wounds Sustained During On-Campus Violence

 October 21, 2014

Alexandria — A student at the University of Alexandria was reported dead on Tuesday morning due to wounds sustained during on-campus violence last week.

Omar Abdel Wahab, a sophomore at the university's faculty of law, was admitted into the university hospital following his injury last Tuesday. He is the first student to die as a result of on-campus violence during the current academic year, which started on October 11.

University campuses have witnessed unprecedented violence throughout the past academic year, with at least 16 students killed amid on-campus protests, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression's Student Observatory.

The pro-Mohamed Mursi "Students against the coup" movement has been organising protests against the former Islamist president's military ouster throughout the past academic year. Protests have often devolved into clashes with security forces.

"Students against the coup" in the University of Alexandria mourned the death of Abdel Wahab. In a statement released on Tuesday, the movement vowed that the deceased student's blood "will not go in vain."

A number of students from the University of Alexandria organised a demonstration protesting Abdel Wahab's death and calling for retribution on Tuesday, an eye-witness told Aswat Masriya.

The Ministry of Interior said on October 14 that two policemen were wounded in clashes between students who "belong to the Muslim Brotherhood" and the security forces inside Alexandria University.

The security forces arrested 37 students, the ministry added in a statement. It accused around 250 protesting students of vandalising one of the gates and pelting security personnel outside the university with rocks.

Mohamed Ramadan, an Alexandrian lawyer defending 16 students arrested on background of the violence which took place in the University of Alexandria on October 14, told Aswat Masriya that all 16 defendants were "randomly arrested" from the scene of the violence, denying that any of them has political affiliations.

The 16 defendants are accused of murdering Abdel Wahab, the attempted murder of another student who was injured in the violence, illegal assembly and protesting without notice, Ramadan said. They were detained for 15 days on Thursday.

Before the start of the academic year, the cabinet discussed measures to be adopted during the year to quell any possible tension.

Minister of Higher Education Sayed Abdel Khalek hired a private security company on September 24 to guard 12 public universities during the coming academic year.

Strict security measures adopted by Falcon Security Services at the university gates nevertheless triggered violence from the students, who became frustrated with their delayed entrance into campus.

The Cairo-based Democracy Index reported on Saturday the occurrence of 58 student protests during the first week of the new academic year, at the rate of almost 10 protests per day.

AFTE reported the arrest of over 200 students during the past week in a report released on Saturday. AFTE said that 186 students remain detained. Those arrested include 70 students arrested from their homes, AFTE had earlier reported.

Eight domestic civil society organisations condemned the arrest of students during the first three days of the year in a statement released last Tuesday. International Watchdog Human Rights Watch also condemned the students' arrest in a separate statement on the same day, calling for their release.

Police use excessive force in attempt to crush student protests

Egypt: Security forces use excessive force to crush student protests 

17 October 2014

Testimonies gathered by Amnesty International indicate that Egyptian security forces used excessive force to crack down on student demonstrations at Alexandria University this week, injuring at least 35 students and leaving three other students in a critical condition. Two security officers were injured during the clashes according to official figures. 

Students interviewed by Amnesty International described how protests that started peacefully on university grounds later descended into violence. Security forces stationed outside the university’s main gate fired tear gas and shotgun pellets at a crowd of students, some of whom hurled ‘hmarich’ (fireworks), Molotov cocktails and stones.

It is not clear how the clashes began but as they intensified, security forces broke down the main gate storming the university premises, chasing students and continuing to fire at them.

“The Egyptian security forces have a bleak record of using arbitrary and abusive force against protesters including students. The lack of accountability for such violations, including unlawful killings, gives them the green light to carry on brutalizing protesters,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The demonstrations at Alexandria University began in the early afternoon on 14 October when around 500 students gathered to protest against security measures introduced by the university’s new security agency ‘Falcon’. The agency has been contracted by the Ministry of Higher Education to maintain security in 15 universities across Egypt.

The new security measures imposed include searches at the university gates, stricter policies on male and female students mixing and the power to stop and search students on the university campus at any time. The students were also protesting against the unfair trials and prolonged detention of fellow students arrested during previous demonstrations.

One student told Amnesty International how security forces stationed outside the main gate had shot at students protesting on campus nearby. “They started firing tear gas followed by shotgun pellets.

The pellets were raining down on us and I could see students around me getting injured. We were suffocated by the tear gas and ran away moving further inside the university campus,” he said.

Another student recounted how security forces who had broken down the main gate chased students who sought refuge in the Mechanical Engineering department building.

“They were even following us with their armoured vehicles inside the university campus,” he said.

“They started to shoot pellets and I saw my friend Abdel Rahman Abdel Aziz shot in his mouth and eye, I carried him inside the Mechanical Engineering building with the help of other colleagues to seek protection, but the security forces followed us and continued to shoot tear gas and pellets inside the building.”

Another student who was inside the building told Amnesty International: “We were inside on the ground floor of the Mechanical Engineering department building. Security forces were shooting pellets and tear gas inside the building, they broke the glass of the windows of the ground floor and continued firing tear gas. They also fired pellets through gaps in the iron bars of the door to the building.”

Evidence collected by Amnesty International indicates that the security forces shot tear gas inside the building and used firearms and pellets, randomly against students when it was not necessary. One of the students injured during the incident, Omar Abdelwahab, is in a critical condition after sustaining pellet shots in his neck and both eyes.

“The government must act urgently to rein in the security forces,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Any use of force in the policing of demonstrations, even when they have turned violent or are regarded by the authorities as illegal, must comply with international law.

The use of force by security forces is prohibited by international law except as strictly necessary and to the extent required for them to perform their duty. Firearms may only be used as a last resort in self-defence or to protect others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Tear gas should not be fired at protesters inside buildings.

Widespread student protests against the repressive practices of the current government have rocked Egypt since the academic year began on 11 October and have been met by a fierce response from the authorities. At least 200 students across the country have been arrested during demonstrations and 90 have been injured according to Marsad Tolab Horreya (Student Freedom Observatory), an Egyptian student group that has been documenting violations during university protests.

At least 150 students were arrested during the protests at Alexandria University. Twenty-two remain in detention on vague or groundless charges including participating in protests without authorization.

 All those arrested merely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, must be released immediately and unconditionally with all charges against them dropped.

“Across the world, universities have provided a fertile ground for debates and dissent. This should be praised as a sign of a vibrant youth activism rather than crushed,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Where there is sufficient evidence of violent criminal activity against any protester, they must be tried only on recognizably criminal charges in proceedings that conform to international standards on fair trials.

Sixteen of the detained students have been accused of attempting to murder two students who were injured during the protests. The 16 students are also facing charges such as injuring two police officers, protesting without authorization, destroying public property and belonging to a banned group. These are felony crimes under Egyptian law and may be punished by up to 15 years in prison.

The six other students detained are accused of belonging to a banned group, protesting without authorization, possessing weapons and destroying public property. These are considered misdemeanours punishable by up to three years in prison.  The prosecutor ordered the detention of the two groups on 16 October for 15 days. 

*Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images