January 23, 2014
The Egyptian authorities are using every resource at their disposal to quash dissent and trample on human rights, said Amnesty International in a damning new report published ahead of the third anniversary of the “25 January Revolution.”
The briefing entitled Roadmap to repression: No end in sight to human rights violations, paints a bleak picture of the state of rights and liberties in Egypt since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
“Egypt has witnessed a series of damaging blows to human rights and state violence on an unprecedented scale over the last seven months. Three years on, the demands of the ‘25 January Revolution’ for dignity and human rights seem further away than ever. Several of its architects are behind bars and repression and impunity are the order of the day,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
Across the board the Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly. Repressive legislation has been introduced making it easier for the government to silence its critics and crack down on protests. Security forces have been given free rein to act above the law and with no prospect of being held to account for abuses.
“With such measures in place, Egypt is headed firmly down the path towards further repression and confrontation. Unless the authorities change course and take concrete steps to show they respect human rights and the rule of law, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, Egypt is likely to find its jails packed with unlawful detained prisoners and its morgues and hospitals with yet more victims of arbitrary and abusive force by its police,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
In a speech last weekend President Adly Mansour described the newly adopted Egyptian constitution as paving the way for building a country that “respects freedom, democracy and makes rights and justice a way of work and life.”
“In reality, the current state of human rights is abysmal. The Egyptian government will be judged by its actions not its words. Verbal reassurances will ring hollow if repression on the ground is increasing and a mere tweet can lead you to prison”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“The authorities must loosen their stranglehold on civil society and allow peaceful protests and other avenues for lawful dissent. Their current policies are a betrayal of all the aspirations for bread, freedom and social justice of the ‘25 January Revolution’.”
In recent months, the country has seen violence on an unprecedented scale, with security forces committing gross human rights violations, routinely using excessive, including lethal, force against opposition protesters and at demonstrations on university campuses.
Since 3 July 2013, 1,400 people have been killed in political violence, most of them due to excessive force used by security forces. No proper investigation has been carried out into the deaths of more than 500 Morsi supporters when excessive force was used to disperse a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya in August 2013.
Not a single member of the security forces has been charged in connection with the incident which was a callous bloodbath on an unprecedented scale.
“Instead of reining in the security forces, the authorities have effectively handed them a mandate for repression. Once again in Egypt, the rhetoric of ‘countering terrorism’ is being used to justify sweeping crackdowns that fail to distinguish between legitimate dissent and violent attacks,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Security forces must be held to account for human rights violations. Far from it, by allowing them to operate with impunity, the authorities have emboldened them. The cycle of abuse will only be broken when the rule of law applies to all, regardless of their rank, and political affiliations.”
Since the “25 January Revolution” just a handful of low-ranking security forces have been convicted over the deaths of protesters.
In the months following the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi as president, army checkpoints, security personnel and government buildings have come under increased attack by groups described by the authorities as “terrorists.”
While the Egyptian government has the right and duty to protect lives and prosecute those responsible for such crimes, human rights must not be sacrificed in the name of “countering terrorism.”
Ahead of the third anniversary of the uprising, Egypt’s interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, warned that prisons and police stations have been secured with heavy weapons. In a show of force, signalling how emboldened the security forces have become, he dared anyone to try to test their strength.
The most brazen clampdown has been on freedom of expression and assembly. Thousands of perceived Muslim Brotherhood supporters and members have been rounded up by the security forces for criticizing Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Women, men and children peacefully expressing their opposition to the military have not been spared.
In December the Muslim Brotherhood was officially designated a “terrorist organization”, making it even easier for the authorities to crack down on the group. On 23 December at least 1,055 charities affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood had their assets frozen.
Hundreds of students have also been arrested during protests and clashes. In one emblematic case in November, a 19-year-old student Mohamed Reda was shot dead at Cairo University when riot police fired teargas and shotguns inside the university grounds.
Secular activists and students have also been targeted in an apparent attempt by the government to quash all dissent, across the political spectrum. Prominent “25 January Revolution” activists are today in jail for daring to call for accountability and human rights.
A new protest law placing restrictions on public gatherings and demonstrations has been introduced posing a grave threat to freedom of assembly and granting security forces license to use excessive force against peaceful protesters. The result is a charter for state-sanctioned repression and carte blanche for security force abuses.
This has been coupled with attacks on journalists and media freedom as well as raids and attempts to place further restrictions on non-governmental organizations.
“There is a concerted effort underway to squeeze out any independent observers from activists, to journalists to nongovernmental organizations. This is a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for them to operate in Egypt and continue their work documenting and reporting on state abuses,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
The authorities have also sought to use the criminal justice system as a tool of repression.
“The judiciary is being used to punish government opponents while allowing perpetrators of human rights violations to walk free,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
*Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany courtesy of Reuters