Thursday, June 30, 2016

Top Lebanese TV anchor arrested, deported from Egypt

Associated Press 
Top Lebanese TV presenter detained, deported from Egypt

Daoud's TV show was critical of the Egyptian government

June 28, 2016
A prominent Lebanese journalist who hosted a talk show on Egypt’s private ONTV critical of the government of President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi arrived in Beirut on Tuesday after authorities in Cairo briefly detained and then deported her, her lawyer said.

Lilian Daoud could not immediately be reached for comment. Her lawyer, Zyad Al Elaimy, wrote on his Twitter account that her first comment after landing in Beirut was that she will challenge the decision to deport her.

There was no formal explanation for Daoud’s deportation from Egypt.

An Egyptian security official, speaking on Monday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters, said Daoud’s residency permit expired after her contract with the ONTV station was terminated.

Al Elaimy said eight men in plainclothes had escorted Daoud from her home in an upscale suburb in Cairo, where she has lived for years, late on Monday, after she announced on her social media account that the network had ended her contract.

Her 10-year-old daughter was there when the men took Daoud away, allowing her no time to pick up luggage. She only called her family from the plane before it headed to Beirut, Al Elaimy said.

The decision to abruptly deport Douad shocked her colleagues and other public figures.

Mohammad Al Baradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the Egyptian uprising’s spiritual fathers who now lives in self-imposed exile, applauded Daoud for her professional reporting.

“One day we may have enough self-confidence to understand the value of having different opinions,” he said in a subtle jab at the local authorities.

Daoud formerly worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation, and lived in London before moving to Egypt.

Her talk show aired critical views of Egyptian President Al Sissi’s government. Since the military overthrow of President Mohammad Morsi in 2013, the government has shown little tolerance for criticism, banning protests and taking programs off the air.

Satirical TV host Bassem Youssef — once described as the Jon Stewart of Egypt and whose program was taken off the air for his criticism of the government — said her arrest is “just the beginning.”

“Egypt ... can’t tolerate the rest of the world,” Youssef, who has also left Egypt, wrote on his Facebook.

Solidarity! Demand end of military trial of 26 workers from Alexandria Shipyard Co.

Mada Masr
Solidarity conference demands end to military trial of 26 Alexandria Shipyard workers

Monday, June 27, 2016

Jano Charbel

A conference in solidarity with 26 workers from the Alexandria Shipyard Company who are standing military trial on charges of inciting strikes was held in Cairo on Monday.

A host of solidarity statements was also issued demanding that all charges be dropped against the workers, or that the case be referred to a civilian court.

The “Against Military Trials of Workers” conference was held at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) headquarters. It was attended by several political activists, along with dozens of representatives of at least 12 parties, labor groups and rights organizations.

Speaking at the conference, lawyer Osama al-Mahdy from the No Military Trials group called for the immediate release of the workers. Mahdy pointed out that since 2011, at least 18,000 civilians have stood trial before military tribunals, when they should have been referred to the civilian judicial system instead.

“The referral of all issues in the country to the Armed Forces’ command will not help to build a modern civil state,” Khaled Dawoud, spokesperson for the Dostour Party, declared at the conference.

The 26 workers took part in a peaceful sit-in along with most of their 2,500 coworkers on May 22 and 23 to demand the national minimum wage of LE1,200 per month, overdue profit shares, their annual Ramadan bonuses and health insurance, along with the re-operation of stalled production lines.

Originally established as a civilian facility several decades ago, the Alexandria Shipyard Company was taken over by the Ministry of Defense in 2007.

The trial began on June 18, and another hearing was held at the Alexandria Military Court on Monday. The next hearing is scheduled for Saturday, July 2, defense lawyer Mohamed Awad of ECESR told Mada Masr.

The workers are accused of striking and inciting strikes, although they insist that they did not partake in any form of work stoppage, said Awad. Rather, work ground to a halt because Alexandria Shipyard administrators imposed a lockout on their civilian workforce starting on May 24, the defendants claim.

Due to the lockout, the Alexandria Shipyard Company is currently operating at only around 10 percent of capacity, the lawyer said.

Awad added that “some conscripts have recently been brought in to undertake the civilian workers’ jobs.”

Of the 26 workers on trial, 15 have handed themselves in and have been attending the military court’s sessions in Alexandria, one of whom has been released on bail, according to Awad. The remaining 11 workers have not yet handed themselves in.

Awad told Mada Masr that the shipyard workers are hesitant to speak openly or to accept interviews with the media as they fear for their livelihoods in light of the ongoing lockout and the military trial of their colleagues.

Previous solidarity statements were issued by the Alexandria-based member of Parliament Haitham al-Hariry, who argued, “Civilians should not stand trial before military courts, even if they are working under military administration.”

He claimed that the trial “aims to intimidate and threaten workers," concluding, “Egypt is a state, not a military barracks.”

Monday's solidarity conference was attended by representatives of the Strong Egypt Party, the Dostour Party, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Bread and Freedom Party, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Center for Educational Rights, the Toward a Just Labor Law campaign, the No Military Trials campaign and the ECESR.

*Photos courtesy of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, and, respectively

Trial to outlaw independent unions referred to highest court in Egypt

Mada Masr

Monday, June 27, 2016

Jano Charbel

A historic case seeking to outlaw Egypt’s independent trade unions, in which a verdict was due Sunday, was referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC.)

The Administrative Court, which had initially been hearing this case, has also asked the SCC to review the constitutionality of several provisions of the 1976 trade union law in relation to the case.

According to defense lawyer Khaled Ali, the referral represents “a victory for the labor movement and rights.”
In February, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) - including leaders of finance, tax and insurance unions - had filed a lawsuit against independent unions before the Administrative Court, citing that the existing trade union law only recognizes the ETUF, which was established in 1957.

The ETUF and affiliates have been seeking to outlaw independent trade unions and federations since the 2011 popular uprising, which challenged the historic monopoly of the state-controlled federation, despite the 2014 Egyptian Constitution stating, “The law shall guarantee the right to establish syndicates and unions on a democratic basis,” and, “the state shall guarantee the independence of syndicates and unions.”

According to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) 105th conference in Geneva this month, Egypt’s trade union law is incompatible with both the ILO’s convention on freedom of association and on the right to organize, both of which were ratified by the Egyptian State in the 1950s and have not been upheld.

The ETUF has accused independent unions of being “illegal” and “illegitimate,” instigating labor unrest, and representing a “threat to national security,” as well as not being representative of Egypt’s trade unions or workers. It also cites a US plan by George W. Bush for the Middle East, accusing independent unions of receiving illegal foreign funding in US Dollars and Euros.

The state-controlled federation has also accused independent unions of aiming to destroy the state and national economy, “destroying moral principles” and being agents of Zionism.

However, independent unions have repeatedly dismissed such claims from the ETUF - as being baseless attempts to tarnish their image.

At the ILO conference in Geneva, independent unionists reiterated that the state-controlled federation has remained un-elected since the expiry of its term in 2011, with its leadership being directly appointed by the Ministry of Manpower and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi extending this by a year, ending in May.

Free the jailed members of satirical YouTube group

Egypt: Free Satirical YouTube Group

Video Performers Who Mocked Government Risk Terrorism Charges 

June 23, 2016

street children egypt satricial group 1

Egyptian authorities should drop their investigation into six young men who posted satirical videos commenting on Egypt’s politics on YouTube and release four of them, who have been detained since May 10, 2016. The investigation appears to be based purely on their satirical videos and violates the right to free speech.

Prosecutors are investigating the men, of a group called Street Children, after the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency alleged that they are “instigators against the ruling regime” who plotted to use “the internet, social media sites and YouTube” to spread video clips that would undermine the country’s stability by inciting citizens to protest. Prosecutors also investigated the four men in custody about terrorism-related accusations. On June 20, the East Cairo Public Prosecution Office sent the case to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, saying it was out of its jurisdiction.

“Egypt under Sisi is losing its legendary sense of humor when it locks up young men for making satirical videos,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “This kind of blanket repression leaves young people with few outlets to express themselves or joke about their daily hardships.”

Security forces arrested Ezz al-Din Khaled, 19, the group’s youngest member, on May 8. A judge released him on bail of 10,000 L.E (US$1,125) on May 10, after prosecutors charged him with inciting protests and using online platforms to insult state institutions. Security forces arrested Mohamed Dessouky, Mohamed Adel, Mohamed Gabr, and Mohamed Yehia on May 10 and are holding them in Cairo’s Heliopolis Police Station on suspicion of the same charges. Prosecutors most recently renewed their 15-day detention order pending investigations on June 18.

Under international law, a judge, not a prosecutor, should promptly review any arrest. However, Egyptian law allows extended periods of pretrial detention without judges’ orders. The sixth member of the group, Mostafa Zein, is under investigation but has not been arrested.

The week before the arrests, Street Children released a satirical music video in which they mocked President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and called on him to leave office.

Their lawyer, Mahmoud Othman, of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian human rights group, told Human Rights Watch that East Cairo district prosecutors have interrogated the four detained men about additional accusations. They include establishing a group that calls for resisting the authorities, disseminating false news to undermine public order, and inciting to overthrow the “ruling regime.”

These accusations, under penal code articles 171 and 174, carry possible 5-year prison sentences. The lawyer said that prosecutors also threatened to use terrorism charges, including articles 86 and 86 bis, which might lead to much longer sentences.

Prosecution reports reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that prosecutors are relying heavily on a two-page National Security Agency report on Street Children, written by Major Ahmed Abd al-Rahman on May 6. The report, reviewed by Human Rights Watch, cites “trusted confidential sources” who identified the group as “instigators” who “distort the words of some national songs and replace them with verbal abuse against the state.”

As is often the case in National Security reports, Major Abd al-Rahman did not describe the sources, and prosecutors have not questioned the officer further, said Othman, the lawyer. Based on the memo, the Supreme State Security Prosecution granted National Security officers a warrant to raid and inspect the men’s houses and arrest them.

The prosecution reports also showed that prosecutors questioned the four men about “indirectly” inciting “terrorist crimes” and indirectly disseminating terrorist thoughts by participating in videos that contained terrorist ideas.

The six members of the group, most in their 20s, met at a theater workshop and decided to move their performances to the street to make them more accessible to people who cannot afford the theater, one of their project coordinators told Human Rights Watch. In January, they began posting their selfie-style videos, in which they sing about topics including the Muslim Brotherhood, religious preachers, the value of the Egyptian pound and the decision to cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, and have attracted more than 1.1 million views on their YouTube Channel.

The group is also facing possible accusations of contempt of religion, which prosecutors have used more often in recent months and which led to 5-year prison sentences in absentia for four children in February because of their involvement in a short YouTube video mocking the extremist group Islamic State.

Reports in local newspapers stated that the Alexandria Minor Offenses Prosecution began separate investigations of Street Children based on a report, filed by lawyer Tarek Mahmoud, that accused the group of insulting Islam in their videos. Othman, the group’s lawyer, said that no one has been interrogated on this accusation yet.

Following the arrest of the four group members, journalists, professors, and other public figures began an online petition calling for the four men’s unconditional release and “free rein to freedom of opinion, imagination, and satire.”

Al-Sisi’s government severely restricts expression. Authorities have arrested and prosecuted dozens of journalists and confiscated journalistic material, according to a 2015 report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. In late January, security officials briefly arrested a cartoonist, Islam Gawish, for his satirical comics that criticized the presidency and government policies.

Asked about the government’s troubled relationship with youth activists, al-Sisi admitted during a televised interview on June 3 that state institutions, including the presidency, had failed to create mechanisms to effectively communicate with youth.

The investigations against the Street Children violate international human rights laws. The resolution on the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2002 prohibits arbitrary interference by governments in freedom of expression.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. Limitations are permissible only when they are stated clearly by law and are necessary to protect the rights or reputation of others or national security, public order, public health, or morals.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the covenant, stressed that “the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties” and that “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

“Egypt’s youth have been a driving force for change since the 2011 uprising,” Houry said. “Upholding human rights and free speech is the best way for al-Sisi to begin to repair the government’s relationship with them.”

Court annuls Egypt's handover of 2 islands to KSA

Egyptian court annuls deal to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

Jun 21, 2016

Haitham Ahmed 

An Egyptian court on Tuesday annulled a maritime border accord with Saudi Arabia that would have seen Egypt lose control of two Red Sea islands, in a setback for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The maritime demarcation accord, announced in April, caused public uproar and prompted rare protests in Egypt where many people say they were taught at school that Tiran and Sanafir were Egyptian.

The timing of the announcement, during a visit to Cairo by the Saudi king that coincided with the signing of aid deals, created the impression among many that the islands were sold.

As anger rose, Sisi made an impromptu speech denying the islands were sold and urging Egyptians to end the debate. But a group of lawyers, including former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, challenged the agreement in court.

On Tuesday, Judge Yehia al-Dakroury ruled that Egyptian sovereignty over the islands holds and could not be amended in favour of another state.

Tiran and Sanafir lie between Saudi Arabia and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula at the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and Israel.

Saudi and Egyptian officials say they belong to the kingdom and were only under Egyptian control because Saudi Arabia asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them.

Ali argued that according to a 1906 maritime treaty between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, the islands are Egyptian. The treaty precedes the founding of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The government said it would appeal the verdict.

"The government is studying the reasons for the ruling and will ... challenge it at the higher administrative court of the State Council and request that ... it be cancelled," Magdy al-Agaty, minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, said.

The demarcation agreement was also due to be discussed by parliament in the coming weeks. Two parliamentarians said the debate would go ahead and take into account the verdict.

It was not clear whether the government could activate the accord if parliament approved it but the higher administrative court did not.

Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states have showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid since Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

But a sharp drop in oil prices and differences over foreign policy issues such as the war in Yemen have raised questions over whether strong Gulf Arab support can be sustained.

Egyptians are eager for economic revival after years of political upheaval. But the islands issue hurt national pride, prompting thousands of protesters to take to the streets in April chanting "people want the fall of the regime", a slogan from the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

More than 200 people were arrested in connection with protests over the islands. At least 85 have since been acquitted but more than 150 have been handed jail sentences or fines, judicial sources said.

*Photo by Amr Dalsh courtesy of Reuters 
*Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; writing by Amina Ismail

Egypt's history of military trials against civilian workers

Mada Masr
The 4 times in Egyptian history civilian workers were tried by military courts

Jano Charbel

Since the army-led takeover of the Egyptian state in July 1952, there have been four historic cases in which military courts tried civilian workers for protesting in demand of basic labor rights. Most recently, on Saturday a military trial began of 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company employees on charges of instigating strikes.

These four trials exemplify the extent of the military judiciary’s far-reaching arm over civilian workers, regardless of whether they are employed by army-owned industries or civilian facilities. In these cases, military tribunals have issued sentences including incarceration, suspended prison sentences and even the historic execution of two textile workers from the Nile Delta town of Kafr al-Dawwar in September 1952.

While that execution, which constituted the harshest verdict against civilian workers, happened nearly 64 years ago, the other three trials have taken place over the past six years alone, including cases against workers at the Helwan Engineering Industries Company in 2010, the Petrojet Company in 2011 and the Alexandria Shipyard Company in 2016.


The Alexandria Military Court held its first hearing in the trial of 26 civilian workers from the Alexandria Shipyard Company on June 18, and the defendants are due to return to court on June 21 on charges of instigating strikes and obstructing production and operations. The Alexandria Shipyard was originally established as a state-owned facility in the 1970s, but the Defense Ministry took it over in 2007.

The shipyard workers staged a sit-in late last month to demand payment of the national monthly minimum wage of LE1,200 per month, overdue profit-shares, annual Ramadan bonuses and health insurance coverage, along with the dismissal of the company’s chief administrator and the re-operation of the shipyard’s stalled production lines.

As of May 26, 13 of the workers were jailed, while the remaining 13 had not yet handed themselves in.

Military prosecutors are charging the protesters with violating Article 124 of Egypt’s Penal Code, which stipulates penalties of three months to one year in prison and/or fines of up to LE500 for civil servants who deliberately refrain from performing their duties at work.

According to their lawyer, Mohamed Awad of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the defendants will have the right to appeal the final verdict.

While a majority of the nearly 2,500 shipyard employees had conducted a sit-in at the Port of Alexandria on May 22 and 23, “they did not engage in any form of strike action, not even a partial strike or a slowdown” which could have obstructed or negatively affected operations, claims Awad.

Instead, work at the shipyard ground to a complete halt as a result of a lockout imposed by company authorities and military police on May 24, which remains in effect to this day, Awad says. “If anybody is obstructing the company’s operations, it is the company’s administration, which continues to lockout its workers,” he argues.

Article 204 of the 2014 Constitution stipulates that “civilians shall not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that constitute a direct assault on military installations, the Armed Forces, its camps or all else under their authority … including military factories.”

Awad points out that given this constitutional provision, the shipyard workers do not belong in military court, as their non-violent actions did not constitute a work stoppage or a direct assault on the military’s interests.

The authorities are sending “a warning to all other companies [owned by the military] and their workers: ‘We can take similar actions against you if you think of protesting, or organizing for your demands’,” Awad claims.

“The rest of the shipyard workers are fearful,” the lawyer continues. “Many feel their livelihoods may be threatened, or that they may be referred to military trial for any future form of protest.”



Military police arrested five civilian workers from the state-managed Petrojet Company outside the Petroleum Ministry on June 1, 2011 when they staged a sizeable sit-in to demand full-time contracts and the reinstatement of fired coworkers.

On June 6, the five protesters became the first workers to stand military trial on charges of violating a law criminalizing labor strikes and sit-ins that was issued by the interim-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in April 2011, shortly after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power.

SCAF’s decree, which was drafted to be enforced during a state of emergency, stipulates penalties of up to one year in prison and fines of up to LE500,000 for strikes or other actions that obstruct production or operations at either private or public-sector companies. The decree makes no mention referring civilians to military tribunals.

Operating under the general of authority of the Petroleum Ministry, Petrojet is a civilian facility with a civilian workforce, but its employees stood trial before the Nasr City Military Court.

ECESR lawyers who were involved in the defense say that military prosecutors charged the five workers with violating the SCAF decree, but also accused them of violating the Military Justice Code, which facilitated the extraordinary referral to military court.

Legally, however, the military court had no jurisdiction to try the workers, the ECESR lawyers claim.
Nonetheless, on June 29, 2011 the court issued a suspended one-year prison sentence for each of the protesters.

The sentences could be enforced if judicial authorities find the defendants have committed similar infractions since the verdict was issued, the lawyers explain. Further penalties could also be added to the initial sentence if the defendants are found to be repeat offenders.



In August 2010, a military court tried eight civilian workers from the army-owned Helwan Engineering Industries Company after they protested for improved workplace safety standards.

On August 3, hundreds of workers had demonstrated against repeated industrial accidents at the military factory, including the explosion of a gas cylinder that killed one worker and injured six others.

Military prosecutors jailed the protesting civilian workers and charged them with instigating strikes, obstructing production, industrial sabotage, assaulting a company official and disclosing military secrets.

The Nasr City Military Court held the first hearing on August 22. After a trial that lasted only eight days, on August 30 the court found five of the defendants guilty of damaging factory equipment, sentencing them to suspended prison sentences ranging from six months to a year and fining them LE1,000 each. The three other workers were found innocent of all charges. The court also acquitted all eight workers of the charges of striking and assaulting the factory manager.

Amnesty International condemned the trial, calling on Egypt to refrain from trying civilian workers before military tribunals. Instead, the “Egyptian authorities should do their utmost to improve working conditions and safety in the workplace," Amnesty argued.


KAFR AL-DAWWAR                              

Egypt’s first military trial of civilian workers took place just three weeks after the army’s July 23, 1952 revolution. The ruling Free Officers movement deployed army units and riot police forces to quell protests staged by textile workers in Kafr al-Dawwar on August 13 of that year.

Workers at the privately owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company were engaged in partial strike actions to demand the dismissal of the company’s manager, the establishment of a local trade union and the reinstatement of fired coworkers.

Along with labor unrest within company, street protests and riots erupted outside the factory’s gates, along with acts of arson.

Media reports from the time indicate that an exchange of gunfire from disputed locations outside the textile company resulted in seven fatalities — including three members of the security forces and four local residents and workers — along with dozens of injuries.

Troops arrested 567 workers from the company, and military prosecutors charged 29 people with instigating strikes and rioting.

The first hearing was held on August 15. In just three days, the military tribunal issued its verdict. Of the 29 defendants, 13 were found guilty — 11 were sentenced to lengthy terms in prison, while Mostafa Khamis and Mohamed al-Baqari were sentenced to hang with no right of appeal, and very little in terms of the right to legal defense beyond a state-appointed defense lawyer.

In September, they were executed.

According to historians Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman in their book, Workers on the Nile, Khamis’s last words before he was hung on September 7, 1952 were, “I am wronged. I want a retrial.”

*Photos courtesy of Tahrir News and Associated Press respectively