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Post coup attempt, Erdoğan's purges are arbitrary & discriminatory

Turkey: Rights Protections Missing From Emergency Decree
Orders to Purge Civil Servants, Judges; Close Groups Down

July 26, 2016


The first emergency decree under Turkey’s state of emergency is arbitrary, discriminatory, and unjustified as a response to the violent coup attempt or other public order concerns.

The July 23, 2016 decree orders the closure of thousands of private educational institutions, hospitals, and clinics, and associations allegedly linked to a movement inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a cleric the government blames for a violent coup attempt on July 15-16.

The decree allows the permanent discharge of judges, prosecutors, and civil servants without any investigation or possibility of legal challenge. The decree also extends police powers to detain some suspects for up to 30 days without being taken before a judge and seriously curtails detainees’ right to private communications with lawyers.

“The first state of emergency decree goes well beyond the legitimate aim of promoting accountability for the bloody July 15 coup attempt,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “It is an unvarnished move for an arbitrary, mass, and permanent purge of the civil service, prosecutors, and judges, and to close down private institutions and associations without evidence, justification, or due process.”

The decree was published and became law – no. 667, published in the Official Gazette – on July 23. It is the first such decree by the Council of Ministers headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan under Turkey’s three-month state of emergency, which entered into force on July 21.

On July 22, the Turkish government notified the Council of Europe that it was also “derogating” from – that is, temporarily imposing extraordinary limitations on – the guarantees under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which it is a party, which the convention says a government can only do “in times of public emergency threatening the life of a nation.”

The decree identifies 35 private health clinics and hospitals; 1,043 private schools and student hostels; 1,229 foundations and associations; 15 private universities; and 19 trade unions, federations, and confederations for closure.

The decree states they are closed on the grounds that they “belong to, are connected or are in communication with the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ/Parallel State Structure), which has been identified as a threat to national security.”

As many as 60,000 civil servants – including judges, prosecutors, police, teachers, and bureaucrats – have already been suspended from their jobs, and this decree terminates their careers in public service without a disciplinary investigation.

The decree stipulates that the government can seize property owned by foundations, hospitals, and clinics. Even if institutions or groups are not named in the published lists, under article 2/3, they can still be closed down if they are “identified as being a threat to national security or are established as being members of terrorist organizations or linked to them or in contact with them.”

“The wording of the decree is vague and open-ended, permitting the firing of any public official conveniently alleged to be ‘in contact’ with members of ‘terrorist organizations’ but with no need for an investigation to offer any evidence in support of it,” Sinclair-Webb said. “The decree can be used to target any opponent – perceived or real – beyond those in the Gülen movement.”

Any judge or civil servant, including prosecutors, can also be removed from their jobs on the grounds of being deemed a threat to national security, with no possibility of challenging the decision, reinstatement, or future employment as public officials. In each case the measure to strip people of their position rests on an administrative decision without an investigation.

The decree increases the maximum period of police detention from four days for terrorism and organized crime to 30 days, which violates the European convention, not least as it increases the risk of torture and ill-treatment on top of the reports already documented by Amnesty International of abuses in detention since the failed coup.

The European Court of Human Rights had ruled in a 1996 case against Turkey that detention without being taken before a judge for 14 days, even in a state of emergency, violates its human rights obligations under the convention.

The court, acknowledging that Turkey then had a legitimate state of emergency and derogation, held that “it cannot accept that it is necessary to hold a suspect for 14 days without judicial intervention.” It noted that the period was “exceptionally long, and leaves detainees vulnerable to arbitrary detention and torture.” (Aksoy v. Turkey, Application No. 21987/93, judgment December 18, 1996 paras. 78, 86.)

The decree also stipulates that in cases relating to terrorism and organized crime, communications between a detainee in pretrial detention and their lawyer can be recorded, monitored, limited, or stopped at the request of a prosecutor if the authorities deem that there is a risk to security, or if such communications may be a means of passing on messages or instructions to “terrorist or other criminal organizations.”

Doing so violates the right to an effective defense, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities reserve the right to appoint another lawyer to represent the detainee. The decree also significantly curtails detainees’ rights to family visits and phone calls.

Another troubling provision says that “individuals who make decisions and perform their duty in the context of this decree bear no legal, administrative, financial or criminal responsibility for those duties performed.” That sends a clear signal to police officers and other officials that anything goes, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government should know that the introduction of 30-day police detention cannot be justified even under a state of emergency and that it increases the possibility of torture and ill-treatment of suspects,” Sinclair-Webb said. “That risk is compounded by the removal of private communications between a prisoner and their lawyer, which is also incompatible with the right to an effective defense.”

*Photo courtesy of Reuters

Top clerics reject state decree for unified prayer sermons

Mada Masr
Al-Azhar picks battle with the state over written sermons

Al-Azhar says that directive to follow ministry sermons does not apply to its preachers
Anger over the decision to unify the Friday sermon throughout Egypt’s mosques has extended from ministry to imams to the leadership of Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar whose deputy last week said that the directive to imams to read ministry-issued sermons does not apply to Al-Azhar preachers.

“Al-Azhar was not officially notified about what is being reported on the written sermon,” Abbas Shouman wrote in a statement on his Facebook page last week. “It is not binding to Al-Azhar preachers, who are provided with a library enabling them to pass on their knowledge. This is apart from the fact there is a careful process through which the preachers were selected and the experience most of them have gained through preaching locally and internationally.”

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Endowments announced the formation of a committee to draft Friday sermons to be distributed to imams across the country, after it had previously moved to unify the topics of each sermon but left the articulation of their particular points to individual imams.

In its statement, the ministry said the decision aims to facilitate imams’ work and guarantee the optimum delivery of the salient points of assigned topics. The ministry justified its move with harsh criticism of imams’ delivery of Friday sermons.

A member of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars told privately owned Al-Watan newspaper that the minister is attacking Al-Azhar scholars and lamented the ministry’s position.

“The ministry’s position saddens me,” Mahmoud Mehanna said. “Engaging in conflict with Al-Azhar will negatively affect the country. Egypt is worth nothing without Al-Azhar, it is what brought Islam to the six continents.”

Mehanna raised questions over the source from which the minister receives orders, implying security involvement.

He added that Al-Azhar’s preachers might abandon the Endowments Ministry’s mosques if they are bound by the decision to unify the sermons.

Head of the ministry’s Quranic affairs department in the Qalyubiya directorate, Mohamed Nassar, explains that the ministry uses up to 3000 Al-Azhar preachers to give Friday sermons - on a bonus system. The preachers also regularly give lessons in ministry mosques.

Nassar says that the ministry took this decision on its own without consulting with Al-Azhar, since it sees itself as a superior ministry that can take decisions independently and enforce them on whoever preaches in its mosques.

“The point of contention is that Al-Azhar sees the written sermon as a step backwards with regards to religious discourse in Egypt. Al-Azhar leaders believe that educating imams is the right step towards renewing the country’s religious discourse.”

Nasser expects the conflict between Al-Azhar and the Endowments Ministry to escalate, until Al-Azhar preachers are banned from preaching in the ministry’s mosques unless they adhere to the unified sermon.

Amr Ezzat, religious freedoms researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says that both sides are competing over control over the religious scene in Egypt.

“Al-Azhar’s Sheikh has the scientific and religious status, but the control over the religious space is in reality and administratively in the hands of the Endowments Ministry,” he adds.

Ezzat explains that the conflict dates back to Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb’s participation in the June 30 alliance that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi and paved the way for his control over the religious space after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Gomaa, the current minister, used to work in Tayeb’s office and Tayeb is the one who recommended him for the Endowments Minister position, but the competition between them intensified after that,” he said.

The move to unify Friday sermons dates back to 2013 when the Endowments Ministry was a principal player in the struggle between the post-June 30 regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, following the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi. It was one of Gomaa’s first moves, made minister in July 2013.

The ministry was working toward controlling the religious sphere in order to disarm the Brotherhood of one of its strongest weapons: religious discourse.

Ezzat suggests that the diversity of Al-Azhar preachers’ political ideologies might be the reason behind the state’s mistrust in them, as opposed to the Endowments Ministry imams who are under its administrative control.

The common idea that Al-Azhar represents moderate Islam, at the top of which is the Council of Senior Scholars, with Tayeb at its head, is misleading, he says.

“The Council of Senior Scholars is a minority who are carefully picked,” Ezzat explains. “The majority of Azharis belong to Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood groups, some of whom have opposing positions to Al-Azhar and are thus not in line with either the state or the leadership within Al-Azhar.”

Egypt's propaganda machine celebrates Turkish coup

Open Democracy
Turkey’s coup failed everywhere, except in Egyptian media 

Egypt's media welcomed, unabashedly, the Turkish military coup; prematurely hailing Erdogan’s overthrow