Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Authorities raid & close atheist/satan-worshippers' café

Mada Masr

Authorities raid & close 'atheists' cafe' in downtown Cairo

Sunday December 14, 2014

Jano Charbel

Security forces raided and closed what they described as the “atheists’ café” in the Abdeen neighborhood of downtown Cairo, municipal authorities announced Sunday.

The café has also been described as a den for “Satan worshippers.”

 The closure spurred a reaction on social networking sites, with “atheists’ café” trending nationwide.
The mainstream media portal Sada al-Balad reported on Sunday that the coffee shop was raided and demolished.

Gamal Mohie, chief of the Abdeen Municipality, told Mada Masr that the coffee shop in question was not raided on Sunday, but one month earlier, on November 10.

“There was no demolition involved, only confiscation of the coffee shop’s property. This was all done in accordance with the law and legal procedures,” Mohie clarified, adding that the only person arrested during the raid was the owner, “as his coffee shop was unauthorized, unlicensed, and also because drugs were found inside.”

The café had originally been licensed as an import/export and trade office, Mohie explained, adding, “There was no sign reading ‘atheists’ café’ outside, as nobody would put up such a public announcement. However, it was popularly known as a place for Satan worship, rituals and dances. There were also Satanic drawings at the entrance.”

The police chief did not explain how or why atheists might be worshiping Satan in a coffee shop. Atheists deny the existence of both God and Satan, as they deny the existence of both heaven and hell.

The municipal official said the “atheists’ café” was located at 61 Falaky Street in downtown Cairo. He added that it was raided last month, “following noise complaints from local residents. It was later shuttered and sealed off with red wax.”

In response to the news published in the Sada al-Balad portal, social networking sites were flooded with satirical comments regarding the actions of the authorities against perceived atheism.

One Twitter user commented that in light of this incident, “authorities might storm the Café of Vampires very soon.”

Another Twitter user sarcastically commented, “Religion has been introduced to Falaky Street during the reign of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.” Another wrote, “The ruling regime has proven to be a bunch of comedians … Even funnier than the Brotherhood.”

Scores of other users criticized the effectiveness of closing coffee shops as part of the state’s attempt to eliminate the phenomenon of atheism in Egypt.

On Wednesday, religious authorities — citing an alleged survey — announced that Egypt has a total of 866 atheists, a figure which has widely been dismissed as baseless.

Some religious authorities announced outreach programs to eradicate atheism nationwide. This year, Muslim and Christian clerics, alongside police forces, have established committees and launched campaigns to rid the country of atheism.

Being an atheist is not criminalized by Egyptian law, although Article 98(f) of the Penal Code stipulates that individuals found guilty by a court of law of defaming, insulting or ridiculing the heavenly (Abrahamic) religions are to be issued prison sentences ranging from six months to five years, and/or fines of LE500 to 1,000.

Judge sentences democracy activst to 3 years in jail for Facebook questions

Egyptian Democracy Activist Jailed For Accusing Judge Of Bias In Facebook Comments
Ahmed Douma was found to have “insulted the court” after he accused the judge of making anti-opposition comments on Facebook.

David Mack

December 9, 2014

One of the more prominent young democracy activists in Egypt, Ahmed Douma, was sentenced to three years in jail on Tuesday for contempt of court, multiple outlets have reported.

Douma, an activist aligned with Egypt’s secular and liberal democracy movement, was jailed for “insulting the court” after he accused Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata of bias against the opposition.

He questioned whether the judge was using a Facebook account to denounce opposition members, a popular theory among activists on social media.
The judge reportedly denied having an account, saying only people like Douma and “his friends” use the site, according to the English-language site Ahram Online.

The judge then found Douma to be in contempt of court, imposing the jail sentence and fining him almost $1,400. Douma responded by shouting, “Down, down, military rule!” from his court-room cage, according to Reuters.

Last month, Egypt’s lawyers union publicly criticized Judge Shehata for “disparaging” and “terrorizing” Douma’s defense team.

Douma had been on trial with more than 260 other defendants, accused of attacking a government building in December 2011.

He was a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak, but also took part in later demonstrations against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, as well as the current role played by the military in Egypt.

In June, Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata also presided over the notorious trial in which three Al Jazeera journalists – an Australian, a Canadian, and an Egyptian – were jailed from seven to 10 years – on evidence widely denounced as ridiculous – for supposedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week, Shehata sentenced 188 defendants to death for an alleged attack on a police station in 2013.

*Photo of Douma by Amr Dalsh, courtesy of Reuters
**Photo of Judge Nagy Shehata courtesy of Getty Images


TV host leads police raid on "Gay Bathhouse" - 26 jailed

Mada Masr

TV host works with police to raid Cairo bathhouse; dozens arrested on perversion charges

Monday - December 8, 2014 

Dozens of men were arrested on "perversion" charges in a bathhouse in downtown Cairo’s Ramses area on Sunday, according to broadcast journalist Mona Iraqi, who filmed the security raid.

Iraqi, a presenter on “Al-Mestakhabi” (The Hidden), an investigative journalism show that broadcasts on the privately owned channel Al-Qahera wal Nas, wrote on her Facebook page that she and her team had been investigating the bathhouse, alleging it was a “den of illegal gay sex workers.”

“Today is one of Al-Mestakhabi’s good days — we have to share with you a new and big victory for the program. Al-Mestakhabi managed to shut down a den of group sex for men, and they were all arrested red-handed,” she wrote.

“Success is great and achieving goals are greater,” she added.

Iraqi also posted photos showing dozens of almost-naked men being arrested in the public bathhouse, which she alleged was a popular site for both Egyptian and foreign gay men. She further accused the 60-year-old manager of running a sex ring.

Al-Mestakhabi reporters secretly infiltrated the bathhouse and filmed what Iraqi described as “gay sex parties,” as well as the owner’s “confessions.”

The owner of the bathhouse had kicked Iraqi and her team out of his establishment before security forces conducted the raid.

The first episode on the investigation was to be aired next week, but Iraqi claimed the broadcast would be postponed “to give police forces the chance to raid the bathhouse and arrest those involved.”

Human rights activists and social media users took to the Internet to lambaste Iraqi’s Facebook report, decrying the journalist’s cooperation with police forces as a flagrant violation of citizens’ personal rights.

Homosexuality is not a crime according to the Egyptian Penal Code, and furthermore, Iraqi did not prove any prostitution had occurred in the bathhouse, rights activist Sherif Azer wrote in response to Iraqi’s post.

Responding to the attacks, Iraqi claimed that the investigation was part of her program’s work on social groups that are most vulnerable to AIDS, as International AIDS Awareness Day was December 1.

“In case of public indecency, it has to be done in public. Is the bathhouse a public place? What are the accusations you presented to the prosecution so that they are arrested? If they [the detained men] are really patients of AIDS, they should be treated as patients not criminals and given proper medical support even if it is contagious. Do you accept seeing one of your family members who has a serious disease to be arrested naked by police?” Azer continued.

Others questioned Iraqi’s ethics and journalistic reputation given her cooperation with the police.

“The airing of the two-episodes investigation was adjourned for human, ethical and security reasons, and all the incident’s inside affairs shall be aired in a third episode. We did our work with the highest levels of professionalism and accuracy, and we urge the public not to judge the episodes positively or negatively before watching them,” Iraqi defended herself in a statement released on Monday.

But internet commentators continued to castigate the journalist, accusing her of heedlessly destroying the reputation of the arrested men — whose faces appeared in the photos she posted on her Facebook page — in her pursuit of fame.

US-based rights activist Scott Long blogged about the incident in his blog, the Paper Bird, and suggested the possibility of a government-sponsored campaign against gay rights.

“What’s clear is that another pro-Sisi media organ is working in close collusion with security forces, to produce a sensational show about sex with appalling and terrifying images, to invade privacy and engorge the prisons and destroy innocent people’s lives,” he wrote.

Long highlighted another recent incident in which eight men appearing in a video that allegedly portrayed a gay marriage ceremony were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of perversion.

“This message about ‘networks’ is a menacing constant. Egypt’s powers-that-be treat homosexuality and gender dissidence as political, and — like any kind of politics under an ever more constricting dictatorship — conspiratorial and sinister,” Long added.


*Photo from Facebook page of police-informer Mona Iraqi

 Read also:

Film festival fires TV reporter who led police arrests at 'gay bathhouse'


Yet more mass-death sentences: Court orders 188 to hang for police station attack

Court Condemns 188 Defendants for Police Station Attack
December 3, 2014
An Egyptian criminal court handed down provisional death sentences against 188 defendants on December 2, 2014, the third such mass sentencing this year.

Judge Nagi Shehata imposed the sentences after he convicted all the defendants of participating in an August 2013 attack on a police station in the governorate of Giza, which came to be known as the “Kerdasa massacre” after the neighborhood where it took place. Eleven police officers and two civilians died in the attack, which occurred shortly after the military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

“Mass death sentences are fast losing Egypt’s judiciary whatever reputation for independence it once had,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Instead of weighing the evidence against each person, judges are convicting defendants en masse without regard for fair trial standards.”

The court imposed provisional death sentences, meaning that they will be sent to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest religious authority, for his legally required evaluation and advice on whether they should stand. Of the 188 defendants, 135 were present in custody; 53 others were tried and sentenced in absentia. Shehata set a January 24 court date to finalize the sentences.

Prior to this case, a judge in the governorate of Minya imposed 1,212 death sentences in March and April after two trials arising from other attacks on police stations in 2013 that left at least two police officers dead. After receiving the Grand Mufti’s opinion, the judge approved 220 of those death sentences. The judge sentenced 495 other defendants to life in prison.

These mass trials have principally targeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, which the government designated a terrorist group in 2013 after Morsy’s overthrow. Among those sentenced to death in Minya was the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie.

The Kerdasa trial also highlights the role of what some legal analysts have labeled Egypt’s new “special circuits”: judges assigned to handle cases that involve terrorism or organized violence or which are deemed sensitive to national security. In December 2013, the Cairo Court of Appeals appointed six judges from the Cairo and Giza governorates to special circuits. These judges convene for two weeks each month in Cairo’s Police Academy to hear such cases, according to the state-run al-Ahram newspaper.

Shehata presided over the Kerdasa trial in his capacity as a special circuit judge, hearing the case in the Police Academy. He has presided over a number of other high-profile proceedings. In June, he sentenced three Al Jazeera English journalists to between 7 and 10 years in prison after a trial that was conspicuously unfair. 
He is also presiding over the trial of 270 protesters accused of attacking the cabinet offices during a protest in December 2011, among them prominent activist and hunger striker Ahmed Douma, whom Shehata has not allowed to be moved to a hospital. Shehata has also ordered prosecutors to investigate at least five defense lawyers in that case, including prominent human rights defender Ragia Omran and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali. On November 22, Egypt’s Lawyers Syndicate issued a statement criticizing Shehata for “terrorizing” the defense team and said it supported their decision to withdraw from the case in protest.

A police officer who witnessed the Kerdasa attack told the Associated Press that a mob stormed the police station with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, and Molotov cocktails. Graphic video aired by Egyptian media showed slain police officers slumped against one another in a soot-stained room. Local residents, however, told a reporter from El Badil newspaper that police had killed 12 young protesters from Kerdasa and nearby villages between the July 2013 coup and the violent dispersal of pro-Morsy sit-ins that August. 
When residents protested outside the police station demanding that security forces withdraw, they told the reporter, police opened fire on the crowd. The residents claimed that an armed group from outside the village launched the deadly attack but admitted some in Kerdasa provided assistance.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party, limits the circumstances in which a state can impose the death sentence. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the ICCPR, has said that “in cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important.” Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment.

“Clearly, serious crimes were committed during the Kerdasa attack and those responsible should be given a fair trial,” Whitson said. “But it isn’t right or fair to try everyone in mass proceedings. And no trial that’s so blatantly unjust should send someone to the gallows.”