Sunday, April 30, 2017

Egypt: Relentless assault on rights of workers & unionists

Egypt: Relentless assault on rights of workers and trade unionists

April 30, 2017

Dozens of workers and trade unionists in Egypt have faced arrest, detention, dismissal from work or trials in military courts, merely for exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly, Amnesty International said in a statement published to mark Labour Day on 1 May.

Amid rising economic hardship in Egypt and a wave labour strikes in the private and public sector, as well as military-owned industries, the government is using a series of disciplinary measures and criminal sanctions to crack down on workers and trade unionists. It is also seeking to amend existing laws to further restrict labour rights.

“The Egyptian authorities have waged a punitive campaign against workers and trade unionists to deter and punish them from mobilizing or going on strike. Demanding your labour rights and expressing your grievances should not be a criminal offense.

The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined, both, in Egypt’s Constitution and international human rights law. Egyptian authorities must stop punishing people for exercising and demanding their rights,” said Najia Bounaim, Campaigns Director for North Africa at Amnesty International.

Many workers have been arrested simply for taking part in a strike or a peaceful protest. Some have been held in pre-trial detention for prolonged periods or subject to restrictive probation measures. Just last week, 16 workers from the Telecom Egypt Company in Cairo and Giza were arrested for participating in a peaceful demonstration under Egypt’s anti-protest law. They were released after solidarity protests.

In some cases disciplinary measures including pay cuts, suspension or dismissal from work are used to punish workers. At the state-run Zagazig University Hospital, 12 nurses were suspended after participating in a week-long strike in February 2017 during which the hospital provided only emergency services.

Workers in military-owned factories face additional risks as they can be subject to unfair trials at military courts,. Twenty five workers from the military-run Alexandria Shipyard Company are currently on trial before a military court. They have been charged with “inciting workers to strike,” and could face up to two years in prison.

The authorities have also interfered with the functioning of independent workers unions, by targeting members with disciplinary action and by hampering their activities. The government has also proposed amendments to the Labour Law and Trade Unions Law that will make organizing strikes even more difficult and will make it virtually impossible to establish or join an independent trade union.

*For more information about the labour rights situation in Egypt see the full statement here

Security forces' campaign of extrajudicial murders in N. Sinai?

Egypt: Video of extrajudicial executions offers glimpse of hidden abuses by military in North Sinai

21 April 2017

Information gathered by Amnesty International confirms that members of Egyptian military are responsible for at least seven unlawful killings, including shooting dead at point blank range an unarmed man and a 17-year-old child.

The organization’s experts analyzed leaked video footage of the killings and compared it with photographs and a YouTube video published by the Egyptian military, as well as interviewing Sinai-based sources and experts.  The footage shows a member of the Egyptian military shooting the child dead alongside another man in military uniform, whose accent indicates that he is a Sinai local.

The bodies of five other men who appear to have been killed earlier also appear in the video.

“The ease with which the members of the Egyptian military forces participated in the killing of defenseless men in cold blood shows that they fear no oversight or accountability for their actions.

These killings amount to extrajudicial executions, crimes which Egypt has an obligation under international law to investigate, prosecute and punish. They fit into a disturbing pattern of apparent such killings in North Sinai,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s Campaigns director for North Africa.

In January, Amnesty International highlighted the extrajudicial execution of six men by members of the security forces in North Sinai. The men had been in state custody for one to three months at the time of their killing.

The leaked video broadcast on the Islamist-leaning TV station Mekameleen also shows members of the Egyptian military holding at least two unarmed men in US Humvee armoured vehicles before they were shot dead. The USA is Egypt’s main supplier of military equipment.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the USA has delivered over 1,000 Armoured Personnel Vehicles to Egypt since 2003, including 100 Humvees (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.)

“States including the USA have been transferring arms used by the military in North Sinai without ensuring any oversight or monitoring of the extent to which they may being used to commit or to facilitate the commission of serious human rights violations. All such transfers must be halted,” said Najia Bounaim.

Amnesty International has confirmed that a Facebook statement by Egypt’s military spokesperson in December 2016 and YouTube video by the Ministry of Defense on 5 November 2016 showed images of at least two of the victims who are seen being killed in the leaked video.

The spokesman said these were “terrorists” killed by the military during counter-terror operations in North Sinai. The leaked video however, shows that at least two of the men killed were unarmed at the time and analysis of the footage indicates that the arms were later planted by the military next to their bodies to make it appear as if they were fighters killed after an exchange of fire.

In analyzing the video, Amnesty International experts also confirmed that this incident took place before 5 November 2016 given the video posted by the Ministry of Defense was posted on that date.

According to Sinai-based sources, this video was shot in a desert area that lies between south Sheikh Zowaid and Rafah in North Sinai. Online local news outlet Sinai 24 reported that two of the victims are brothers, named Abd el-Hady Sabry, aged 16 and Dawood Sabry aged 19. They both belong to a tribe called al-Awabda from Rafah town on the Egypt-Israel border. This is consistent with the video, which shows that prior to being shot dead the teenager said that he belonged to the al-Awabda tribe and was from Rafah.

The video clearly shows the man in uniform with a Sinai accent, believed to be a local bedouin recruit operating under military control, shooting an unarmed man with five bullets to the head.  Over the past couple of years the military in Sinai has increasingly relied on some local Sinai families to assist them in intelligence gathering.

An August 2016 Mada Masr article cites interviews with Sinai recruits who acted as auxiliaries to assist the military in conducting operations in areas where the military could otherwise not enter.

Sinai observer, Mohannad Sabry, said that this had created much friction between Sinai tribes related to revenge and retaliation given these non-military armed members acted outside of the law on many occasions against Sinai residents.

“Whether or not he is a full member of the Egyptian military, this man was acting under military command and control. The Egyptian military is responsible for these cold blooded killings,” said Najia Bounaim.

“It is crucial that those responsible for these appalling killings do not go unpunished.  A failure to prosecute and punish those responsible will further fuel the pervasive impunity for crimes committed by security forces and give a green light for an escalation of violations.”

Additional information: Analysis of photographic and video evidence 

Analysis of a leaked video do not appear to show any signs of manipulation or staging. Photos published by the Army spokesperson on December 6 , 2016, show two bodies that are also visible in the leaked video.

The same bodies appear in a video released by the Ministry of Defense on November 5, 2016, the incident thus had to happened before that date.

There are several serious concerns that should be raised: Most importantly, a corpse of a person who was filmed being executed while in custody of armed forces appears to displays the same body posture (face up, right knee at an angle, right hand on crotch) and clothes (blue jeans, dark sweater) as a corpse visible in a video released by the ministry of Defense on November 5, 2016. In the video released by the MoD,  a rifle is visible next to the body, which was not present when the person was executed.

 Corpse after execution visible in a leaked video 

Corpse displaying same body posture and clothes then the person being executed while in custody of armed forces. Rifle is seen next to body, which was absent at the moment person was executed. Screenshot taken from MoD video

A further question raises the following scene, where again a rifle was probably placed next to a corpse.


In a leaked video published on April 20. Rifle visible in the photo released by the Army spokesperson appears to be missing.

Finally, the first person being seen executed in the April 20 video is unarmed at the moment of the execution. 30 seconds later in the video, a rifle is being seen as nicely being placed on his body.

1,000+ Palestinian prisoners launch hunger strike in Israel

The Independent
Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike in Israel

Strike comes as prisoners demand an end to detention without charge

Caroline Mortimer

More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails have gone on hunger strike to demand better conditions in one of the largest protests in recent years.

Prisoners are demanding more contact with relatives, better access to medical treatment and an end to the Israeli practice of detention without trial.

Strikers have also said they want access to more television channels and compassionate release for disabled prisoners or those sufferings from chronic illnesses.

Protesters have launched sympathy marches in several major towns in the West Bank, such as Hebron and Ramallah.

Qadoura Fares, an advocate for prisoners' rights, said 6,500 Palestinians are currently held by Israel. Palestinians marked Monday as Prisoners' Day.

Mr Fares said hundreds of prisoners launched a 28-day strike in 2012. In 2014, dozens of detainees held without trial went on hunger strike for two months.

Israel’s controversial “administrative detention” policy sees a varying number of Palestinians held without charge in prisons, often accused of links to militant group Hamas.

Two leading Israeli human rights groups describe the conditions in prisons such as Shikma Prison in southern Israel as “hellish”, with some inmates reportedly shackled to chairs during interrogation and held in solitary confinement in cramped and foul smelling cells no more than two metres long.
Currently 500 Palestinians are being held in this way, according to Mr Fares.

The protest was led by Marwan Barghouti, 58, a leader from the mainstream Fatah movement of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, serving five life terms after being convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis in a 2000-2005 uprising known as the Second Intifada.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times on Monday, Barghouti said a strike was the only way to gain concessions after other options had failed.

"Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses... Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention," he wrote.

The strike, if sustained, could present a challenge to Israel and raise tensions between the two sides as the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip approaches in June.


Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but started a naval blockade after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

Peace talks on the creation of a Palestinian state between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas broke down in 2014.

Meanwhile, tensions have been exacerbated by the decision to allow the first new Israeli settlements in the West Bank for two decades.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision as “threatening peace and undermining the two-state solution”. Building new settlements in the occupied territories is considered a violation of international law.

Israel denies Palestinian inmates are mistreated and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Barghouti-led protest was "prompted by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands".

Opinion polls suggest Barghouti is the top contender to succeed Mr Abbas as president.

Palestinians consider those held in Israeli jails as national heroes. Long-term mass hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners are rare, but in past cases of individual inmates who stopped eating for weeks, detention terms were shortened or not renewed after they were hospitalised in critical condition.

Mr Erdan said a field hospital would be erected next to one prison - an apparent move to preempt transfers to civilian medical facilities, which could draw wider media attention.

*Photos by Abbas Momani courtesy of Getty Images

Incompetent dictator declares state-of-emergency after church bombings

BBC News
Egypt declares state of emergency after deadly church attacks

April 10, 2017

Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has announced a three-month state of emergency after attacks on two Coptic churches that left at least 44 dead.

The measure allows authorities to make arrests without warrants and search people's homes. It needs to be approved by parliament before it is implemented.

So-called Islamic State (IS) said it was behind the blasts in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday.
The group has targeted Copts in Egypt recently and warns of more attacks.

Mr Sisi made a defiant speech at the presidential palace after a meeting of the national defence council to discuss the explosions.

He warned that the war against the jihadists would be "long and painful", and said that the state of emergency would come into force after all "legal and constitution steps" were taken. The majority in parliament backs Mr Sisi.

The president had earlier ordered the deployment of the military across the country to protect "vital and important infrastructure."

The move by Mr Sisi is likely to raise concerns among human rights activists, observers say. The president, a former army chief, has been criticised by local and international groups for severe restrictions on civil and political rights in Egypt.

Human Rights Watch says tens of thousands of people have been arrested in a crackdown on dissent, and that security forces have committed flagrant abuses, including torture, enforced disappearances and likely extrajudicial executions.

The attacks coincided with one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

IS said that two suicide bombers carried out the blasts. One targeted St George's Coptic church in the northern city of Tanta, where 27 people were killed, the health ministry said.


Hours later, police stopped the bomber from entering the St Mark's Coptic church in Alexandria, also in the north. He detonated his explosives outside, leaving 17 dead, including several police officers.
"Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, god willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you," the jihadist group said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.

The blasts came weeks before an expected visit by Pope Francis intended to show support for the country's Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population and have long complained of being vulnerable and marginalised.

This sense of precariousness has only increased in recent years, with the rise of violent jihadism in parts of Egypt, the BBC's Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says.

The community's trust in the state's ability and willingness to protect them will now be even more deeply shaken after the attacks, our correspondent adds.

*Photos courtesy of Reuters and EPA, respectively

State of emergency measures include:

  • Further restrictions on freedom of movement and gatherings
  • Monitoring of all forms of communication
  • Entitles president to confiscate or shut down media outlets
  • Allows any property to be placed under control of security forces
  • Deployment of security forces to enforce measures
  • Arrest of anyone suspected of violating state of emergency


Copts in Egypt: Recent developments

  • December 2016: 25 people died when a bomb exploded at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo during a service. IS said it was behind the attack
  • February 2016: A court sentenced three Christian teenagers to five years in prison for insulting Islam. They had appeared in a video, apparently mocking Muslim prayers, but claimed they had been mocking IS following a number of beheadings
  • April 2013: Two people were killed outside St Mark's cathedral in Cairo when people mourning the death of four Coptic Christians killed in religious violence clashed with local residents