Thursday, April 21, 2011

Egypt's emergency law must be removed, Amnesty says

Irish Times
Michael Jensen

According to rights activists, 5,000
protesters have been arrested
since the uprising began.
REPEAL OF Egypt’s emergency law remains the most urgent demand of the democracy movement that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. In a 79-page report, Time for Justice: Egypt’s Corrosive System of Detention , Amnesty International reveals why Egyptians repeatedly return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to achieve this goal.

The military-dominated caretaker government has promised to end the state of emergency before parliamentary elections in autumn and has formally dissolved the infamous State Security Investigations Service (SSI). But Egyptians will not be satisfied until the law that gave the SSI a free hand is expunged from the books and officers account for detention, harsh treatment and torture.

Amnesty is concerned instead of facing justice, former officers are “likely to have been . . . integrated into other security bodies, including the newly established national intelligence body, without any vetting mechanism.”

Amnesty asserts, “To uproot the culture of human rights abuses and impunity in Egypt, the decades of human rights violations under the rule of president Hosni Mubarak must be addressed and measures taken to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims . . . Holding SSI officers to account is an essential initial step.”

Amnesty says the June 2010 beating to death in public by police officers of Alexandrian businessman Khaled Said (28) marked a turning point for Egyptian rights activists who created the Facebook site “We are all Khaled Said” that launched the uprising.

“This brutal killing happened”, the report says, “just two weeks after the government renewed for a further two years the state of emergency” in force since 1981.

The focus of the report is the use of administrative detention – imprisonment without trial such as employed by Britain in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. In Egypt, this instrument has been used to hold for long periods “tens of thousands” of people, the vast majority political prisoners.

The wide use of this measure, Amnesty says, “has affected Egyptians of all walks of life, reinforcing the repressive atmosphere fostered by the authorities”.

While administrative detainees were not charged or tried, they were treated like sentenced prisoners, tortured, abused, denied medical care and often sent to prisons far from their families.
The emergency law facilitated enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and “restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Among those targeted . . . have been political opponents and government critics, human rights defenders, members of minority religious communities, journalists and bloggers.” Amnesty calls on the Egyptian authorities to identify individuals held in administrative detention, abolish the emergency law and administrative detention and release all uncharged administrative detainees and prisoners of conscience.

According to rights activists, 5,000 protesters have been arrested since the uprising began.

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