Recent protests by activists reminiscent of Mubarak era: Rights researchers
YOUM7 (Archive)
By HANAN FAYED

CAIRO: “Protests that are not affiliated with the Islamic current are erupting at the same locations they used to take place under former President Hosni Mubarak’s reign; no longer in squares and streets,” Karim Abdel Rady, a  researcher at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told The Cairo Post Sunday.

This comes as a number of political activists demonstrated outside the Journalists Syndicate Sunday to demand the release of protesters and students, chanting against the regime and the Ministry of Interior, according to Youm7.

On March 9, another group of activists, including the family of detained activist Alaa Abd el-Fatah, protested outside the office of the Attorney General to call for the release of detained students and protesters.

Fattah had been detained on charges of calling for an illegal protest on Nov. 26 outside the Shura Council. 25 activists were detained on the premise of this protest; only Fattah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman are still detained.

Ashraf Abbas, a human rights researcher and coordinator of the Journalists against Torture Monitor, told The Cairo Post Sunday that there are security restrictions over protesting in streets, in addition to restrictions by “supporters of the regime” who harass protesters and beat them without being held back by security forces.

“Everyone who took to the streets on the anniversary of the revolution to call for accomplishing the objectives of the revolution was detained. Everyone who cheered for the regime in Tahrir Square was protected by the police,” Abbas said.

Some 1,000 protesters and 34 journalists were detained during the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to Abbas.

Only one of the 34 journalists is still detained, but 22 other journalists, the majority of whom were arrested during the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in, are currently detained, according to the monitor’s preliminary statistics.

Egyptian and foreign journalists were targeted under the pretext of “combating terrorism” and arrested for spreading false news and belonging to a banned group, according to a statement by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom on Feb. 12.

Four Al-Jazeera staff members, including former BBC correspondent Peter Greste , have been detained since December on such charges.

Moreover, hundreds of students were detained during protests inside and outside Egyptian universities during the fall term, especially at Al-Azhar and Cairo Universities.

Protesting students raided several buildings inside the campus during the fall term, inflicting of millions of pounds in losses, according to Al-Azhar University statements. Some students also reportedly assaulted professors and attempted to disrupt exams.

Prominent activists such as Fatah and Ahmed Maher, the founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, were also detained on charges of “illegal protesting” in November, according to a contentious protest law issued the same month.

Samia Jaheen, a human rights activist and a member of the Freedom for the Brave campaign, estimated that around 20,000 people were detained during the past few months “for unclear reasons, or for no reason at all” in a March 15 interview with Ahram Online news website.

“We’ve reached a point where every day the papers report appeals to the Attorney General to speed up his investigations so that he may free those who are proved innocent. For the show to go on, we have had to give up the principle that everyone is ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” Fatah commented on his detention, pending investigation, in a letter leaked from prison, as translated and published on Mada Masr on March 13

Rady said the most common charge against detainees is protesting without a permit and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a “terrorist organization” by Egypt in December.

“Everyone knows that most of the detainees will be released after some months without being referred to trial. And everyone knows that most of those sent to court will be found innocent. The majority of the prisoners sentenced in the first hearings will have their sentences quashed in later ones,” Fatah continued in his letter.

Rady agreed with Fatah, saying that most of the cases relied on “flimsy evidence” provided by Homeland Security.

The investigations department of Homeland Security has the upper hand over the Attorney General’s decisions to release any detainees, Mokhtar Mounir, the head of the Journalists against Torture Monitor’s legal unit and a member of the Front to Defend Egypt’s Protesters told The Cairo Post Sunday.

According to Mokhtar, “fabrication of evidence by Homeland Security” can lead to sentences; however, because the “judiciary is politicized,” it is difficult to assume whether or not the “majority” of detainees will be released.

“I am not against laws regulating protests, but the new protest law gags dissidents and is used as an alternative to the emergency law, and security forces use it to justify excessive use of force,” Mounir said.

“If it was not for the protest law, many protesters would be detained for nothing,” Mounir added.

Both Rady and Mounir anticipate that the “crackdown on freedoms will increase after the presidential elections,” with the “current clampdown on human rights” as an indicator.

“The next parliament, however, will partake in shaping the upcoming stage. It is uncertain how it will look like with Nour Party and former members of the National Democratic Party intending to run,” Rady said.

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