The undersigned Egyptian rights organizations condemn the treatment of sit-ins and demonstrations in Egypt from the time of the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak until now, as a result of which hundreds have been killed and thousands injured and detained. We note that increasing social violence is linked to the insistence of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on pursuing policies of suppressing freedom of expression and using the military judiciary as a tool to subjugate civilians and harass peaceful activists. The SCAF followed these same policies in breaking up the sit-in at the Ministry of Defense on Friday, May 4. Those in charge of the country’s affairs have still not learned that suppressing demonstrations and issuing oppressive laws that obstruct democratic and political life only make Egyptians cling more fiercely to their right to peacefully demonstrate and that cracking down on such demonstrations does not diminish this right.
The authorities disbursed the sit-in after military forces, supported by persons in civilian clothes, attacked the protestors and used force during the demonstration, which began in Abbasiya Square on April 28. This came against a backdrop of violence that reached its peak on Wednesday when unknown persons wearing civilian clothes shot live ammunition at protestors in the square, leading to dozens of injuries and deaths. The undersigned organizations believe that these acts took place due to the deliberate negligence of the authorities, who failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the lives of protestors.
Given this context, the undersigned organizations were shocked to see military personnel celebrating after the sit-in was disbursed. This leads us to wonder about the nature of the orders given to officers and soldiers before the sit-in was disbursed and the type of indoctrination they receive that would make them jubilant at the killing and beating of unarmed citizens. The lack of serious investigations into the abuses of security and military forces will only increase their sense that they can act with impunity.
Army forces attacked not only protestors but also field medics who were offering first aid to those injured at the site of the sit-in, after the authorities failed to secure their transport to nearby hospitals. The undersigned organizations also condemn the blatant assaults on several journalists and photographers with al-Masry al-Youm, al-Badil, and the January 25 satellite channel, as a result of which several were seriously injured. Some of them were detained for several hours by the military police and brought before the Military Prosecution, which ordered their release. In addition, cameras, video equipment, and laptops were confiscated from the photographers with January 25 channel.
We condemn the ongoing policy of arbitrarily arresting everyone near the site of the sit-in and referring detainees to the Military Prosecution, which evidences that the SCAF continues to refer civilians to the military court system. Instead of the Public Prosecutor announcing an investigation into the crimes committed, more than 300 people in the environs of the Ministry of Defense were arrested, in addition to 7 more in the governorate of Suez. All of them were referred to the Military Prosecution, and some of them having been injured and admitted to various hospitals. The Military Prosecution ordered them remanded for up to 15 days for participating in the sit-in, after releasing 16 women and some journalists. Ten other individuals who had gone to the Military Prosecution on Saturday to express their solidarity with those who had been detained during the dispersal of the sit-in on Friday were also arrested.
The undersigned organizations emphasize that the referral of civilians to the Military Prosecution means that the SCAF is continuing to act as both a party to and judge in the case, insofar as the Military Prosecution is subordinate to the Defense Ministry. There is also evidence that Defense Ministry personnel committed the crime of assaulting Egyptian citizens while they were exercising their right to free expression, which casts doubt on the impartiality and integrity of the investigating body. Unfortunately, these investigations are taking place as the Egyptian parliament is refusing to immunize Egyptian civilians against referral to unfair military courts, instead accepting only cosmetic changes to the law proposed by a SCAF representative, which preserve certain provisions that empower the SCAF to refer civilians to military trials, most significantly Article 48 of the Code of Military Justice, which permits the military courts to define their own jurisdiction.
The right to peacefully demonstrate and protest is guaranteed by international human rights conventions ratified by the Egyptian government. The exercise of this right obligates the state not only to permit such protests, but to protect and secure them against attacks. The location of sit-ins or demonstrations in front of ministries or bodies pertaining to the state should never be used as a pretext to disburse such protests with violence and is not proof of a breach of the peaceful nature of the protest.
The undersigned organizations note that the Egyptian authorities have preserved a set of repressive laws from the previous era, particularly the law on demonstrations (Law 10/1914), which grants the security authorities absolute prerogatives to prevent public assemblies and marches and which employs ambiguous language that enables the law to be applied arbitrarily. In this tense environment, we are concerned about the apparent inclination of the People’s Assembly to restrict the right to demonstrate, as is clear from the first draft of a law regulating demonstrations currently before the assembly’s Legislative Committee. We thus ask the People’s Assembly to respect international standards for the protection of the right to demonstrate while debating and approving this law. The new law must require the authorities to provide clear, specific justifications for the prohibition or restriction of assemblies and stipulate a means of appealing such rulings.
In addition, the undersigned organizations demand the following:
• The remand orders issued by the Military Prosecution against activists and protestors must be revoked, the detainees released, and their referral to military trials suspended. Investigations of the acts of intimidation and murder seen in Abbasiya Square last week must be conducted, and those involved must be exposed and held accountable before their natural judge.
• Legislation regulating the right to peaceful demonstration and assembly, some of which dates to the era of the British occupation of Egypt, should be overturned. A democratic law must be adopted to regulate the right to demonstrate that protects demonstrators from attack and prevents the authorities from interfering in the regulation of this right.
• State authorities must assume their responsibilities to protect the right to life and to protect demonstrators from any attack, and refrain from attacking field hospitals and doctors offering first aid to the injured.
• The Public Prosecutor should open an investigation into the deaths of dozens of citizens during the sit-in and into the failure of security forces to protect them.
• The media and press must be free to work, and there must be an end to attacks on and arrests of media professionals and to the confiscation of their equipment. These assaults, especially on the private media, indicate that the authorities seek to hide the truth of events and restrict coverage of events to the state-owned media.
Signatories to the statement:
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
- Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
- Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies.
- Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
- Arab Penal Reform Organization.
- Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression.
- Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance.
- Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
- Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination.
- Land Center for Human Rights.
- Nazra for Feminist Studies.
- No Military Trials for Civilians.
- The Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners.