November 23, 2010

III. Election Violence and Police Brutality

During elections season in Egypt, political activism typically becomes focused and opposition parties and movements organize protests and meetings in which they call for free elections and structural reforms. Security officials view these activities with suspicion and frequently resort to arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force to disperse rallies and demonstrations. In one incident on May 25, 2005, security agents and thugs apparently working on their behalf attacked protestors at a demonstration against proposed constitutional amendments to limit judicial supervision of elections, further restrict who can run for president, and abrogate constitutional civil liberties protections in cases involving terrorism charges.[22]Plainclothes security agents beat demonstrators, and riot police allowed—and sometimes encouraged—thugs to beat and sexually assault women protestors and journalists.

In some cases documented during the 2005 parliamentary elections, security officials barred access to polling stations; in other cases violence erupted between NDP supporters and opposition candidates, usually from the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 12 people died as a result of violence during the 2005 elections, which were held in three rounds in November and December. The second and third rounds in particular, following the Muslim Brotherhood’s strong showing in the first found, were marked by increased voter intimidation, with widespread reports of beatings and arrests of journalists and election monitors.[23]

According to the report on the 2005 elections by the Independent Committee on Election Monitoring (ICEM), a coalition of NGOs led by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center,

By the end of the election, the levels of violence and harshly repressive tactics used by security reached a critical point. The number of fatalities, injuries, and arrests accumulated throughout the month, reaching its apex in the runoff of the final round where twelve people were killed…. Thugs, in plain sight of the police, prevented voters from entering the polling places in Bandar Beni Sueif and in the Nasser district. In the same district at Al Adwa school, the polling station was closed for a few hours to prevent a group of Muslim Brotherhood supporters who had gathered from voting.[24]

Monitors from the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based NGO affiliated with the Republican Party, witnessed “a brutal and bloody fistfight between candidate supporters, during which police stood by silently and did not intervene.”[25] Reporters Without Borders documented at least 18 cases where security forces beat up or arrested Egyptian and foreign journalists, denied them entry to polling stations, or confiscated their cameras and phones.[26]

In the aftermath of the 2005 elections, several senior judges publicly criticized election irregularities. Government moves to discipline the judges prompted public demonstrations on their behalf. On April 24, 2006, plainclothes police attacked activists who had gathered outside the Judges’ Club, the quasi-official professional association for members of the judiciary, to support the judges, and beat them with batons. Over the course of several days, police arrested at least 51 persons protesting the lack of judicial independence and the fraud and intimidation associated with the 2005 elections. Authorities, under provisions of the Emergency Law, referred the detained protesters to the State Security Prosecutor on charges of participating in a gathering of more than five people, insulting the president, and disseminating propaganda and malicious rumors.[27] Several days later, members of security forces attacked protesters attempting to rally near the High Court in support of two of the judges, Hisham al-Bastawissi and Mahmud Mekki, who were facing a disciplinary hearing after they publicly criticized the parliamentary elections as fraudulent. Plainclothes security officers also attacked journalists attempting to cover the events.[28]

The violence surrounding the 2005 parliamentary elections and their aftermath was not unique, although the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights “found that violence in 2005 was much higher than during the 2000 [previous parliamentary] election. In 2005, 12 people were killed and 500 were injured in election-related violence, compared to 8 killed and 64 injured in 2000.”[29] The failure to investigate the attacks on peaceful demonstrators and arbitrary arrests of protestors in past elections, or to prosecute any of those responsible, can give an impression of toleration for such violence and intimidation in future elections.

Under the ICCPR, Egypt has a general obligation to provide an effective remedy to all those whose rights have been violated.[30] This involves the duty to promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible for ordering or carrying out acts of violence.

Egypt is also obliged under international law to ensure an environment where voters feel secure and able to make voting choices freely. The Human Rights Committee says that, to ensure the application of article 25, “voters should be protected from any form of coercion or compulsion to disclose how they intend to vote or how they voted, and from any unlawful or arbitrary interference with the voting process.”[31]

[22]“Calls for Reform Met with Brutality,” Human Rights Watch Press Release, May 25, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/05/25/egypt-calls-reform-met-brutality (accessed March 3, 2010). This incident has since become the subject of a case before the African Commission on Human Rights which ruled it admissible. See also “Security Forces Attack Opposition Demonstrators,” Human Rights Watch Press Release, August 1, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/08/01/egypt-security-forces-attack-opposition-demonstrators (accessed March 3, 2010).

[23] Letter from Human Rights Watch to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice regarding Department of State Comments on Egyptian Elections, , December 1, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/12/01/letter-secretary-state-condoleeza-rice-about-department-state-comments-egyptian-elec

[24] Independent Committee on Election Monitoring, Press Statement, November 15, 2005, http://www.ndi.org/files/1943_eg_icemfirst_110905.pdf, accessed March 10, 2010.

[25] “International Republican Institute 2005 Parliamentary Election Assessment in Egypt,” International Republican Institute, November 15-21, 2005, http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/Egypt%27s%202005%20Parliamentary%20Elections%20Assessment%20Report.pdf (accessed March 10, 2010).

[26] “More than 50 Journalists and Media Workers Harassed, Some Beaten while Covering Elections,” Reporters Without Borders, December 9, 2005, http://en.rsf.org/egypt-more-than-50-journalists-and-media-09-12-2005,15881.html (accessed March 10, 2010).

[27] “Egypt: Troops Smother Protests, Detain Activists,” Human Rights Watch Press Release, May 5, 2006, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/05/05/egypt-troops-smother-protests-detain-activists.

[28]“Egypt: Police Assault Demonstrators, Journalists,” Human Rights Watch Press Release, May 11, 2006, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/05/11/egypt-police-assault-demonstrators-journalists.

[29] “Assessment of the Electoral Framework,” Democracy Reporting International and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, April 2007, http://www.democracy-reporting.org/downloads/reports/dri_egypt.pdf (accessed March 15, 2010).

[30]International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December

16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into

force March 23, 1976, art 2(3).

[31] UN Human Rights Committee , General Comment No. 25, The right to participate in public affairs, voting rights and the right of equal access to public service,(fifty-seventh session, July 12, 1996) , UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.7,

http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/%28Symbol%29/d0b7f023e8d6d9898025651e004bc0eb?Opendocument.