The human rights situation continued to deteriorate, marked by violations of freedom of expression, association, and assembly; widespread arrests of government opponents and prolonged detentions under state of emergency laws, in force almost continuously since 1967; and grossly unfair trials before military and state security courts.
Elections for the 454-member People's Assembly, conducted in three stages between October 18 and November 14, 2000, were the first to be held under full judicial supervision, following legislative reforms prompted by a July 2000 ruling of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won by a large majority but supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who could only run as independent candidates, secured seventeen seats and eleven other opposition parties shared sixteen. Despite judicial supervision, clashes between rival supporters and with the police left between nine and fifteen people dead, and scores wounded. The authorities arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood-aligned and other opposition candidates and supporters in the run up to the elections and prevented others from reaching polling stations.
The authorities carried out further arrests of pro-Muslim Brotherhood candidates and supporters in advance of the May-June elections to the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council, the upper house of the parliament). These elections passed off relatively peacefully, and were also won by the NDP.
The government-controlled Political Parties Committee of the Majlis al-Shura licensed Egypt 2000, a new political party, in April, having previously rejected it in 1999 only for that decision to be overturned on April 7 by the Political Parties Tribunal. Egypt 2000 was only the second political party to be licensed since the formation of the Political Parties Committee in 1977, several other political groups having been rejected, usually on grounds that their programs did not differ significantly from those of existing registered political parties.
The Islamist opposition Labor Party, whose activities were frozen by the Political Parties Committee in May 2000, remained suspended and its publications banned. At least eleven Administrative Court rulings ordered the lifting of a ban on the party's bi-weekly newspaper, al-Sha'ab, as a breach of constitutionally guaranteed press freedoms. On March 20, the Administrative Court declared unlawful the government's non-compliance with its rulings and its delaying tactic of lodging appeals before courts that were clearly not competent to hear such cases. Despite this, on March 21, the Political Parties Committee confirmed the ban on al-Sha'ab as the Labor Party's status remained unresolved. In mid-July, a board of advisers to the Supreme Administrative Court, which has previously upheld rulings in favor of al-Sha'ab, supported the committee's position. The board argued that earlier Administrative Court rulings were incorrect in stating that while the committee was empowered to suspend political parties, it did not have the authority to ban publications. In the interim, al-Sha'ab continued to appear in an on-line version.
Magdi Hussain, al-Sha'ab's imprisoned editor-in-chief, was released under a presidential pardon on December 27, 2000, as were al-Sha'ab journalist Salah Bdeiwi and cartoonist 'Issam Hanafi. All three were sentenced in August 1999 for defaming Minister of Agriculture Yusuf Wali. In March, Hussain was elected secretary-general of the Labor Party, but in August, party leader Ibrahim Shukri suspended him and ten others from the party's executive committee and replaced him as al-Sha'ab's editor-in-chief in an effort to purge the party of Islamists and so obtain government approval to operate again.
The government continued to try civilian political suspects before military courts and in mid-October announced that 253 Islamist detainees would be tried before the Supreme Military Court. Of these, eighty-three had been arrested in May and detained for membership of an illegal organization, illegally possessing weapons, planning to overthrow the government by force, and forging official documents. They included several foreign nationals; local press speculation linking them to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda (The Base) network was later rejected by President Husni Mubarak. The other 170 were suspected members of the banned al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), many of whom, according to defense lawyers, had already been held without trial for several years. All 170 reportedly faced charges of carrying out acts of political violence between 1994 and 1998. Local human rights groups condemned the decision to try more civilians in military courts, from which there is no right of appeal. Since 1992, such courts have convicted hundreds of Islamists, often after grossly unfair trials and torture during pre-trial interrogation, and handed down scores of death sentences, many of which have been carried out. On September 20, government security agents abducted publisher Farid Zahran, a leader of the Egyptian People's Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian Uprising (EPCSPU), to forestall a demonstration on September 28 called to mark the first anniversary of the outbreak of renewed conflict between Palestinians and Israeli forces. Detained for two weeks, Zahran was accused of disseminating tendentious information aimed at disturbing public order and planning demonstrations, then released on bail on October 4.
Thousands of alleged members or supporters of banned Islamist groups contuinued to be detained without trial, but a few were released, including Hamdi Abd al-Rahman and Isma'il al-Bakl, both al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya leaders. They were released in July after serving fifteen-year prison terms for their part in the 1981 assassination of former president Anwar al-Sadat plus an additional five years when they were held illegally.
Police routinely tortured or ill-treated detainees, and there were three deaths between January and July. In two earlier deaths in custody, criminal proceedings against those accused of inflicting torture resulted in convictions. On February 7, the Shibin al-Kom criminal court sentenced the director of Wadi Natroun maximum security prison to ten years of imprisonment in connection with the death under torture of Ahmad Muhammad 'Issa, an awaiting trial prisoner, and sentenced a major to seven years and four sergeants to five year terms, dismissing all from their posts. In another case, a lieutenant at al-'Agouza police station in Cairo received a two-year prison term with labor on July 25 for beating detainee Ahmad Imam 'Abd al-Na'im to death
Egyptian courts sentenced at least sixty-nine people to death between November 2000 and November 2001 for murder, rape, and other crimes, and carried out eight executions.
The government continued to clamp down on Islamist political activists, breaching their rights to freedom of expression and association. On November 19, 2000, a military court sentenced fifteen lawyers and other professionals linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood to prison terms of up to five years on charges including membership of an illegal organization, but acquitted five other defendants. Earlier, in October, the authorities detained hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere in advance of the parliamentary elections, including some who were standing as independent candidates. Those held included several members of the campaigning team of Jihan al-Halafawi, the only woman candidate linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Labor Party members running Magdi Hussain's electoral campaign while he served his prison sentence.
This pattern was repeated in advance of the Majlis al-Shura elections. The authorities detained at least 140 Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers starting in mid-April 2001 in Asyut, Alexandria, al-Fayyum, and other centers, including some who had just registered as candidates, such as Muhammad al-Sayyid Habib, an Asyut University professor and former parliamentarian, and Abu Bakr Mitkis. All were released without charge after the elections. Twenty-five other leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested on July 15 in Imbaba for allegedly holding an illegal meeting. They included Muhammad al-Shater, a former political prisoner and reputedly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's highest decision-making body, the Maktab al-Irshad (Guidance Bureau).
The government also prosecuted people on the basis of their alleged sexual orientation. In July, the authorities referred fifty-two men to the Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanours, from which there is no right of appeal, on charges of "obscene behaviour" under the Combat of Prostitution Law (Law 10 of 1961). Two defendants were also charged with expressing "contempt for religion" under article 98(f) of the penal code, while a sixteen year old minor was sent before the Juveniles Court. Most of the defendants had been arrested on May 11 in Cairo and initially held incommunicado. During their trial, which began on July 18, the court refused to investigate allegations by some defendants that they had been tortured to make them confess and on November 14, twenty-one of them received sentences of between one and two years of imprisonment on the "obscenity" charge. The two charged with "contempt for religion" received three- and five-year terms. The others were acquitted. The sixteen-year-old, who did have a right of appeal from the Juveniles Court, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for "obscenity"on September 18. His appeal was due to be heard in November.
On December 6, 2001, the authorities released eighty-nine prisoners on humanitarian grounds pending a verdict by the Sohag Criminal Court. They had been among ninety-six Muslims and Coptic Christians tried in connection with communal violence at al-Kusheh village in December 1999, in which twenty Copts and one Muslim died. The Sohag Criminal Court had acquitted all the defendants except for four Muslims, who were sentenced to terms ranging between one and ten years for illegal possession of weapons, manslaughter, and damaging property, but Coptic religious leaders and families of those killed criticized the verdict and the General Prosecution quickly lodged an appeal. In July, the Court of Cassation quashed the verdict and ordered a retrial of all the defendants, which then opened in November.
In June, thousands of Copts demonstrated in Cairo over four days in protest at the publication of sexually explicit photographs of a former Coptic monk by the weekly newspaper al-Naba' and its sister publication Akher Khabar, both of whose publishing licenses the authorities withdrew on July 4. Several demonstrators were injured in clashes with the police. The authorities charged Mamdouh Mahran, editor-in-chief of al-Naba', with undermining public order, defaming the Coptic Church, publishing pornography, and other offences, and his trial opened on June 24 before the State Security Court for Misdemeanours. On September 16, he was convicted on all but one count and sentenced to three years of imprisonment. President Mubarak ratified the sentence on September 30, but Mahran suffered a heart attack and was then hospitalized under guard. He appealed successfully to the Administrative Court to overturn the Egypt Press Association's decision to revoke his membership, though a counter-appeal by the association to the Supreme Administrative Court was still pending by November.
In January, Sherif al-Filali, an engineer, went on trial before the Emergency Supreme State Security Court (ESSSC) charged effectively with espionage. Prosecutors alleged that he was recruited into Israel's Mossad intelligence agency by a Russian army officer, Gregory Sergevic, who was tried in his absence in the same case. During two months of pre-trial detention by the State Security Intelligence (SSI) in Cairo, al-Filali was reportedly subjected to "psychological pressure" to confess. However, while Sergevic was sentenced to life imprisonment al-Filali was acquitted. The presiding judge ruled that Egyptian law provides for acquittal if a defendant confesses before the start of a criminal investigation, as in al-Filali's case, even if the available evidence is sufficient to secure a conviction. On June 27, the state security prosecutor announced that he would seek a re-trial, permissible under emergency legislation. Verdicts of the ESSSC, which cannot be appealed, must be ratified by the president. But in September, the president's office refused to endorse the verdict. The authorities then rearrested al-Filali and his new trial opened on October 28. If convicted, he faced up to twenty-five years of imprisonment with hard labor.
The government continued to target writers for exercising their freedom of expression. In December 2000, the General Prosecution successfully appealed for the re-trial of Salahuddin Muhsin after the State Security Court for Misdemeanours in Giza gave him a six-month suspended sentence in July 2000 for denigrating Islam in his writings. In January 2001, he was retried before a different circuit of the State Security Court, convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labor. He had no right of appeal.
The government also continued to ban books it deemed "offensive" to society, either because their contents were held to be sexually explicit or because they were considered defamatory to Islam. In May, al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy banned two works, respectively by 'Alaa' Hamed and Ibrahim Abu Khalil on the latter ground.
Workers' rights came under attack through arbitrary measures taken against trade union activists who were outspoken around issues such as worker safety in the state sector. Such measures, designed to prevent them from participating in union elections, included transfer to other companies at short notice in the run-up to elections, and being pressurized into withdrawing their candidacy. In the run-up to the General Federation of Trade Unions elections, which began on October 8, scores of workers who had been disqualified from running as candidates to shop floor committees lodged appeals before the administrative courts contesting irregularities in nomination procedures. The Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), an Egyptian NGO that monitors and campaigns for workers' rights, also came under pressure. Its director, Kamal Abbas, and Abdul Rashid Hilal, board member and vice-chairman of the Iron and Steel Company trade union, were both summoned before prosecution officials in Helwan in mid-September as part of the government's attempt to stifle criticism of working conditions and of irregularities in trade union election procedures.
In February, the Egyptian Bar Association elected a new board and chairman, ending five years of judicial sequestration imposed by the government in 1996 for alleged financial irregularities by board members. There was wide speculation that the government hoped the election, held under judicial supervision, would diminish the Muslim Brotherhood's influence over the association but the outcome once again produced a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated board, with Nasserist lawyer Sameh 'Ashour elected as chairman.
In a landmark ruling on June 2, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court declared as unconstitutional article 48 of the penal code, which punished criminal complicity to commit felonies or misdemeanours by two or more persons even if no crime had actually been committed. The article, which provided for up to fifteen years of imprisonment for felonies and up to three years of imprisonment for misdemeanours, was widely used against Islamists charged with security offences, and most recently invoked in the case the Saadeddin Ibrahim. (See below.) In late July, Prosecutor General Maher Abdel Wahed decided not to exercise his right to refer the ruling back to the court for re-examination, and ordered the release of all prisoners convicted on the basis of article 48. In September, lawyers acting for scores of Islamist prisoners lodged appeals with the State Security Court requesting their release on these grounds, but by November it was unclear if any had been released.
An amended version of the controversial Law on Civil Associations and Institutions (Law 153 of 1999), which the Supreme Constitutional Court had overturned in June 2000, was presented to the Majlis al-Shura in April but it had not been presented to the People's Assembly by November, and the earlier Law on Private Associations and Institutions (Law 32 of 1964) remained in force. One positive amendment would allow administrative courts to hear cases arising from disputes between NGOs and the authorities, in lieu of courts of first instance, in line with the Supreme Constitutional Court ruling, but other provisions that would allow the government to control and interfere in the internal activities of NGOs, remained unchanged.
On July 1, Cairo's Administrative Court overturned the government's decision to refuse, for unspecified security reasons, to register the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) as a recognized NGO. Following the overturning of Law 153 of 1999, the EOHR had applied for registration under Law 32 of 1964 but was informed by the Ministry of Social Affairs in July 2000 that a decision on its application had been deferred upon a request from security officials. The EOHR took the matter to the Administrative Court in February, and the July ruling stated that since the ministry failed to process the EOHR's application within the sixty-day period specified by law, it was deemed accepted. The ruling was legally binding on the ministry and its implementation could not be deferred even if appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court, but by November the ministry had not complied.
The government maintained its crackdown on human rights activists with the trial and conviction of Saadeddin Ibrahim, director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, and twenty-seven co-defendants. On May 21, the Supreme State Security Court sentenced Ibrahim to seven years of imprisonment on charges of receiving funding without authorization, disseminating false information damaging to Egypt's interests, and securing funds through fraud. He and four co-defendants were acquitted on a fourth charge of conspiring to bribe public officials. The court imposed one-year suspended sentences on twenty-one defendants, and sentenced six others, including two who faced separate bribery charges, to between two and five years of imprisonment with labor.
Ten of the accused remained at large, however, having been tried in their absence. Most of the defendants were associated with two local NGOs, the Ibn Khaldun Center and the Hoda Association, five as employees and the rest as short-term contract workers. Many had been arrested in mid-2000 in connection with two projects funded by the European Union (E.U.) aimed at promoting voter education and encouraging eligible voters to register and exercise their political rights.
The seven-month trial opened on November 18, 2000. In addition to serious pre-trial irregularities, the proceedings failed to meet international standards for fair trial. Verdicts of the Supreme State Security Court, an exceptional court based on emergency legislation, could only be appealed by cassation or review, limiting the grounds for appeal to points of law and precluding the facts of the case. Defense lawyers did not have full access to prosecution documents presented to the court until four months into the trial. After sentencing, Saadeddin Ibrahim, Khaled al-Fayyad, Usama Hammad, and Mohammad Hassanein were held in Tora Mazra'at prison, and Nadia Abdel Nour and Magda al-Bey at the women's prison in Qanater. The defendants who received suspended sentences were released within days. An appeal hearing before the Court of Cassation was scheduled for December 19. The outcome of the trial was condemned by Egyptian and international human rights organizations, and both U.S. and E.U. officials voiced concern.
In June, the government shut down the offices of the Sudanese Human Rights Organization (SHRO), which had been operating in exile in Egypt since 1991. Although no official reason was given, the SHRO's president believed that the closure was the direct outcome of a report issued by the organization on the practice of slavery in Sudan.
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