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Egypt: Investigate Attack on Anti-War Protesters

Egypt should investigate and discipline police and plainclothes security officials who beat demonstrators protesting the Iraq war and tortured some of those detained, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. (Arabic)

In the 40-page report, Security Forces Abuse of Anti-War Demonstrators, Human Rights Watch documented excessive use of force by security forces to disperse demonstrators protesting the U.S.-led war against Iraq in March, violating their right to freedom of assembly. After arresting hundreds of protesters, police then beat and mistreated many detainees, some to the point of torture, and failed to provide medical care to persons seriously injured.

"Plainclothes officers viciously attacked protestors with pipes and clubs, and arrested demonstrators and bystanders without cause. Then the jailers beat those they considered to be the ringleaders," said Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The government has an obligation to carry out an impartial inquiry and hold accountable those responsible for this brutal behavior."

On March 21, following a massive but largely peaceful public protest the previous day against the Iraq war, Egyptian security forces attacked would-be demonstrators and bystanders in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square, beating many with clubs and pipes, arresting persons arbitrarily and preventing them from gathering to protest U.S. and Egyptian government policies. Later the same day, plainclothes security forces attacked a peaceful sit-in at the headquarters of the Egyptian Bar Association, where they beat and arrested a number of defense lawyers and two members of parliament.

"The government should make public the names of these security officials who were responsible for ordering, carrying out or condoning these attacks," Stork said.

Most of the some 800 persons arrested that day were released within 24 hours, but 61 were held for investigation and charged with destruction of property, promoting disorder and other offenses. Over the following weeks, other alleged activists and demonstration leaders were detained unlawfully, and some were tortured in detention. Most were subsequently released, but the charges against them have not been dismissed.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to dismiss charges against persons detained solely for attempting to exercise their right of free assembly.

"If the government has any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it should promptly bring those persons to a fair trial," Stork said.

Ashraf Ibrahim, an engineer and antiwar activist, goes to trial on December 16 before a Higher Emergency State Security Court on charges of, among other things, "sending false information to foreign bodies-foreign human rights organizations-which include, contrary to the truth, violations of human rights within the country." Security forces arrested him on April 12 and held him for nearly four months before the Higher State Security Prosecution Office indicted him on August 7 under Egypt's emergency legislation. Human Rights Watch believes that the charges against Ibrahim criminalize most forms of peaceful dissent, and has called on the government to drop the charges and release him immediately and unconditionally.

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