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Letter To President Hosni Mubarak of the Arab Republic of Egypt

Human Rights Watch is writing out of deep concern regarding recent measures taken by Egyptian authorities to punish peaceful critics of government policies and intimidate Egyptian citizens from exercising their rights to freedom of expression, the free exchange of ideas, assembly and association.

Human Rights Watch is writing out of deep concern regarding recent measures taken by Egyptian authorities to punish peaceful critics of government policies and intimidate Egyptian citizens from exercising their rights to freedom of expression, the free exchange of ideas, assembly and association. We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that persons unjustly detained in recent days are freed from detention and order the State Security Investigation (SSI) and other security forces to cease harassment of those persons.

In one case that has come to our attention, on January 29 security officers assaulted Ayman Nur, an elected member of the People’s Assembly and a leader of the Chad (Tomorrow) Party, along Qasr al-Aini Street, a major thoroughfare near Tahrir Square. Mr. Nur reportedly told investigators, “I was attacked and pushed to the ground… I received blows under the right eye and was hit on the back several times.” The officers arrested Mr. Nur and a criminal court judge remanded him to 45 days detention while authorities investigated charges that he had forged the signatures of founding members of the Ghad Party.

The forgery complaint was brought by the Office of Public Funds Investigation, which is under the authority of Minister of Interior Habib al-`Adli. A statement of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights quotes Mr. Nur as saying that while in the custody of the Office of Public Funds Investigation, “A metal shackle was placed on my hands and the other on one of the doors [in a way] that kept me in a bent position for long periods of time, and I was forbidden to use the bathroom for these long periods.”

Immediately prior to this, Mr. Nur was in a single day stripped of his parliamentary immunity, a process that ordinarily takes months, raising serious concerns as to whether due process procedures and internal regulations of the People’s Assembly were followed. According to a statement issued by six respected Egyptian human rights organizations on February 2, the complaint that was the basis for this drastic step did not meet the necessary standard of proof. In addition, the Egyptian human rights organizations reported that the State Security Prosecutor-General’s office searched Mr. Nur’s home and office even before the decision to lift his immunity had been taken.

On the previous day, January 28, at the Cairo International Book Fair, security forces arrested journalist Ibrahim al-Sahar, lawyer Marwa Faruq, and Baho Baksh, a Saudi national studying business at the American University in Cairo. The three were distributing leaflets to publicize a demonstration scheduled for Friday, February 4, calling on you not to stand for a fifth term in a presidential referendum in September and opposing the widely rumored candidacy of Gamal Mubarak for president. The three have been given fourteen day renewable jail terms for “incitement against public order.”

The next day, on January 29, security forces reportedly raided the Book Fair booth of Dar Mirit, a private-sector company noted for its political independence and for publishing serious and innovative books. All the literature of the Socialist Studies Center was removed from Dar Mirit’s booth, despite the fact that the center and its publications are legal.

We also understand that Mohamed al-Sayyid Sa`id, deputy director of the prestigious al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, was banned from appearing at several scheduled panel discussions on contemporary political developments, one of the most popular features of the annual Book Fair. According to reports we have received, an official at the the Ministry of Culture’s National Book Authority, which sponsors the book fair, called Dr. Sa`id to inform him that he should not attend the events. This followed remarks Dr. Sa`id reportedly made regarding the need for constitutional reform at a large meeting of intellectuals that you attended on the occasion of the opening of the book fair two weeks ago.

On January 31, according to press reports, police carried out pre-dawn raids in Zagazig, a provincial capital in the Nile delta, and arrested nine persons allegedly affiliated with the Muslim Brothers, continuing a campaign of persecution of that banned organization. Those arrested reportedly included two medical doctors, two engineers, a university professor, a mosque leader, and three government employees.

Your Excellency, we had been encouraged when some weeks ago, on December 11, the authorities did not interfere in a public demonstration in downtown Cairo called by the Popular Committee for Change, a coalition of activists (including the Socialist Studies Center) that is opposing your re-election as president in the upcoming September referendum. In the past, even a legal demonstration such as this that opposed you by name would not have been permitted. We were therefore hopeful that this signaled your intent to allow greater public political debate and exercise of political rights.

We are therefore extremely dismayed by the radical intolerance of your government towards peaceful political dissent, as evidenced the repressive measures taken over the past several days. We urge you in the strongest terms to ensure the immediate release from custody of those wrongfully arrested for exercising the rights guaranteed to them by international human rights law and the Egyptian Constitution. We also call on you to call on the Minister of Interior to cease harassment of peaceful critics by security forces.

Sincerely

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division

CC: H.E. Nabil Fahmy, Ambassador, The Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt

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