The Egyptian government has detained hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members solely for exercising their rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a banned but tolerated group, staged large demonstrations in Egyptian cities in early May calling for political reform. At least 800 members were arrested, and more than 300 are still in custody, most without charge. In a letter sent to President Husni Mubarak, Human Rights Watch called on the government to release the detainees without delay.
Mahmoud `Izzat, secretary-general of the organization, and Dr. `Issam al-Irian, a prominent activist, are among scores who are being investigated on charges of belonging to an illegal organization, possession of publications and spreading propaganda of a nature to disturb public security, and promoting the use of force to breach the Constitution. Lawyers for the men say the last charge, based on allegations that they urged demonstrators to attack the police, are groundless but allow the prosecutor to refer the cases to a military court under the country’s counterterrorism laws.
On June 18 and June 19, the prosecutor extended detention orders for al-Irian and `Izzat by another 15 days.
“The Egyptian government should not use public security as a pretext to punish people for peacefully trying to exercise their basic rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After six weeks of investigations, the government has not shown that a crime has been committed. It should do the right thing and release `Issam al-Irian and Mahmud `Izzat now.”
Human Rights Watch said that any individuals implicated in unlawful acts should be prosecuted in accordance with international fair-trial standards. However, criminal law should not be used as a pretext to detain persons exercising their peaceful rights to expression, association and assembly.
The Egyptian government should also investigate allegations that police attacked demonstrators, and it should discipline or prosecute anyone found responsible for such attacks.
“President Mubarak should use this opportunity to end the practice of invoking national security to stifle peaceful dissent,” Stork said.
To read the Human Rights Watch letter to President Mubarak, please see: