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The Egyptian government should immediately release scores of peaceful protesters arrested over the past 10 days solely for exercising their right to free expression and assembly, Human Rights Watch said today.

On the night of April 24, the government dispatched thousands of security forces to surround a few dozen protestors peacefully demonstrating in Cairo. Over the course of four days, security forces arrested at least 51 of the protestors, who were demonstrating in support of a group of judges who have called for judicial independence and criticized fraud and intimidation in the parliamentary elections held several months ago.

Since April 27, security forces have also arrested more than 50 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood for protesting the government’s extension of emergency rule, according to spokesmen for the organization.

On April 30, the government extended the country’s Emergency Law for an additional two years. Law No. 162 (1958), which has been in effect without interruption since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in October 1981, prohibits demonstrations and public rallies and allows the authorities to detain individuals without charge.

“Deploying thousands of police to smother these protests shows all too clearly that President Mubarak has zero tolerance for peaceful dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “This is a government that intimidates voters to obtain the parliamentary majority it needs to renew an Emergency Law, which it then uses to silence those who protest election fraud.”

On the night of April 24, armed men in civilian clothes and uniformed policemen beat protesters outside the Judges’ Club with batons and assaulted Mahmud `Abd al-Latif Hamza, a senior judge who tried to intervene on the protesters’ behalf.

“That night the sit-in was about 40 people,” one eyewitness told Human Rights Watch. “Around 2:30 a.m., hundreds of hired thugs and uniformed police stormed our camp and started beating us. I saw about 20 plainclothesmen beating one young man. Later I saw him fall from the police truck. His face was completely covered in blood.”

Another activist told Human Rights Watch that he went to the Judges’ Club on April 27, three days later, with a delegation of journalists and film directors, including the internationally known director Youssef Chahine.

“At sunset, masses of Central Security riot police arrived and cordoned off the area from all directions,” the activist said. “The protesters started shouting, ‘State Security, dogs of the state,’ and other slogans. Soon a large group of police in civilian clothes arrived and started violently clearing out the protest. Four or five officers in civilian clothes surrounded each individual protester and dragged them out of the police cordon.”

Under provisions of the Emergency Law, the authorities referred the detained protesters to the state security prosecutor. The charges include participating in a gathering of more than five people, insulting the president, disseminating propaganda and malicious rumors, organizing demonstrations and distributing leaflets, and blocking traffic. All the detained demonstrators are being held at the maximum security Torah prison on the outskirts of Cairo.

“The government is using the Emergency Law to silence peaceful protests in support of democratic reform, not to quell violence,” Stork said.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been officially banned in Egypt since 1954, but it is now the largest opposition bloc in the Egyptian parliament, with 88 “independents” out of 454 seats. The most recent arrests of Brotherhood members occurred early Thursday morning, May 4, when police detained 23 in Cairo’s Shubra district. An official with the prosecutor’s office told the Associated Press that they were distributing leaflets and posters and trying to recruit new members.

The Judges’ Club, the quasi-official professional organization for members of the judiciary, refused to certify the results of last November-December’s parliamentary elections after more than 100 of the judges reported irregularities at polling stations. In February, the government-controlled Supreme Judicial Council stripped four of the most vocal judges of their judicial immunity and last week brought two of them before a disciplinary tribunal.

Activists who participated in the demonstrations supporting the judges told Human Rights Watch that they are receiving threatening calls from state security agents. At least one activist went into hiding after he was told there was a warrant out for his arrest on charges of organizing demonstrations.

Another activist, prominent defense lawyer and reform advocate Amir Salem, told Human Rights Watch that a group of men tried to abduct him as he emerged from the Bar Association on Thursday following the general assembly of the Judges’ Club. However, other lawyers intervened and helped him back inside the Bar Association, where he remained until the next day. Following this incident, and after other lawyers told him that his name had come up during interrogations of their clients, Salem went to the State Security Prosecutor’s Office to learn if there was a warrant for his arrest. According to Salem, State Security Prosecutor Hisham Badawi told him that a warrant had been issued on Wednesday but that he, Badawi, was “canceling” it and that Salem would not be arrested.

Names of detained individuals:

According to a May 1 joint statement from five Egyptian human rights organizations, police referred those detained on April 24 to the Qasr al-Nil prosecutor’s office (case no. 5476/2006), where the authorities interrogated them and ordered a 15-day extension of their detention. These individuals include:

`Adil Fawzi Tawfik
Ahmad Fathi
Ahmad Mahir
Ahmad Salah
Ahmad Yasser al-Darubi
Bassim Hussain
`Imad Farid `Abd al-Latif
Hamada Ragab Muhammad
Muhammad Makki
Muhammad al-Sharqawi
Na’il `Abd al-Hamid
Yasser Isma`il Zaki

Among those arrested on April 26, State Security prosecutors interrogated the following persons in connection with High State Security case no. 415/2006 and ordered a 15-day extension of their detention:

Akram `Ali Hilmia
Bahaa Sabir Hamada
Gamal `Abd al-Fattah
Hussain Muhammad `Ali
Ibrahim al-Sahari
Kamil Khalil
Malik Mustafa Muhammad
Muhammad `Abd al-Rahman Kamil
Muhammad `Adil Fahmi
Muhammad Ahmad al-Dardiri
Muhammad Fawzi Imam
Sa`d `Abdullah Hamdi
Sahir Ibrahim Gad
Samih Muhammad Sa`id
Sami Hassan Diyab
Yassir al-Sayyid Badran

On April 27, police broke up a third demonstration in support of the judges. State Security prosecutors interrogated this group on April 28, also in connection with High State Security case no. 415/2006, and extended their detention for 15 days. Among those arrested on this occasion were:

`Ali Fathi `Ali
Ashraf Ibrahim Muhammad
Emad Fahim `Abd al-Ghani
Fathi `Abd al-Ra`uf
Hamdi Abu al-Ma`ati Qanawi
Hani Lotfi al-Sawi
Ibrahim `Abd al-Aziz `Abd al-Dayem
Ibrahim al-Sayyid Attiyya
Karim Muhammad
Muhammad `Abd al-Latif
Wa’il Ahmad Khalil

On April 28 prosecutors received another list of detainees. Human Rights Watch has been unable to obtain information about this group’s current status:

Hamada Ragab Ahmad
Ibrahim Muhammad Bahgat
Fayiz Hassan `Ulum
Sayyid Hassan `Abd al-Aziz
Ashraf Muhammad `Abd al-Aziz
Walid Gamal `Arab
Mubarak Salim Sayyid
Wa’il Hassan Muhammad
Hamada Muhammad Ramadan
Sayyid Mahmud Muhammad
Ahmad Gum`a Ahmad
Ibrahim Bilal Ibrahim

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