(New York) – Egypt’s military-installed government should end its arbitrary acts against the Muslim Brotherhood and the news media, Human Rights Watch said today. Since Defense Minister General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced the removal of President Mohamed Morsy from power on the night of July 3, the authorities have detained Muslim Brotherhood leaders, apparently solely on the basis of their membership in the group, sealed off Brotherhood buildings, and closed down its TV station and other stations sympathetic to the organization.
The military has also arrested the deposed president himself and at least ten members of his team and kept them in incommunicado detention for four days, unable to speak with their families or lawyer. The military has not confirmed where they are currently held, nor formally charged them with any recognizable offenses or brought them before a judge. The military should release the former president and his aides unless prosecutors have evidence that they committed a cognizable crime under Egyptian law, Human Rights Watch said. Any such charges should not contradict the internationally recognized rights to free expression and peaceful association.
“Both General al-Sisi and interim President Adli Mansour promised that the political transition process would be inclusive , but these violations of basic political rights will mean the Muslim Brotherhood and others will be shut out of political life,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Without strict respect for the rule of law and basic rights from the start there will be no political freedom.”
Security officials have so far arrested at least six other members of the ousted ruling Freedom and Justice Party, and prosecutors have ordered their detention on charges of incitement to violence and others with insulting the judiciary. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for hundreds of other members of the group.
The Egyptian authorities should immediately announce that they – and all state officials, including members of the army and security forces – will be bound by the existing law, and respect basic rights of all Egyptians, Human Rights Watch said.
Just moments after al-Sisi’s July 3, 2013 speech announcing the army’s ouster of Mohamed Morsy as president of Egypt, security agencies halted the broadcast of five TV stations and arrested the journalists on site. The journalists were released over the next two days but the stations remain shuttered.
In a July 6 interview with the state Middle East News Agency, Social Affairs Minister Nagwa Khalil said that with the constitution suspended her ministry had the authority to order the closure of nongovernmental groups. She said she had instructed her ministry to study dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood, which is registered under Law 84 as a nongovernmental organization, on the grounds that it has a “militia wing.” On July 7, the Freedom and Justice Party issued a news release stating that security forces had sealed off its offices in downtown Cairo without a court order. The action was a blatant violation of freedom of association, Human Rights Watch said.
Prosecutors have told Egyptian media that they are investigating members of the Muslim Brotherhood for their role in the deaths of anti-Morsy protesters in clashes outside the Brotherhood party headquarters in Moqattam on June 30, the clashes near Cairo University on July 2, the clashes outside Ettihadiya in December 2012, as well as the January 2011 prison breaks in which Morsy and other Brotherhood leaders fled detention.
Egypt is in desperate need of justice for past crimes but investigations should be independent of any political interference or the appearance of partiality, Human Rights Watch said. Anyone who has committed serious crimes, whether police, military, or Brotherhood should be held accountable.
With Egypt’s constitution suspended, there is a vacuum when it comes to the protection of fundamental rights. But Egypt is not under a state of emergency, and has not derogated from any of its international obligations. As a result, authorities are bound to respect fully the right to freedom of association and speech, and due process rights that protect against arbitrary arrest, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities should not act as if they have been given new powers to interfere with basic rights.
The Egyptian daily Al Shorouk reported that Mansour will issue a new constitutional declaration in the coming days. It is vitally important for this declaration to bind the government and all state officials to respect completely all rights that apply in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said.
“After a year of protracted struggle between the judiciary and the Muslim Brotherhood, the last thing Egypt needs is the appearance of arbitrary and partisan arrests and prosecutions,” Stork said. “Prosecutors should be doubly careful to avoid that perception, be transparent about the evidence they have to issue arrest warrants, and ensure that due process rights are respected.”
Arrests and Criminal Investigations of Brotherhood Leaders
The military is detaining at least 10 members of Morsy’s presidential team at the presidential guard quarters in Cairo, relatives and friends told Human Rights Watch. The military has not made public the legal basis for their detention, nor whether they have been charged with anything. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad al-Haddad, who has not been detained, tweeted on July 4 that President Morsy had been separated from the rest of his team and was being held at the Defense Ministry. Those being detained include Essam al-Haddad, who had been an assistant to the president; Khaled al-Qazzaz, who had been secretary for international affairs; Ayman Ali; Ahmed Abdelaty and at least six others.
On July 4, Al Ahram reported that the Office of the Public Prosecutor had issued arrest warrants for 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, police have thus far arrested six leaders of the group and prosecutors have ordered their pretrial detention and interrogated them on charges of inciting violence. Assistant Prosecutor Adel al Said told the Egyptian daily Al Tahrir that the public prosecutor had placed 35 Muslim Brotherhood leaders on a travel ban list on charges of inciting violence. He was reported to have said that those on the list included Morsy; the deputy Brotherhood guide Khairat al Shatir; Mahmoud Ghozlan, and former members of parliament Essam el Erian, Sobhi Daleh, and Saad al- Hosseini, among others.
On July 5, the military spokesman issued a statement claiming that, “The armed forces have not arrested or detained any individual in Egypt for political reasons” and calling on Egyptians to “exercise caution when spreading information about the military since this can be sold internationally” and “exploited for political reasons to tarnish the situation of freedoms in Egypt.”
There has been little transparency about the overall number of those arrested, on what charges, and what evidence prosecutors have to justify a detention order, Human Rights Watch said. Acting Prosecutor General Abdelmeguid Mahmoud is the Mubarak-era prosecutor whom Morsy had dismissed on November 22. Mahmoud returned as acting prosecutor a few days before Morsy’s ouster. Mahmoud’s record as head of the Office of the Public Prosecutor for years under Mubarak and his very public opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of his dismissal does not inspire confidence in the impartiality of his initiatives, Human Rights Watch said.
Detentions, criminal investigations and prosecutions should occur only on the basis of evidence in relation to recognized crimes such as direct incitement to or participation in violence, Human Rights Watch said. Such actions should not be based on spurious charges related to peaceful speech such as insulting the judiciary, or charges that violate free association, such as membership in an organization.
While some Brotherhood leaders may have made public statements that amount to incitement to violence, for which they could be lawfully prosecuted, this mass arrest of most senior Brotherhood leaders appears to be politically-motivated, based solely on their membership in the group, Human Rights Watch said.
Prosecutors also announced that they were investigating the killing of protesters during the December 5, 2012 Ettihadiya protests outside the presidential palace, and the June 30 killings during an attack on the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. Any investigation into what happened at Ettihadiya should include the killing and injuries to both Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Morsy demonstrators, but also the role of Muslim Brotherhood members in the detention and abuse of 49 protesters in front of the presidential palace gate 4 and the violent clashes that night. The public prosecutor has a duty to ensure that he carries out his duties in an impartial manner, Human Rights Watch said.
Of those arrested, prosecutors have ordered the release so far of only al-Katatny, the party leader, and Bayoumy, the Brotherhood deputy guide. The Interior Ministry did not carry out the release orders, though because prosecutors ordered their detention for 15 days pending interrogation on further charges. The deputy interior minister for prisons, Gen. Mostafa Baz, told the Egyptian daily Al Masry al Youm on July 5 that security officers had arrested the chief Muslim Brotherhood lawyer, Abdelmoneim Abdelmaqsud, when he appeared before prosecutors as Bayoumi’s legal counsel during his interrogation.
The report said that Tora prison guards arrested the lawyer because of an outstanding arrest warrant in his name on charges of “insulting the judiciary” and inciting violence. “Insulting the judiciary” cannot be considered a criminal offense, and prosecution on those grounds would be a violation of the right to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.
A few minutes after General al-Sissi announced on July 3 that Morsy had been removed as president and the constitution had been suspended, the screens of the Muslim Brotherhood TV station, Misr 25, went blank. The station’s program director, Mosaad Barbary, told Human Rights Watch that special forces dressed in black stormed into the studio and arrested him along with 22 other journalists and detained them overnight, releasing a day-and-a-half later.
Security forces halted the broadcast of at least four other channels at the same time, including three known for their Salafi programming: El-Naas, El-Rahma, and Khaligiyya. The Interior Ministry later claimed that these stations were inciting violence but did not provide any evidence or seek a court order.
If the authorities have grounds to believe that individual journalists or broadcasters are inciting violence, they should charge those individuals, Human Rights Watch said. Shutting down a station by executive order is an arbitrary measure that appears totally disproportionate to any crimes committed by individuals, and may constitute collective punishment, violating people’s right to freedom of information and opinion.
On July 4, state censors banned that day’s second edition of Freedom and Justice, the party newspaper, and on July 6 the newspaper said that the state-owned Ahram printing house had limited its distribution to 10,000 copies.
On July 3, the military and police raided the offices of Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr, seizing cameras and transmission equipment. They arrested managing director Ayman Gaballah, accusing him of operating without a proper license, and the studio engineer, Ahmad Hassan, and detained them for two days. On July 5, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Al Jazeera Arabic Bureau Cheif Abdelfattah Fayed on charges of undermining public peace by broadcasting “incendiary news.”
Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members arrested:
Detained incommunicado, believed to be at Defense Ministry
1. Mohamed Morsy, former president;
Detained incommunicado by military, presumed to be at Presidential Guard headquarters
2. Essam al-Haddad, former assistant to the president for international affairs;
3. Khaled al-Qazzaz, secretary to the president for international affairs;
4. Ahmed Abdelaty;
5. Abdelmeguid al-Meshaly;
6. Ayman Ali;
7. Rifaa al-Tahtawy, chief of staff;
8. Ayman al-Serafy;
9. Ayman Hudhod, adviser for ministerial affairs;
10. Asaad El-Sheikha, deputy chief of staff;
In pretrial detention in Tora Prison, under interrogation on charges of incitement to violence
11. Khairat al-Shatir, deputy guide of Muslim Berotherhood, in Tora Prison;
12. Rashad Bayoumy, deputy guide of Muslim Brotherhood, in Tora Prison;
13. Saad al-Katany, head of Freedom and Justice Party, in Tora Prison;
14. Mahdi Akef, age 84;
15. Helmy al-Gazzar; and
16. Abdelmoneim Abdelmaqsud, chief lawyer of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Tora Prison, also charged with “insulting the judiciary.”