Judge Government on Respect for People’s Rights

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Protect Political Rights of Muslim Brotherhood

(New York, July 4, 2013) – Egypt’s new government should break decisively from a pattern of serious abuses that has prevailed since the January 2011 uprising, and make a commitment to respect the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should protect and promote the rights of all Egyptians, and halt arbitrary arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, in a televised address on the evening of July 3, 2013, said that the military had temporarily suspended the constitution. He said that the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, would be sworn in as interim president until presidential elections are held, and that a technocratic government would have full powers. In the transitional period, al-Sisi said, the interim president will have the authority to issue constitutional decrees.

“Egyptians suffered enormously under the generals and then under President Morsy’s government, which shoved human rights to the sidelines,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “One test of whether Egypt can return to a path of democratic development will rest on whether the Freedom and Justice Party can operate without political reprisals against its members.”

After Sisi’s announcement, the Interior Ministry issued a decree suspending three Islamist TV stations: the Muslim Brotherhood television station Misr 25, as well as al-Naas and al-Hafez TV. All three went off the air. Closing television stations or imposing similar arbitrary restrictions on media purely on the basis of their political or religious affiliation is a violation of the right to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.

At 1 a.m. on July 4, 12 plainclothes security officials arrived at the family home to arrest Freedom and Justice Party leader Mohamed Katatny, according to a posting by Moaz Katatny on his father’s official Facebook page. Security officials confirmed that they had arrested Rashad Bayoumy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, while the state newspaper al-Ahram reported that 300 other arrest warrants for Muslim Brotherhood members had been issued. A return to Mubarak-era practices of mass arrests and politically-motivated imprisonment of Muslim Brotherhood leaders will have the worst possible effect on Egypt’s political future, Human Rights Watch said.

Egypt’s new interim president and the military leadership should immediately end reprisals against Muslim Brotherhood political leaders, including arrests or travel bans, and should allow the Freedom and Justice Party to fully exercise freedom of association, Human Rights Watch said.

The new government needs to make it clear immediately that it and all state bodies, including the armed forces, will respect all basic rights that apply within Egypt at all times.

All parties should seek to minimize violence in the coming days, Human Rights Watch said. Under international standards, lethal force can only be used lawfully by security forces carrying out policing where strictly necessary and proportionate to protect life. Security forces also have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the right to life and to security of all people in Egypt.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) controlled Egypt’s government from February 11, 2011, to June 30, 2012. On June 24, 2012, the Freedom and Justice Party leader Mohamed Morsy was declared winner of the presidential elections and took office on June 30.

Neither the SCAF nor the Morsy government meaningfully reformed Mubarak-era institutions or the repressive legal framework that severely limits the exercise of basic political rights, Human Rights Watch said. The successive governments failed to amend the penal code, which restricts freedom of expression. Parliament under the SCAF and under the Muslim Brotherhood debated various restrictive drafts of anti-demonstrations laws. Both governments failed to promote freedom of association for nongovernmental groups, including trade unions.

During the SCAF’s rule, military courts tried over 12,000 civilians, more than the total number of civilians tried by military courts during the 30-year-long Mubarak presidency, prosecuting bloggers and others on charges of “insulting the military.” The SCAF repeatedly used excessive force to break up demonstrations and, despite official recognition of the need to rebuild public confidence in the police, initiated no security sector reform. There was no comprehensive investigation into systematic acts of torture and ill-treatment practiced by Egyptian security forces under Mubarak or since.

The military themselves failed to investigate incidents in which military police beat and kicked women on December 16, 2011.Video footage showed six officers kicking a veiled woman as she lay on the ground. Nor did they investigate military police torture of protesters in March 2011, at Lazoghli in downtown Cairo, or in May 2012, at Abbasiyya. Military prosecutors charged only one man in connection with the sexual assault of seven women protesters in March 2011 in a military prison under the guise of “virginity tests.” A military court acquitted him, although senior officers acknowledged that these sexual assaults took place.

In the October 2011 killing by soldiers of 27 protesters outside the Maspero state media headquarters in Cairo, three conscripts were the only ones convicted, on manslaughter charges. They were sentenced to two- to three-year prison terms for driving military vehicles into the protesters, killing thirteen. There was no investigation into the military’s use of live ammunition that night and the killing of the other 14 protesters, nor into any of the military personnel in command that day.

In his year of rule, Morsy failed to distance himself from Mubarak-era practices or to reform restrictive Mubarak-era laws. The president showed apparent initial interest in accountability and reviewing arbitrary detention practices, but then failed to halt or deter police abuses. The space for freedom of expression diminished with increasing criminal defamation and blasphemy prosecutions. And the president’s party has proposed repressive laws on assembly and association. Sectarian violence was rarely prosecuted, police torture remained endemic, and civilians faced trials before military courts.

“The government needs to address Egypt’s new reality, one where millions of people have taken to the streets to demand an end to authoritarianism in whatever guise,” Stork said. “Political stability in Egypt depends on protecting and promoting political space for Egyptians to peacefully mobilize for social justice and reform on the basis of a free exchange of information.”

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