8 June 2011

Military violates spirit of revolution by cracking down on critics

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Journalists, bloggers and judges have been taken to court under Egypt's military regime for criticising the army's human rights violations during the uprising, its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and its lack of judicial reform, report the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and other IFEX members. Fortunately, there is an antidote to this pattern of abuse - a coalition of rights groups and journalists are working together to put free expression rights on the national agenda.

In the months since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has censored, harassed and intimidated critics, and politicised legal proceedings - threatening the country's transition to democracy, report IFEX members.

For instance, on 10 April, a military court in Cairo sentenced blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison for "insulting the military." He was arrested in March after writing an article accusing the military of taking part in arrests and torturing demonstrators.

On 2 June, "Al-Wafd" editors Hossam al-Suwaifi and Sayyid Abdel Ati were interrogated in connection with an article published on 26 May describing an alleged political deal between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdel Ati was charged with publishing false information likely to disturb the peace.

In another example, three prominent judges are being investigated for criticising the martial courts against civilians and urging judicial reform in statements made to the media, reports ANHRI.

The transitional government's arbitrary use of military courts, its lack of transparency, its special status exempting it from criticism and its treatment of journalists and bloggers resembles the repression of Mubarak's rule, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a letter to SCAF. Journalists have also been beaten by military forces.

Meanwhile, the military, which itself claims that it is the "guardian of the revolution," recently issued a letter to editors of Egyptian publications to not publish any content pertaining to the armed forces without first being consulted, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"The council mistakenly believes that it is on the right track by continuing to suppress all critical voices... It knows full well that military forces have tortured protesters and that many girls have been forced to undergo 'virginity checks', not to mention the unjust martial courts against thousands of civilians," said ANHRI. (Rights groups reported that women demonstrators detained on 9 March in Tahrir Square were forced to submit to an examination by a doctor to confirm if they were virgins.)

On 7 June, Human Rights Watch concluded three days of meetings with Egyptian officials and members of civil society, including a SCAF member. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, called on the military to "make a clear break with the repressive policies of the past, and this means ending military trials, repealing the emergency law and laws that restrict freedoms."

Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 men and women who testified that military officers tortured, beat, and whipped them in Cairo in early March. "Police abuse and torture played a central role in inspiring the revolution," said Roth, adding that the military regime must come up with effective measures to deal with abuses.

Human Rights Watch has urged the military regime to repeal penal code provisions that criminalise freedom of expression - with articles on "insulting public authorities," "insulting the president" and "spreading false information" - and rescind the law that bans protests.

With September parliamentary elections on the horizon, the government should immediately abolish a number of laws that restrict essential freedoms and that would prevent the possibility of a fair and free election, Human Rights Watch said.

Egyptian rights groups and journalists are also trying to do their part. They formed the National Coalition for Media freedom in April, and on World Press Freedom Day issued a Media Freedom Declaration promoting the liberation and development of the Egyptian media. The coalition, which includes ANHRI and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, launched a website this week.

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