30 November 2011

Massive violence against protesters and journalists mars lead up to elections

Protester returns a tear gas canister thrown by riot police during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo
Protester returns a tear gas canister thrown by riot police during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo
REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
A culture of fear and chaos permeated Egypt ahead of the elections, with street protests erupting in terrifying military violence, including the deaths of around 40 protesters and injuries of thousands of unarmed civilians, report the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and other IFEX members.

Tear gas bombs, as well as live and rubber ammunition, resulted in the deaths and injuries last week as security forces tried to forcibly evict protesters from Tahrir Square and Cairo's streets. In just two days, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented 17 assaults on the press, and noted that there were probably more. At least 10 journalists were physically attacked by military and police units and one journalist was shot in the leg, says CPJ.

A coalition of human rights groups, including CIHRS and ANHRI, decried the violence in a scathing report that noted more than 13,000 civilians, including detained bloggers such as Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Maikel Nabil Sanad and other journalists, have been arrested in recent months in relation to the continued uprising. The report describes the repressive methods of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) as the "likes of which were not seen even during Mubarak's era." The virginity tests performed on young female protesters - conducted to label the women as prostitutes - is one example of a new repressive method, the groups say. Many other activists are blindfolded and taken to secret locations, where they are held and interrogated before they have been charged publicly, according to the report.

The report called for an immediate end to all arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings of peaceful protesters and other activists, an end to the military trial of civilians, and for SCAF to be replaced with a civilian government.

Human Rights Watch also lamented that the emergency law that gives SCAF sweeping powers to conduct mass arrests of civilians, censor media and detain people without charge, was still in place leading up to the elections.

Two U.S. journalists were also arrested while covering the protests, including Egyptian-American Mona Eltahawy, who was freed 24 November after suffering beatings, groping by policemen and 12 hours of interrogation and detention, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI). Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim was released unharmed after 36 hours, according to IPI.

Despite the violence, Egyptians turned out in record numbers for the vote on 28 November, which was largely peaceful despite violations such as the illegal distribution of candidate fliers at polling stations, news reports say. Results thus far put the Muslim Brotherhood in the lead.
Winners of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award 2011
Winners of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award 2011
Roland Berger Foundation
In recognition for helping to "lay the groundwork for the realisation of democracy and human dignity" in Egypt, ANHRI won the 2011 Roland Berger Human Dignity Award, worth 1 million Euros (US$1.34 million) last week. The prize was shared with Tunisian lawyer Radhia Nasraoui and Syrian activist Mazen Darwish.

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