(New York, May 13, 2006) – Thousands of Egyptian security forces sealed off much of downtown Cairo on Thursday and violently attacked protestors attempting to demonstrate in support of reformist judges, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on President Hosni Mubarak to speak out against the police violence and hold accountable those responsible.
“The government is apparently determined to stamp out peaceful dissent – literally,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “It seems that President Mubarak sees growing popular support for the reformist judges as a real challenge to his authoritarian ways.”
The incidents occurred when demonstrators tried to reach the area around Cairo’s High Court for a 10 a.m. rally in support of two judges, Hisham al-Bastawissi and Mahmud Makki, who were facing a disciplinary hearing in the court as a result of their vocal criticism of fraudulent parliamentary elections late last year.
President Mubarak has remained silent in the face of the escalating police violence.
Security forces began to deploy in the area around the court area Wednesday night, and numbered in the thousands by mid-morning. Plainclothes agents from State Security Investigations (SSI), as well as uniformed Central Security forces moved quickly and in many instances brutally to disperse and punish the demonstrators. The demonstrators at first numbered between 500 and 1,000, according to human rights activist Hossam Bahgat.
“I saw them approaching Tal`at Harb Square,” he told Human Rights Watch:
The crowd was overwhelmingly male, and many were carrying Qur’ans. They were forced into `Adli Street. I was walking at the rear and to the side, with some journalists. Then from behind came a contingent of plainclothes security, about 50. I thought maybe they were there to buffer the demonstration from passersby, but suddenly the demonstrators in front of us turned and ran back, chased by other plainclothes from the other end. There were uniformed Central Security forces along the sides. Guys in suits along the sides had walkie-talkies and seemed to be directing things. Most of the demonstrators got away, but the plainclothes officers were grabbing individuals one by one, beating them with their fists, kicking them while they were on the ground, hitting and kicking them as they carried them to police trucks. I saw 15 of these attacks myself.
Rabab al-Mahdi, an activist, was with the demonstrators on `Adli Street. “We were encircled and didn’t know where to run,” she told Human Rights Watch.
They started beating us – four men carrying away each protestor and beating them on the head as they are dragged off. A lot were bleeding from their faces. I saw some on the ground being trampled. Not less than 15 were taken away. Others were shoved into side alleys. I’ve never seen this level of violence or police presence.
An American resident of Cairo told Human Rights Watch that as he walked near Tal`at Harb street:
I saw three plainclothes State Security men coming towards us escorting a protestor, one on each side holding him and the third officer punching him in the face and stomach and slapping him on the head. After they passed, I noticed a second identical incident in front of us.
Journalists came in for special punishment from the security forces. Bahgat said that when the `Adli Street demonstrators regrouped nearby on 26 July Street:
I saw there a smaller group, between 200 and 300, mainly Muslim Brothers and Labor Party, shouting slogans. There were cameramen from al-Jazeera and Reuters. Plainclothes security got there quickly and targeted the cameramen.
Ten of them surrounded the al-Jazeera guy, hitting him in the face. They confiscated his tape and carried him away. They kept hitting him. He was asking the senior officers standing there to help him, to stop the attack. They just stood there.
According to al-Jazeera, plainclothes police beat cameraman Yasir Sulaiman. He told the network that when the team moved to cover the protest, “Suddenly six security men attacked me, trying to take my camera. When I refused, they started beating me.” Al-Jazeera reporter Lina al-Ghadban, who was with Sulaiman, said that police “handpicked” him and repeatedly punched him in the face. Sulaiman said the security forces returned the camera they had confiscated, but without the footage he had shot.
An Egyptian-American reporter for U.S.-based newspapers told Human Rights Watch she was across from the Café Americaine near the High Court. “There were lots of uniformed riot police lining the sidewalks,” she said:
Across the street, protestors were chanting and holding up placards saying they were with the Pharmacists’ Syndicate. I was taking pictures as security rushed up, tackling the protestors and beating them. Then I saw them attacking a cameraman and I took two pictures of that and put away my camera. Suddenly, plainclothes men and guys in uniform rushed me. They pulled my hair, groped me, about five or six of them while the others just stood around. They were shouting “camera.” I was hunched over my bag, protecting it and the camera. I was in the street, and my friends on the sidewalk behind some cars were yelling at them to stop, that I was a journalist. I was screaming. Then my friends finally pulled me out of the street over a car and onto the sidewalk.
The daily al-Masri al-Yom reported today that plainclothes security also attacked their staff photographer `Amr Abdullah, beating him, tearing his clothes, and breaking his two cameras.
Abir al-`Askari, a writer for the weekly al-Dustour, told Human Rights Watch her paper had asked her to cover the demonstrations and the disciplinary hearing at the High Court. She arrived at 8 a.m. to meet with a group that had spent the night at the Lawyers’ Syndicate:
I was just getting out of the taxi when five or six men ran up to me, carried me from the cab and took me to where the Central Security trucks and blue police microbuses were parked, at the corner of `Abd al-Khaliq Tharwat and Ramsis streets. They beat me, put me in a police microbus, and drove me to Sayyida Zeinab police station. I screamed and resisted, and they beat me, pulled my hair and my veil. Right in front of the police station they kicked me. When people gathered and told them to stop they replied, “She’s been committing adultery.” They took me inside to a room where the officer claimed they sexually harassed [she named three Kifaya activist women arrested earlier in the week]. They took my purse and copied the messages and numbers from my phone. “Nobody will know where you are,” the officer said. “You are lost.” They tore at my clothes; my shirt buttons. They continued to slap and punch me …. I was lying on the floor. He placed his shoe on my face and said, “Anyone who comes here will get the same treatment.” I was there about three hours. Finally they took me in the microbus to Corniche near the Kasr al-Aini hospital and left me; I didn’t have my phone or my purse, and my clothes were torn. I had a little money in my pocket, so I went into a shop and called the deputy editor who sent some colleagues to pick me up.
Al-`Askari was among the women whom National Democratic Party partisans attacked and sexually molested on May 25, 2005, during demonstrations urging voters to boycott that day’s referendum on the ruling party’s proposed presidential election amendment to the Constitution (Please see: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/05/26/egypt11036.htm). The prosecutor general in December 2005 closed his investigation into complaints from victims of those attacks, saying there was not enough evidence to implicate suspects identified by the victims. The government brought no criminal charges in the matter.
Ahmad Rami, a Muslim Brotherhood activist, told Human Rights Watch that he tried to reach a 9 a.m. meeting at the Lawyers’ Syndicate, near the High Court, but was not allowed into the area:
As soon as I arrived, a security officer warned us that “nothing will be tolerated today, it would be better if you leave.” We heard there were some of our supporters at the Engineers’ Syndicate, so we headed in that direction but Ramsis Street was closed down by then, and there was a police cordon around the syndicate building. We heard sounds of a crowd at Ramsis Square, so we went there, but everybody on foot was being forced into police vans.
Rami said he ended up in a group demonstrating across from the Fath mosque. “Some plainclothes agents infiltrated the group and went for those leading the chants,” he told Human Rights Watch. “The riot police cordoned us off and the security forces started beating us.”
Hossam Hamalawy, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times, told Human Rights Watch that he was among those who tried without success to reach the High Court area. Four cordons of police blocked off `Abd al-Khaliq Tharwat Street, he said.
We heard chants, saw a crowd of Muslim Brothers and leftists – some say 800, I think it was many more – marching, blocking traffic. They were peaceful, but definitely interfering with traffic. This was near the Miami Cinema, and it seemed to have just started. After five minutes, plainclothes security showed up, with guys in suits and walkie-talkies clearly in command. They told the people at the head of the march to disperse, but there was no loudspeaker; only those at the front heard. The demonstrators said no, and stood there chanting slogans like, “Judges, rid us of these tyrants.” The plainclothes started snatching people. I saw them grab at least five people. It was the State Security snatching people, beating them with their fists, kicking them, punching them in the stomach, slapping them hard on the back of the neck – a very insulting thing for Egyptians. They were dragging people by their arms along the street, pulling some behind police lines, putting others into Central Security vans. When I was leaving, one State Security officer stopped me, asked for my papers and my camera. The camera was in my bag but I said I didn’t have one. I was holding my cell phone. He took it and looked through the pictures there – just me and my friends.
Sayyid Ragab, a Kifaya activist, told Human Rights Watch that he and a colleague met with a group of about 20 in front of the Café Americaine:
Then some Muslim Brothers joined us and we were around 100. We shouted slogans, all about the judges. I was facing the demonstrators with my back to the street, leading the chants. Suddenly people started to run. I was punched in the head. Some five plainclothes security men dragged me and others inside the police barricade on the opposite side of the street and took us to a police truck, but three of us didn’t fit because the truck was already full. An officer that I recognized told them, “Bring this son of a bitch,” and he also named two women. I think they had a list of people they wanted to arrest. They took the three of us into an alley and slapped us around. When a resident of a nearby building came out to ask why they were beating us, an officer shouted obscenities and forced him back into his house. Then we were escorted across the road to another police van. I was wearing a jacket and the officer was dragging me by the collar. I managed to slip out of my jacket and run. The three of us ran as fast as we could, they chased us for almost a kilometer. Two of us got away, but I think the third was caught. Today was very aggressive. My friend Zainab was kicked and beaten with a stick. Her leg is fractured and in a cast. My other concern is that my ID is in my jacket. I’m worried that they’ll use it to harm me somehow.
Human Rights Watch called on President Mubarak to speak out against the attacks by plainclothes and uniformed security officials and to order an impartial investigation to identify those responsible and hold them accountable.
Names of the 50 detainees referred to State Security Prosecutor in Heliopolis:
1- Muhammad Hassan Muhammad al-Hussaini
2- Ahmad Hamdi `Abd al-`Aziz Ibrahim
3- Ahmad al-Sayyid Qinawi
4- Ahmad al-Sayyid Mustafa Muhammad Hassan
5- `Azmi `Abd al-`Azim al-Sayyid `Uthman
6- `Ali `Ali `Abd al-Ghani Muharram
7- Magdi Hassan `Ali al-Tohami
8- Muhammad Mahmud `Abdullah Nowfal
9- Ibrahim Hassan `Abd al-Gawad `Isa
10- Hamid Mahmud Hassib al-Dafrawi
11- Muhammad Ahmad `Ali Muhammad
12- Muhammad `Adil Muhammad `Abd al-`Aziz
13- Rizq Amin Muhammad `Ali
14- Fathi Gum`a Sa`d Abu Hussain
15- Khalid Saad `Abd al-Meguid Attia
16- Muhammad `Abd al-Mun`im Muhammad `Amir
17- `Adil `Abd al-Hamid Muhammad Abu al-`Ainain
18- Hisham Muhammad Ahmad al-Sayyid
19- Ahmad `Abd al-Wahab Abu Zaid Ahmad
20- Mohab al-Tantawi al-Tantawi Khidr
21- Ibrahim Khalil Omar al-Za`farani
22- Gamal `Abd al-Fattah `Abd al-Salam Salah
23- `Ali Muhammad Hassan Sulaiman
24- `Alaa al-Din `Abd al-`Aziz Muhammad Kamil
25- Yasir al-Sayyid Sa'ih Hamaida
26- Muhammad Yassin `Abd al-Hamid Ahmad
27- Ragab Muhammad al-Lotf Ahmad
28- Usama Ahmad `Abd al-Rahman `Ali
29- Ashraf `Abd al-Raziq Mahmud Attiyya
30- `Abd al-Mun`im `Abd al-Fattah Sa`d Abu Nar
31- Muhammad Ibrahim `Abd al-Aziz Khalid
32- Khalid Gamal `Ali Muhammad
33- Hamid Ahmad `Abd al-Mu`ati Howaidi
34- Muhammad Fathi al-Baili Ghazi
35- Muhammad Fathi `Abd al-Samad `Amir
36- Muhammad Ahmad al-Sayyid Gilban
37- Ibrahim Abbass `Uwais Birbash
38- Mansur Faruq Mahmud `Abdullah
39- Ahmad Sabri Muhammad `Ali
40- Hamdi Yusif `Ali Morsi Salim
41- Muhammad Farid Muhammad Ghazala
42- Muhammad `Abd al-Hay Sayyid Ahmad Zari`
43- Gamal Mustafa al-`Ishri Rahim
44- Muhammad `Ali `Abd al-Salam Barakat
45- Omar `Abdullah `Abdullah Ahmad
46- Muhammad `Ali Ibrahim al-Qassas
47- Salah al-Sayyid Mahmud al-Shiqqi
48- Hani Muhammad Sa`id Muhammad
49- Sa`id Ibrahim Farag `Abd al-Qadir
50- Tariq Zain al-`Abdin Khatir