Report on Human Rights Practices for 2009 - Egypt
The National Democratic Party (NDP) has governed the Arab Republic of Egypt, which has a population of approximately 83 million, since the party's establishment in 1978. The NDP continued to dominate national politics by maintaining an overriding majority in the popularly elected People's Assembly and the partially elected Shura (Consultative) Council. The government derives its governing authority from the 1971 constitution and subsequent amendments. Executive authority resides with the president and the cabinet. In 2005 President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth consecutive six-year term with 88 percent of the vote in the country's first presidential election, which was marred by low voter turnout, charges of fraud, and government efforts to prevent opposition candidates from participating effectively. The civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control of security forces, which committed numerous serious abuses of human rights.
The government's respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas. The government limited citizens' right to change their government and continued a state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1967. Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity. Prison and detention center conditions were poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, in some cases for political purposes, and kept them in prolonged pretrial detention. The executive branch exercised control over and pressured the judiciary. The government's respect for freedoms of association and religion remained poor during the year, and the government continued to restrict nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The government partially restricted freedom of expression.
There were steps forward in specific areas. The government promulgated procedures for members of unrecognized religions, including the Baha'i faith, to obtain national identification documents and reportedly issued 17 such documents and 70 birth certificates to Baha'i during the year. The government also permitted the newly formed Real Estate Tax Collectors Union, the country's only independent labor union, to operate. For the first time in the country's history, a UN special rapporteur and an independent expert visited at the government's invitation.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) claimed there were eight cases of arbitrary deprivation of life during the year as a result of police brutality.
At year's end the government had not publicly taken corrective action to investigate or prosecute the April 2008 killing by security forces of four individuals during violent clashes between police and protesters in Mahalla el Kubra, a textile town in the Nile Delta, or the November 2008 killing by Central Security Forces (CSF) of three Bedouin tribesmen in the North Sinai during demonstrations that followed the CSF killing of a suspected drug smuggler.
On March 16, an appeals court in the city of Suez convicted and sentenced police officer Alaa Maqsud to 15 years in prison for murdering Mohammed Ibrahim in 2007 in Suez following an altercation over Ibrahim's driver's license.
On April 19, the El Menia Criminal Court sentenced police officer Ahmed Anwar to one year in prison for beating to death a pregnant woman, Mervat Abdel Sattar, in October 2008. On July 8, the Cairo Appeals Court upheld the verdict. At year's end Anwar was in prison.
In November 2008 in Aswan, police officer Mohamed Labib allegedly shot and killed Abdel Wahab Abdel Razeq after entering the wrong apartment in pursuit of a drug dealer. Police detained Labib following the killing and his ensuing trial. On December 24, a court acquitted Labib and released him from custody.
In June 2007 the EOHR reported that Ahmed Abdel Salam Ghanem died after an exchange of gunfire between supporters of the NDP and independent candidates.
On May 27, the North Giza Criminal Court sentenced police officers Hassan Mohammed Hassan and Maher Hussein Mohammed to five years in prison for throwing Nasser Sediq Gadallah off a balcony in 2007.
The EOHR claimed there were 73 cases of disappearances from 1992 to April but noted that it had confirmed 17 of the individuals were no longer missing. According to the National Council for Human Rights, Ahmed Ismail Al Sheikh disappeared from a prison in Damanhour in the Delta in May 2008. The government and the prison gave the family contradictory accounts of his whereabouts.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Article 42 of the constitution prohibits the infliction of "physical or moral harm" upon persons who have been arrested or detained; however, the law fails to account for mental or psychological abuse, abuse against persons who have not been formally accused, or abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. Police, security personnel, and prison guards often tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, sometimes in cases of detentions under the Emergency Law, which authorizes incommunicado detention indefinitely, subject to a judge's ruling. The government rarely held security officials accountable, and officials often operated with impunity.
Domestic and international human rights groups reported that the Ministry of Interior (MOI) State Security Investigative Service (SSIS), police, and other government entities continued to employ torture to extract information or force confessions. The EOHR documented 30 cases of torture during the year. In numerous trials defendants alleged that police tortured them during questioning. During the year activists and observers circulated some amateur cellphone videos documenting the alleged abuse of citizens by security officials. For example, on February 8, a blogger posted a video of two police officers, identified by their first names and last initials, sodomizing a bound naked man named Ahmed Abdel Fattah Ali with a bottle. On August 12, the same blogger posted two videos of alleged police torture of a man in a Port Said police station by the head of investigations, Mohammed Abu Ghazala. There was no indication that the government investigated either case.
The government investigated torture complaints in some criminal cases and punished some offending police officers. Courts sentenced officers to terms of one to six years in prison and ordered officers to pay compensation to victims in some cases. According to the government, in 2008 the Office of the Public Prosecutor referred 38 cases of cruel treatment and torture to the criminal courts and one to a disciplinary tribunal; the prosecutor also requested administrative sanctions on defendants in 27 cases. According to the government, during the year the public prosecutor referred nine cases of cruel treatment to the criminal courts and one case to a disciplinary tribunal; it also requested administrative sanctions in 10 cases. Of these cases, according to the government, courts tried and convicted one police officer for torture, acquitted another officer, and had not ruled in two other cases in the first six months of the year. Also in the first six months of the year, the time period for which the government provided information, 16 police officers faced MOI disciplinary action for committing abuse or torture.
In December 2008 the official government-run news service reported that the MOI's deputy minister for legal affairs, Hamid Rashid, told the People's Assembly that the ministry had suspended 280 police officers from duty due to charges of human rights violations and was investigating the charges. Rashid did not specify the time period over which the MOI actions occurred. Rashid also told the People's Assembly that the ministry had discharged 1,164 lower-ranking police officers for misconduct and abuse of power.
Police and the SSIS reportedly employed torture methods such as stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims by the wrists and ankles in contorted positions or from a ceiling or door frame with feet just touching the floor; beating victims with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; using electric shocks; dousing victims with cold water; sleep deprivation; and sexual abuse, including sodomy. There was evidence that security officials sexually assaulted some victims or threatened to rape them or their family members. Human rights groups reported that the lack of legally required written police records often effectively blocked investigations.
During the year human rights groups and the media documented cases of abuse and harassment of journalists and bloggers who reported on controversial topics.
According to multiple NGO sources, police tortured Mona Thabet twice, first on January 19 at a police station in the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo after she filed a complaint regarding the alleged police torture of her husband, and again on February 13 at her home in the same neighborhood. The alleged torture included beating, shaving her head, burning with cigarettes, and cutting. At year's end the government had closed its investigation, citing lack of evidence.
In May 2008, according to multiple NGO sources, police officers in Mansoura tortured by beating and electric shocks 17-year-old Rami Ibrahim to force his confession to the rape and murder of a four-year-old child. On April 25, Mansoura Juvenile Court convicted Ibrahim and sentenced him to 15 years in prison; however, on December 30, an appeals court acquitted Ibrahim.
In July, according to NGO sources, security forces used electric shocks and sleep deprivation to torture members of an alleged terrorist cell arrested for allegedly smuggling weapons to Gaza, among other charges.
On March 28, Damanhur Criminal Court sentenced police corporal Ahmed Antar Ibrahim to six years' imprisonment for his April 2008 assault inside a courthouse in Kafr Al Dawwar on the director of the Al Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and antitorture activist, Magda Adly, and her colleague, Mona Hamed. Ibrahim subsequently confessed that police intelligence officer Ahmad Maklad of the Kafr Al Dawwar Police Station ordered him to attack Adly. Although implicated in the Hussein family's torture allegations, Maklad was never investigated. Ibrahim's retrial began in December.
Authorities did not publicly announce investigating or taking any corrective action in the following 2007 cases: the case of 100 detainees affiliated with the Islamic Jihad, who alleged that police officers tortured and abused them; the alleged detention and torture of Fawzi Hassan and his children; the illegal detention of 40 individuals in Alexandria; and the torture by assistant investigations officer Ashraf Morgan of lawyer Ahmed Abdel Aziz.
Throughout the year the MOI awarded compensation to members of Islamic groups consistent with court orders from previous years.
On March 26, a judge released police officer Islam Nabih from prison. Nabih was sentenced to a three-year prison term in 2007 for assaulting and sodomizing Cairo minibus driver Imad El-Kabir in 2006. At year's end Nabih had rejoined the MOI as a police officer.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions and conditions in detention centers remained poor. According to observers, prison cells were overcrowded, with a lack of medical care, proper hygiene, food, clean water, and proper ventilation. Tuberculosis was widespread; abuse was common, especially of juveniles in adult facilities; and guards brutalized prisoners.
The government did not publicly announce any investigations into the June 2008 alleged beating of detainees from the El-Mahallah demonstrations; the July 2008 alleged beating of a foreign detainee; or the killing of one prisoner and injury of 25 others during a September 2008 prison riot in Assiut, following the alleged torture of a prisoner.
Although separate prison facilities existed for men, women, and juveniles, adults were not always separated from juveniles. Visits and visitors to prisoners accused of political crimes or terrorism were subject to restrictions. Pretrial detainees were sometimes held with convicted prisoners.
The government did not permit visits to prisons or other places of detention by independent human rights observers during the year, despite repeated requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other domestic and international human rights monitors. Some prisons remained completely closed to the public. As required by law, the public prosecutor continued to inspect all regular prisons during the year. In November 2008 the People's Assembly Committee on Human Rights announced its decision to visit police stations randomly and inspect detention centers to determine whether they complied with human rights standards. According to the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), a committee delegation visited four police stations in Cairo and reported on overcrowding and lack of ventilation. According to the NCHR, in April officials from the Office of the Public Prosecutor visited 80 police stations and detention centers throughout the country. SSIS detention centers were excluded from all inspections. The government reported inspecting 63 prisons and 298 police stations during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, during the year police and security forces engaged in such practices, including continued large-scale detentions of hundreds of individuals without charge under the Emergency Law, which was extended in April 2008 for two years.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The MOI controls local police forces, which operate in large cities and governorates; the SSIS, which conducts investigations; and the CSF, which maintains public order. SSIS and CSF officers are responsible for law enforcement at the national level and for providing security for infrastructure and key officials, both domestic and foreign. Single-mission law enforcement agencies, such as the Tourist and Antiquities Police and the Antinarcotics General Administration, also work at the national level.
The security forces operated under a central chain of command and were considered generally effective in combating crime and terrorism and maintaining public order. There was no systematic prosecution of security personnel who committed human rights abuses.
According to observers, there was widespread petty corruption in the police force, especially below senior levels. The government claimed to investigate corruption and other instances of police malfeasance using a nontransparent internal affairs mechanism, but it failed to investigate many credible allegations of torture and mistreatment by police and security forces. Courts convicted at least five police officers in murder cases and three in torture cases.
Working with the UN Development Program, the government continued to provide human rights training for thousands of judicial and law enforcement officials.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
Individuals may be arrested and detained under the Emergency Law or the penal code, both of which give the government broad powers.
The Emergency Law allows arrest without a warrant and detention of an individual without charge for as long as 30 days, after which a detainee may demand a court hearing to challenge the legality of the detention order. A detainee may resubmit a motion for a hearing at one-month intervals thereafter; however, there is no limit to the detention period if a judge continues to uphold the order or if the detainee fails to exercise the right to a hearing, and there is no possibility of bail. Many detainees under the Emergency Law remained incommunicado in state security detention facilities without access to family members or to lawyers before their cases were transferred to trial, and some faced torture in detention.
Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a district prosecutor or judge. A prosecutor must bring charges within 48 hours following arrest or release the suspect. Detainees under the penal code sometimes were not informed promptly of charges against them. Authorities may hold a suspect for a maximum of six months while they investigate the case. There was a functioning system of bail for persons detained under the penal code. In criminal cases, defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest and access to family members at the discretion of the court; however, they often faced obstacles and were unable to secure regular access to either.
Notwithstanding the prevailing state of emergency and the government's use of the Emergency Law's provisions, the government continued to rely on the penal code for the majority of criminal investigations and prosecutions. In recent years authorities detained thousands of persons administratively under the Emergency Law on suspicion of terrorism or engaging in prohibited political activity, including dozens of terrorism suspects in the Sinai in 2006. Amnesty International (AI), the Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners (HRAAP), and other NGOs estimated that the government continued to hold approximately 5,000 persons in administrative detention without charge or trial, most of whom were members of Islamic extremist groups arrested in the 1990s. The quasi-governmental NCHR estimated that 1,000 detainees remained in prison under the Emergency Law.
An estimated 300 Bedouins remained in detention. Observers claimed that security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained Bedouin in the Sinai without charge, sometimes en masse after security incidents.
During the year there were cases of pretrial detention exceeding legal limits. Failure to implement judicial rulings regarding the release of detainees remained a problem.
On October 5, President Mubarak pardoned 150 prisoners on the occasion of the October 6 holiday commemorating the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice the judiciary was subject to executive influence and corruption. The president may invoke the Emergency Law to refer any criminal case to the emergency or military courts, where the accused does not receive most of the constitutional protections of the civilian judicial system. The government continued to use the Emergency Law to try nonsecurity cases in these courts and to restrict many other basic rights. The constitution provides for the independence and immunity of judges and forbids interference by other authorities in the exercise of their judicial functions. The government generally respected judicial independence in nonpolitical cases in civilian courts. Emergency courts were not independent, as the Emergency Law stipulates that all emergency court verdicts are subject to the president's review and allows the president to modify sentences handed down by the judges. The Emergency Law also allows the president to replace two of an emergency court's three civilian judges with military judges.
The president appoints all judges upon recommendation of the Higher Judicial Council, a constitutional body composed of senior judges. Judges receive tenure, limited only by mandatory retirement at age 70. Only the Higher Judicial Council may dismiss judges for cause, such as corruption. Headed by the president of the Court of Cassation, the council regulates judicial promotions and transfers.
In the civil court system, there are criminal courts, civil courts, administrative courts, family courts, and the Supreme Constitutional Court. There are three levels of regular criminal courts: primary courts; appeals courts; and the Court of Cassation, which represents the final stage of criminal or civil appeals. Civil courts hear civil cases, and administrative courts hear cases contesting government actions or procedures; both systems have upper-level courts to hear appeals. The Supreme Constitutional Court hears challenges to the constitutionality of laws or verdicts in any of the courts.
Emergency courts share jurisdiction with military courts over crimes affecting national security. The president can appoint civilian judges to emergency courts upon the recommendation of the minister of justice or military judges upon the recommendation of the minister of defense. Military courts were established under the code of military justice Law No. 25 of 1966. Under the code of military justice, the president can refer civilians to military courts for certain offenses in the penal code, such as acts harmful to the security of the government or deliberate destruction of property to harm national security. A 2007 amendment to the law includes an appeal mechanism, which lawyers were sometimes able to use to bring cases on behalf of their clients. Military verdicts were subject to review by other military judges and confirmation by the president, who in practice usually delegated the review function to a senior military officer. Defense attorneys claimed that they were not given sufficient time to prepare and that military judges tended to rush cases involving large numbers of defendants.
On March 10, an administrative court rejected a motion by Muslim Brotherhood (MB) second deputy chairman Khairat El Shater and 24 other civilian MB members contesting their transfer to a military tribunal. Shater and 17 MB members appealed the decision before the Supreme Military Appeals Court. The application was rejected on November 18. In April 2008 a closed military tribunal had sentenced El Shater and his colleagues, seven in absentia, to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years on charges of money laundering. On December 14, nine MB members involved in the case were released from a military prison after serving their full three-year terms. El Shater and 13 other MB members convicted in the case remained in prison at year's end.
The government stated that referral to emergency courts usually was limited to terrorism or national security cases and major drug trafficking cases.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. There are no juries. Trials are usually public; however, observers needed government permission to attend court sessions. Human rights activists were generally able to attend trials in civilian courts but were excluded from most military trials. Defendants have the right to counsel in civilian courts, and the government provides a lawyer at the state's expense if the defendant does not have counsel; however, detainees in certain high-security prisons continued to allege that they were denied access to counsel or that such access was delayed until trial, thus denying them time to prepare an adequate defense. Defendants in military courts also have the right to counsel, but lawyers complained they did not have full access to their clients. The law allows defendants to be present and to question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides defendants and their attorneys the right to access government-held evidence against them.
In civilian courts defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Sentences by military courts and death sentences in civilian criminal courts are subject to confirmation by the president. The president may alter or annul a decision of an emergency court, including a decision to release a defendant.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government held detainees, including many MB activists, for several weeks to several months or longer and did not permit international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.
The government arrested and detained hundreds of MB members and supporters without formal charge or trial. According to the government, it arrested MB members because of their "illegitimate actions and communications with foreign parties relevant to security and public order." According to public statements by the MB, approximately 217 of their leaders and members remained in prison at year's end. On February 18, a court released Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) party leader and 2005 presidential runner-up Ayman Nour on medical parole. On November 4, Nour announced that the government had denied him permission to travel to the United States. The government reportedly restricted Nour's ability to work as a lawyer or journalist, to sell property, and to open a bank account. In May the government began a new wave of arrests of MB leaders and members, who faced charges including membership in a prohibited international organization and money laundering. On November 17, the public prosecutor released on bail MB Guidance Council member and secretary general of the Arab Doctors Union Abdel-Monem Abou el-Fotouh. Fotouh had been held without formal charge since June 28.
Approximately 20 members of the prohibited Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) remained in prison at year's end. In 2004 the Supreme State Security Emergency Court convicted 26 men linked to Hizb al-Tahrir for belonging to a prohibited organization. Several of the defendants, including three British citizens, alleged they had been tortured to compel them to sign confessions.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations, and filed such lawsuits; however, the courts were not entirely independent, especially in politically high-profile cases.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication; however, the Emergency Law suspends the constitutional provisions regarding the right to privacy, and the government used the Emergency Law to limit these rights. Furthermore, authorities in terrorism cases may disregard constitutional protections of privacy of communications and personal residences.
Under the law, police must obtain warrants or court orders before undertaking searches and wiretaps, but some human rights observers alleged that the government routinely violated the law. Police officers who conducted searches without proper warrants were subject to criminal penalties, although courts seldom imposed such penalties. The Emergency Law empowers the government to place wiretaps, intercept mail, and search persons or places without warrants. Security agencies frequently placed political activists, suspected subversives, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance, screened their correspondence (especially international mail), searched them and their homes, and confiscated personal property.
On July 10 and 11, according to NGO sources, police broke into the home of Alaa Al-Gamal, a journalist from the independent weekly newspaper Sawt Al-Uma who had written articles critical of the government.
In March 2008, according to the Al Nadim Center and the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA), police chief of investigations Ali Kedr and officers Hossam Abdel Moneim and Mahmoud Al Deeb of the Menia Al Nasr Police Station allegedly raided the home of private citizen Ibrahim El Sayed Metwally because of a debt he owed. The officers severely beat and verbally abused Metwally's mother and siblings. Metwally's sister claimed the officers detained her, beat her with a stick, and threatened to strip her. In May 2008 press reports stated that the Al Daqahleya Public Prosecution had begun an investigation. There were no further updates as of year's end.
Authorities did not investigate the 2007 home raid of writer and blogger Mohamed Mossad Yaqout.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government partially restricted these rights in practice through harassment, censorship, and arrests and detentions, sometimes under the Emergency Law and in other instances under provisions of the penal code that prohibit incitement of discrimination on grounds of sex, origin, language, religion or belief, and acts damaging to an individual's honor or a family's good name. Nevertheless, citizens and journalists openly expressed their views on a wide range of political and social issues, including vigorous criticism of senior government officials and policies and direct criticism of the president in the independent press, on satellite television, and on blogs. During the year there was public debate about political reform, succession, human rights, corruption, press freedom, and related issues.
During the year a number of opposition political activists, journalists, and NGOs continued to advocate for political reform and openly criticized the government. Government actions--including arrests, wide-scale detentions of MB members, harassment of independent journalists and activists, and government restrictions on civil society organizations—-led many observers to charge that the government sought to curtail criticism and activism.
The penal code and the press and publications law govern press issues. The constitution restricts ownership of newspapers to public or private legal entities, corporate bodies, and political parties. There were numerous restrictions on legal entities seeking to establish newspapers, including a limit of 10 percent ownership by any individual; the government apparently enforced this limit unevenly. The government owned stock in the three largest daily newspapers, which generally followed the government line, and the president appointed their top editors. The government also controlled the licensing, printing, and distribution of newspapers, including independent papers and those of opposition political parties that frequently criticized the government and gave greater prominence to human rights abuses than did state-run newspapers. The daily independent newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Shurouq, Al-Dostour and Al-Youm Al-Sabya, which focused on domestic politics, offered significant, critical coverage of controversial topics. In July the independent paper Al-Badeel closed for financial reasons.
NGO observers estimated that during the year the government revoked the licenses of at least five news publications. In April a court revoked the license of Ibdaa magazine, published by the Ministry of Culture, in a suit filed by a private individual that accused the magazine of publishing a poem insulting to religion. On June 15, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed the decision and reinstated the license.
The Ministry of Information owned and operated all ground-based domestic television and radio stations. Independent satellite stations Al Hayat, Al-Mihwar, Dream TV, and OTV/OnTV operated without direct government control. The government blocked reception of at least one foreign channel, the Iranian Al-Aalam satellite channel.
Security personnel continued to detain, harass, and assault journalists during the year.
On March 16, a court in Damanhour sentenced Al Fagr journalist Kamal Murad to six months' imprisonment and fined him 100 pounds ($18) for allegedly insulting a police officer in Rahmaniyah in June 2008. On July 1, a Damanhour appeals court overturned the prison sentence but increased Murad's fine to 200 pounds ($36). Authorities took no action to investigate the alleged assault on Murad by Rahmaniya police officers Mohammed Badrawy, Amr Allam, and Mohamed Basiouni. Murad had reportedly been taking photos of police beating farmers in Ezbat Mohram to coerce them to sign leases with a local businessman. Human rights organizations alleged that the officers arrested Murad because he had previously reported on the 2007 high-profile police torture case of Imad El-Kabir; the officers reportedly referred to Murad as "the one who sent the officer to jail for three years."
During the year opposition party and other independent newspapers published articles critical of the president and foreign heads of state generally without being charged or harassed. Private individuals continued to file politically and nonpolitically motivated suits against journalists. Individuals filed libel suits under the portion of the press and publication law that forbids malicious and unsubstantiated reporting. Under the law, an editor in chief could be considered criminally responsible for libel contained in any portion of a newspaper, and journalists faced fines of as much as 20,000 pounds ($3,650) and as long as five years in prison for criticizing foreign leaders or the president. The Moltaqa Forum for Development and Human Rights Dialogue reported that between January and March 57 journalists from 13 newspapers appeared in court in 28 lawsuits. At year's end, according to a domestic NGO, an estimated 60 defamation suits, some of which were filed by NDP members, were pending against the leading independent newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm.
On January 31, a Cairo appeals court upheld fines against four independent newspaper editors for publishing articles "insulting" senior ruling NDP officials but struck down the one-year prison sentences imposed in a 2007 civil ruling.
On February 10, a court fined independent newspaper editor Yasser Barakat 40,000 pounds ($7,290) for allegedly defaming member of parliament Mustafa Bakry in a series of 2007 and 2008 articles criticizing Bakry's government connections and business dealings. On June 24, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Barakat to six months in prison for allegedly defaming Bakry in a 2007 newspaper article. On July 6, police arrested and imprisoned Barakat to carry out the sentence; however, the public prosecutor released Barakat from prison on July 11, pending the case's appeal.
In April police in Minya arrested Mounir Saad Hanna, a local government clerk, for writing an unpublished poem that allegedly insulted President Mubarak. A local court subsequently sentenced him to three years in prison. On July 18, a Minya appeals court acquitted Hanna, and he was released on July 20.
In June the MOI filed assault charges against Alaa Al-Gamal, a journalist at the independent weekly Sawt Al-Uma. Al-Gamal had written a series of articles critical of the MOI. At year's end the case remained under investigation by the Public Prosecutor's Office.
On July 4, a Cairo court fined Mohammed Barakat, a reporter for the independent daily Al-Dustour, 15,000 pounds ($2,730) for defaming NDP official Ahmed Ezz in an article speculating whether Ezz played a role in the July 2008 murder of Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim. Observers believed the court's decision was based on the article's lack of sourcing and was not politically motivated.
On January 27, the public prosecutor referred a criminal case against Saad Eddin Ibrahim, founding chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, to the State Security Prosecutor's Office for investigation. In November 2008 Hossam Mustafa, leader of the Free Republican political party, brought the criminal case against Ibrahim for allegedly committing "espionage" by publishing articles asserting that Ibrahim had convinced a foreign government to withhold economic assistance to the country because of lack of progress on reform. On May 25, a Cairo appeals court reversed an August 2008 court ruling against Ibrahim in a civil lawsuit by an NDP activist for "tarnishing Egypt's image" in a series of articles and speeches on democracy. The ruling overturned Ibrahim's two-year prison sentence and 10,000 pounds ($1,821) fine. The appeals court also ruled that other pending civil lawsuits against Ibrahim on similar grounds be referred to the public prosecutor for potential investigation. Ibrahim lived in self-imposed exile outside the country since 2007.
The Emergency Law authorizes censorship for reasons of public safety and national security. Domestic media practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal. The government regularly confiscated publications by Islamists and other critics of the state, and it increasingly ceded confiscatory authority to government-controlled Al-Azhar University and authorities acted on the university's recommendations to confiscate publications
In April 2008 the Nilesat network, a government-owned satellite transmission company, stopped the broadcast of Al-Hiwar, a privately owned London-based channel, without prior notice. Al-Hiwar had featured talk shows such as People's Rights, which had hosted prominent government critics such as Ibrahim Eissa. At year's end the network remained prohibited.
On February 26, a Cairo court fined editors Magdy El Galad and Abass El Tarabily of the independent newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al Wafd and three reporters from the newspapers 10,000 pounds ($1,820) each for violating a press prohibition on reporting on the murder trial of former member of parliament Hisham Talat Mustafa; on May 21, Mustafa was convicted of ordering the July 2008 murder of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamin.
In June author Mohammed Al-Sharkawy went on trial in connection with a lawsuit filed by an NDP member accusing him of using profanity and depicting nudity in his graphic novel Metro. Observers believed the suit was politically motivated due to the novel's criticism of the NDP and the government. On November 21, a court fined Sharkawy 5,000 pounds ($910) and prohibited the novel.
On December 27, a court fined Adel Hamouda, the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Al-Fagr 10,000 pounds ($1,820) for defaming NDP Assistant Secretary-General Ahmed Ezz. The paper had written that Ezz compelled his wife to resign from a position in the NDP. Observers believed the decision was politically motivated. Hamouda was one of the four editors fined by an appeals court in January for insulting a senior NDP official.
According to one NGO observer, the government prohibited three books during the International Book Fair in Cairo.
In April 2008 authorities confiscated 5,000 copies of a book written by former senior police officer Amr Afifi. The book discussed legal procedures relating to interactions with police officers, including investigations, arrests, and inspections, and it explained citizens' rights vis-a-vis security forces. Afifi subsequently fled the country and remained in self-imposed exile at year's end.
On October 5, the government's Supreme Press Council revoked the license of the weekly newspaper Al-Balagh Al-Gadid, effectively shutting it down. The action was in response to an article in the newspaper alleging that police questioned a group of named popular male actors for engaging in a gay prostitution ring. On October 6, the newspaper's editor stated publicly that his source was a senior police officer, but observers believed the paper had no evidence for its allegations.
Throughout the year the government routinely searched imported written material to confiscate items deemed insulting to religious sensibilities.
According to 2008 International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 14 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet, which the government actively promoted through low-cost access. According to the government, during the year there were more than 160,000 blogs in the country, and approximately 20 percent of them focused on politics, 15 percent on art and culture, 7 percent on religion, 6 percent on personal issues, 4 percent on science and technology, and 2 percent on social issues. According to the government, 68 percent of blogs were in Arabic, 10 percent in English, and 20 percent combined Arabic and English. On rare occasions during the year, the government blocked access to some Web sites and monitored the Internet. According to Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), during the year the government continued to implement an August 2008 regulation requiring Internet cafes to gather personal information of Internet users, including names, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers.
During the year police harassed, detained, and allegedly abused certain bloggers and Internet activists. On January 20, a court fined blogger Tamer Mabrouk 42,500 pounds ($7,750) for defaming the Trust Chemical Company by accusing it of polluting a lake near the Suez Canal. On May 26, an appeals court upheld the decision, reduced the fine to 2,500 pounds ($460), and ordered Mabrouk to pay the company 40,000 pounds ($7,290) in compensation.
On February 6, the SSIS detained pro-Palestinian blogger and activist Dia Eddin Gad under the Emergency Law without charge after he insulted President Mubarak on his blog as a "Zionist, an agent for Israel, and a loser." On March 23, the ANHRI released a public statement accusing the government of placing Gad in solitary confinement, depriving him of medical care, and threatening to kill him. On March 27, the SSIS released Gad. According to the government, the SSIS arrested Gad under the Emergency Law because his activities posed a threat to public order.
On June 30, customs officials held blogger Wael Abbas for 13 hours at Cairo International Airport upon his return from a conference in Sweden where he had criticized the government. Customs officials seized some of his personal property, including his laptop computer.
On July 22, the SSIS detained three MB-affiliated bloggers--Magdy Saad, Abd El Rahman Ayyash, and Ahmed Abu Khalil--and held them for appoximately a week before releasing them. The three bloggers had criticized trials of MB members in military courts and voiced support for MB detainees.
In October 2008 the SSIS arrested blogger Hany Nazir under the Emergency Law following his blogging on allegedly sensitive religious issues. The MOI rejected several court orders for his release after his incarceration began. In August the ANHRI publicly asserted that prison officials attempted to pressure Nazir to convert to Islam in exchange for his release. At year's end Nazir remained in prison. According to the government, the SSIS continued to detain Nazir under the Emergency Law for his own security, in light of public anger toward him because of his blogging.
On November 11, a court sentenced blogger Wael Abbas in absentia to six months in prison for allegedly damaging a neighbor's Internet line. Observers believed the court decision was a politically motivated reaction to Abbas' blogging, which was often critical of the government. At year's end Abbas remained free, pending his attendance at a subsequent court session.
On March 10, the SSIS released blogger and activist Mohammed Adel, who was previously affiliated with the MB. The SSIS had held Adel in detention since November 2008. SSIS officers allegedly seized many of Adel's books and CDs from his home and tortured him in detention. Adel's blog called for MB detainees to be released. According to the government, the SSIS arrested him for illegally entering Palestinian territory.
Blogger Karim Amer, jailed in 2006 and convicted and sentenced in 2007 to four years in prison for "denigrating religion" and insulting President Mubarak, remained in prison at year's end. On December 22, a Cairo court rejected Amer's appeal.
Blogger and activist Musad Abu Fagr, jailed in 2007 under the Emergency Law following posts about the Sinai Bedouins' difficulties, remained in prison at year's end. The government blocked several court orders for his release.
On September 29, the government detained Swedish journalist and blogger Per Bjorklund at the airport, preventing him from entering the country, and deported him on October 1. Bjorklund had lived in the country for the previous three years and had written critically about labor issues.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government restricted academic freedom through various means. It selected deans rather than permitting the faculty to elect them, justifying the measure as a way to combat Islamist influence on campus. It also restricted some academic travel. Professors published articles in academic journals covering a wide range of topics, but observers assessed that professors practiced degrees of self-censorship regarding commentary on sensitive issues such as the military, the security forces, and government corruption.
The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but was more lenient regarding the same films in videocassette or DVD format. Government censors ensured that foreign films made in the country portrayed the country in a favorable light.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted the exercise of this right. Citizens must obtain approval from the MOI before holding public meetings, rallies, and protest marches. Protests may not be held in or near places of worship, per a 2008 ministerial decree. The MOI refused to grant permits for some political events, and the government tightly controlled public demonstrations, including some meetings on private property and university campuses. In January, during attacks on Gaza, the government prevented many demonstrations from proceeding in Cairo by deploying large numbers of riot police to stop protesters from gathering and to forcibly break up demonstrations. The government generally permitted such demonstrations to proceed outside Cairo. At some demonstrations throughout the country, police and protesters clashed, resulting in injuries to both sides. During the January demonstrations, police arrested several hundred protesters, releasing most of them after holding them between two and 24 hours. Most detentions did not exceed 24 hours. A large percentage of the protesters arrested were reportedly MB members.
On January 2, at a demonstration in downtown Cairo, police beat unconscious an Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist covering the event. The journalist was treated at a local hospital and subsequently discharged. On January 9, the MB and other opposition groups organized a "day of anger and solidarity with Gaza," and thousands of protesters demonstrated in several cities outside Cairo. More than 50,000 protesters demonstrated outside the central mosque in Alexandria. On January 9, police and approximately 1,000 protesters clashed in El-Arish in the Northern Sinai, resulting in injuries to both sides. Protesters reportedly damaged shops and cars.
Throughout the year authorities sometimes showed little tolerance for peaceful demonstrations by opposition groups and activists protesting government policies. Police sometimes responded to political demonstrations in large numbers to contain the size and effectiveness of the demonstrations, and they sometimes used excessive force. In certain demonstrations police detained suspected organizers, some of whom alleged mistreatment in detention.
On February 6, SSIS officers arrested Egyptian-German pro-Palestinian activist, student, blogger, and filmmaker Philip Rizk following a small, peaceful rally in Ismailia to call for opening the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. On February 11, the SSIS released Rizk after subjecting him to physical and mental abuse. According to the government, the SSIS arrested Rizk because he had not followed procedures to request and receive permission to hold the rally.
In the seven days before a planned strike on April 6, police arrested approximately 15 activists affiliated with the April 6 Movement, who were planning the strike, and generally released them within 24 hours. Police reportedly beat some of the activists in custody and while breaking up an April 4 courthouse demonstration in the Delta protesting some of the arrests. Throughout the year police briefly detained members of the April 6 Movement who distributed leaflets and planned political events.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association; however, the government significantly restricted the exercise of this right. The minister of social solidarity has the authority to dissolve NGOs by decree, and the law requires NGOs to obtain permission from the government before accepting foreign funds, apart from donations from foreign governments with established development programs in the country. On April 27, the EOHR received a letter from the Ministry of Social Solidarity reminding it of the ministry's right to dissolve the organization for receiving unauthorized foreign funding. The EOHR had received funding from a Moroccan NGO for a Cairo conference in January on press freedom. On May 10, the EOHR received a letter from the ministry stating that the ministry did not intend to dissolve the EOHR. On September 27, security forces arrested 15 MB members in three provinces (Beni Suef, Giza, and Sharqiya) on charges of recruiting for an illegal organization. On November 21, the MB announced that a Cairo court had ordered the release of Gamal Heshmat and nine others. On November 26, the MB announced that the MOI released Heshmat on medical grounds.
Throughout the year the Ministry of Social Solidarity delayed or did not grant permission for some NGOs to receive foreign funding. In one case the ministry prevented an NGO from distributing 1,100 human rights-themed children's books produced through a foreign government grant.
Throughout the year the government prevented some NGOs from holding human rights-themed conferences at hotels in different cities.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the government restricted the exercise of these rights. According to the constitution, Islam is the official state religion and Shari'a (Islamic law) the primary source of legislation. Religious practices that conflict with the government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited.
The government continued to sponsor "reconciliation sessions" following sectarian attacks, which generally prevented the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Copts and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution. This practice contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged further assaults. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worshipped without harassment; however, Christians and members of the Baha'i faith, which the government does not recognize, faced personal and collective discrimination in many areas. Religious groups seeking recognition must submit a request to the MOI, which determines whether in its view the group would pose a threat to national security or social order. The MOI also consulted leading religious figures, particularly the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the sheikh of Al-Azhar. The last official recognition of a religious group occurred in 1990. The government does not recognize marriages of citizens adhering to faiths other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam nor does it recognize conversions of Muslim-born citizens to other religions.
On June 13, the Cairo Administrative Court ruled against Maher El-Gohary, a convert from Islam to Christianity, who had filed suit on the basis of constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to compel the government to issue him an identity document listing his religion as Christian.
The law prohibits blasphemy and the "denigration of religions." Although there were no reported prosecutions, the government detained members of religious groups whose practices deviated from mainstream Islamic beliefs and whose activities were believed to jeopardize communal harmony. The law prohibits Baha'i institutions and community activities, and the Baha'i religion is not recognized. On March 16, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed a legal challenge filed by an Islamist lawyer to block the implementation of a January 2008 court decision directing the MOI to issue identification documents to members of the country's Baha'i community. Previously, all such documents specified the holder's religion as Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. Many Baha'is were unwilling to accept such a document because they considered that it would require them to give false testimony concerning their faith. On April 14, the MOI published a decree authorizing members of "nonrecognized religions" to obtain identification documents with a dash in the mandatory religious identification space. Egyptian Baha'is reported that the government issued 17 national identification cards and 70 birth certificates to Baha'is during the year.
The government failed to redress laws and government practices that discriminate against Christians. The law requires non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree to build new worship facilities. MOI regulations, issued in 1934 under the Al-Ezabi decree, specify 10 conditions that the government must consider before a presidential decree for construction of a new non-Muslim place of worship can be issued. The conditions include the requirement that the distance between a church and a mosque be at least 100 meters (328 feet) and that approval of the neighboring Muslim community be obtained before a permit to build a new church may be issued.
The law also requires non-Muslims to obtain a governor's approval to repair, renovate, or expand existing church complexes. While Decree 291 of 2005 delegates this authority, which was formerly held by the president, to the governors, loopholes in the law were exploited to prevent its implementation. For example, some local authorities refused to process applications without "supporting documents" that were virtually impossible to obtain (e.g., a presidential decree authorizing the existence of a church that had been established during the country's monarchical era). Church and lay leaders maintained that security forces blocked them from using permits that had been issued and, at times, denied them permits for repairs to church buildings and for the supply of water and electricity to existing church facilities. As a result, congregations generally continued to wait years to be able to build and repair church properties.
The constitution requires elementary and secondary public schools to offer religious instruction. Public and private schools provided religious instruction according to the faith of the student.
The government did not carry out forced conversions; however, there were again claims of Muslim men forcing Coptic women and girls to convert to Islam. Reports of such cases were disputed and often included inflammatory allegations and categorical denials of kidnapping and rape. Most cases involved a female Copt who converted to Islam when she married a male Muslim. Government authorities detained and harassed some converts from Islam to Christianity and pressured them to revert to Islam.
On June 15, the Court of Cassation granted Kamilia Lotfy custody of her 14-year-old twin sons, overruling a September 2008 Alexandria Appeals Court decision that gave custody to the boys' father following his conversion from Christianity to Islam. The Court of Cassation ruling affirmed for the first time the right of a non-Muslim to retain custody of children until the age of 15 following the conversion of a spouse to Islam. Human rights groups, however, criticized the court for failing to address the policy that considers children younger than 15, whose parents convert from Islam, to be Muslim.
Neither the constitution nor the civil and penal codes prohibit proselytizing, but police harassed or arrested some individuals proselytizing on charges of ridiculing or insulting the "heavenly religions" (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) or inciting sectarian strife.
Jehovah's Witness leadership reported that authorities monitored the homes, telephones, and meeting places of members of Jehovah's Witnesses. The government also reportedly maintained regular and sometimes hostile surveillance of Muslim-born citizens who were suspected of having converted to Christianity.
Authorities monitored and occasionally placed restrictions on religious materials (both published in the country and imported) as they did other written materials.
The government prohibited women and girls in public primary schools from wearing the niqab, or face veil. Girls in secondary or preparatory schools could wear a face veil only upon a parent's written request to the school.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Societal religious discrimination and sectarian tension continued during the year. In a May report, the quasi-governmental NCHR expressed alarm at growing sectarian conflict. In March Muslim villagers in the Sohag governorate attacked and burned homes of their Baha'i neighbors.
On August 20, authorities released two Copts, held in detention without charges since May 2008, who had been accused of killing a Muslim during the armed attack by Muslim Bedouins on the Abu Fana Monastery. A December 2008 court order requiring their release was not implemented. According to a credible human rights organization, their release came after an agreement was reached in which the monastery dropped criminal charges against the attackers. Two Muslims, held since the attack, were also released. There were no charges filed against the assailants, who assaulted the monastery and abducted and abused the monks.
The constitution provides for equal public rights and duties without discrimination based on religion or creed, and the government generally upheld these protections; however, government discrimination against non-Muslims existed. The government continued to discriminate against non-Muslims in public sector employment and in admission to the publicly financed Al Azhar University.
Anti-Semitism in the media was common, although less prevalent than in recent years. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts directed toward the country's approximately 125 Jews. However, anti-Semitic sentiments frequently appeared in both the progovernment and independent press. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a series of clerics appeared on Al-Rahma TV conveying anti-Semitic messages, such as celebrating the Holocaust and praising the humiliation that the Holocaust inflicted on Jews. Anti-Semitic editorial cartoons and articles depicting demonic images of Jews and Israeli leaders, stereotypical images of Jews along with Jewish symbols, and comparisons of Israeli leaders with Hitler and the Nazis were published throughout the year, particularly during and following the attacks on Gaza in January. The government reportedly advised journalists and cartoonists to avoid anti-Semitism. Government officials insisted that anti-Semitic statements in the media were a reaction to Israeli government actions against Palestinians and did not constitute anti-Semitism.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice, albeit with some notable exceptions. Citizens and foreigners may not travel in areas of the country designated as military zones. Males who have not completed compulsory military service may not travel abroad or emigrate, although this restriction may be deferred or bypassed under special but unclear circumstances. Baha'i men of draft age had difficulty obtaining passports because, according to some reports, the Ministry of Defense would not issue military service exemption certificates, a requirement for draft-age men who have not served in the military to obtain passports. The Baha'i did not have national identification cards because they are unable to establish that they have fulfilled or are exempt from military service obligations. An unmarried woman younger than 21 must have permission from her father to obtain a passport and to travel, and police reportedly required such permission for married women in practice, although the law does not require it. Authorities occasionally held individuals at the airport to delay or prevent altogether their travel for what appeared to be political reasons. The government also used travel prohibitions to punish dissidents.
The constitution prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it during the year; a number of citizens remained outside the country in self-imposed exile.
The government did not consistently cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Protection of Refugees
The country is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The constitution includes provisions for the granting of refugee status or asylum; however, the country has no national legislative framework or system for granting asylum. The government admits refugees on the understanding that their presence in the country is temporary and that the UNHCR assumes full responsibility for the determination of refugee status on behalf of the government.
In practice the government sometimes did not provide protection against the expulsion or forced return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The government continued to forcibly repatriate Eritrean asylum seekers, although fewer were returned during the year than in 2008, when more than 1,300 were returned. The basic problem of forced return has not been resolved. According to AI, between December 23, 2008, and January 18, the government forcibly returned to Eritrea approximately 100 Eritrean asylum seekers, who were apprehended attempting to enter Israel. AI stated that the asylum seekers faced likely torture in Eritrea. Hundreds of other Eritrean asylum seekers were being held in detention centers in Nekhl and elsewhere in the country at year's end.
Refugees also faced violence by security forces, abuse, and discrimination.
There was a consistent flow of Eritrean, Sudanese, and other African asylum seekers, who attempted to migrate illegally through the country to Israel during the year. Since May border police shot and killed at least 17 African migrants attempting to cross the border into Israel. Many more migrants were injured in shootings at the border, and more than 400 were arrested in the first seven months of the year and charged with attempting an unlawful crossing of the country's eastern border with Israel. Those apprehended were tried in military courts that, according to AI, did not meet international standards for fair trial. The migrants were subsequently sentenced to one year in prison and were subject to deportation following completion of the sentence. The government maintained that these measures were necessary to ensure security along the border and combat smuggling. The UNHCR did not have access to those arrested to determine their refugee status. At year's end the government had not taken action to prosecute any of the officers involved in these incidents.
According to an October 25 press report, Hawa Shogar, a female refugee from Darfur, said lack of employment opportunities, rising food prices, and the global economic crisis compelled her and her husband Ahmed to try to go to Israel, where they heard other Africans were getting jobs. They borrowed $500 and gave it to a Bedouin smuggler. They joined 23 other Sudanese and Eritreans, carrying their possessions in small plastic bags. As they approached the border, an Egyptian patrol fired into the air and stopped their trucks. Her husband said that some of the migrants tried to flee and were shot, at least one fatally.
According to a December 11 report in a foreign publication, police shot at Eritrean Yirgalam Beyene and her three children as they tried to cross the border into Israel. During the incident, her 21-year-old son Iskender and three-year-old daughter Rosa were shot. While Rosa survived, Iskender later died from his wounds in a Sinai hospital. They were among a group of some 20 asylum seekers from Eritrea, Darfur, and southern Sudan trying to cross the border that night.
Trafficking in Persons Reportwww.state.gov/g/tip
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2009