Egypt condemned over rights


Summary

Egypt has been condemned by Amnesty International for what it termed the "systematic abuses" of human rights in the country.

The comments come amidst recent amendments to Egypt's constitution.

Wide powers for security services, systematic torture of detainees and the use of unjust courts were all cited by the report from the London-based rights organisation as evidence of a worsening situation in Egypt where even the few constitutional protections are being rolled back.

"I would say that it is worse in the sense that the few safeguards that we had in the constitution are now being attacked," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East deputy director said, referring to the amendments passed in a sparsely attended referendum March 26.

"Torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, and grossly unfair trails before emergency and military courts have all been key features of Egypt's 40-year state of emergency and counter-terrorism campaign," said the report.

In particular it highlighted a new anti-terrorism law being prepared by the government to replace the old emergency law under which some 18,000 people are estimated by Amnesty to be detained without charge.

"What we see and we fear with the new law is a broad definition of terrorism crime that would criminalise the peaceful exercise of rights that are guaranteed internationally," Mr Sahraoui said.

The report, "Systematic abuses in the name of security", also highlighted how the United States and other countries used the process of "renditions" to send terrorism suspects to Egypt to be interrogated, in contravention of international law.

According to Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in 2005, between 60 and 70 terrorism suspects had been sent for interrogation to Egypt since 2001 despite the widespread use of torture and lack of accountability of security services.

"No judicial control can be exercised over the conduct and activities of the General Intelligence and the State Security who would most likely be responsible for detaining the returnees," noted the report.

One of the most high profile of such detainees, Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, appeared at a press conference to speak with one of the Amnesty researchers, but without making any public comments.

Abu Omar was kidnapped off the streets of Milan by the American CIA and spirited to Egypt where he says he was tortured for seven months by security officials in a case documented by the Amnesty report.

Though cautioned by security officials not to speak to the press, he has since appeared at a number of trials and conferences to speak out about his abuse by security forces.

Egyptian officials have repeatedly sought to justify their recent efforts to curtail rights as being similar to anti-terrorism legislation found in other countries, including the United States.

Curtis Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty's American branch, attended the conference to warn Egypt against following the example of the US's Patriot Act anti-terrorism legislation.

"I am here today to say to the government of Egypt, don't follow the US example," he said, condemning the Patriot Act as "the most radical assault on constitutional rights and freedom in decades."

"Anti-terrorism legislation which disregards basic human rights will not and does not make us any safer, whether in the US or Egypt," he said.


Egypt has been condemned by Amnesty International for what it termed the "systematic abuses" of human rights in the country.

The comments come amidst recent amendments to Egypt's constitution.

Wide powers for security services, systematic torture of detainees and the use of unjust courts were all cited by the report from the London-based rights organisation as evidence of a worsening situation in Egypt where even the few constitutional protections are being rolled back.

"I would say that it is worse in the sense that the few safeguards that we had in the constitution are now being attacked," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East deputy director said, referring to the amendments passed in a sparsely attended referendum March 26.

"Torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, and grossly unfair trails before emergency and military courts have all been key features of Egypt's 40-year state of emergency and counter-terrorism campaign," said the report.

In particular it highlighted a new anti-terrorism law being prepared by the government to replace the old emergency law under which some 18,000 people are estimated by Amnesty to be detained without charge.

"What we see and we fear with the new law is a broad definition of terrorism crime that would criminalise the peaceful exercise of rights that are guaranteed internationally," Mr Sahraoui said.

The report, "Systematic abuses in the name of security", also highlighted how the United States and other countries used the process of "renditions" to send terrorism suspects to Egypt to be interrogated, in contravention of international law.

According to Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in 2005, between 60 and 70 terrorism suspects had been sent for interrogation to Egypt since 2001 despite the widespread use of torture and lack of accountability of security services.

"No judicial control can be exercised over the conduct and activities of the General Intelligence and the State Security who would most likely be responsible for detaining the returnees," noted the report.

One of the most high profile of such detainees, Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, appeared at a press conference to speak with one of the Amnesty researchers, but without making any public comments.

Abu Omar was kidnapped off the streets of Milan by the American CIA and spirited to Egypt where he says he was tortured for seven months by security officials in a case documented by the Amnesty report.

Though cautioned by security officials not to speak to the press, he has since appeared at a number of trials and conferences to speak out about his abuse by security forces.

Egyptian officials have repeatedly sought to justify their recent efforts to curtail rights as being similar to anti-terrorism legislation found in other countries, including the United States.

Curtis Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty's American branch, attended the conference to warn Egypt against following the example of the US's Patriot Act anti-terrorism legislation.

"I am here today to say to the government of Egypt, don't follow the US example," he said, condemning the Patriot Act as "the most radical assault on constitutional rights and freedom in decades."

"Anti-terrorism legislation which disregards basic human rights will not and does not make us any safer, whether in the US or Egypt," he said.