ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT: Mass arrests in ‘ruthlessly efficient’ bid to block peaceful protest

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2 May 2016
[International Secretariat]

Security forces arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people in response to planned protests in Egypt yesterday, said Amnesty International, after large numbers of security forces deployed to prevent demonstrators from gathering in Cairo and elsewhere.

The Front of Defence for Egyptian Protesters (FDEP) early this morning told Amnesty International that they knew of at least 238 people, including foreign nationals, activists and journalists, who were arrested on 25 April across Egypt. The FDEP is a group of local activists, including human rights lawyers, formed to protect peaceful demonstrators from human rights violations. The “Freedom for the Brave” movement, another local watchdog, had logged a list of 168 names late yesterday as activists continued to identify detainees. 

“The Egyptian authorities appear to have orchestrated a heavy-handed and ruthlessly efficient campaign to squash this protest before it even began. Mass arrests, road blocks and huge deployments of security forces made it impossible for peaceful demonstrations to take place,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s interim Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The protests were called after Egypt’s government ceded two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia – a move a range of civil society groups have condemned as unconstitutional and lacking in transparency.

Over 90 people were arrested in the lead up to the planned protests, between 21 and 24 April.

Many of those arrested in the crackdown have been remanded in custody on multiple charges, including breaching the counter-terrorism law, the Protest Law and other laws regulating public assemblies, as well as “national security” offences under the Penal Code.

Reports of a heavy security presence around central Cairo were circulating since the early morning of 25 April. The President described the planned demonstrations as an attempt to destabilize the State, while the Interior Minister threatened severe consequences for anyone crossing “red lines”.  

“The authorities say they are restoring stability and security, but their paranoia has created a real blind spot and appears to have rendered them incapable of distinguishing between peaceful demonstrations and genuine security threats,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

Egypt’s Protest Law prohibits protesters from staging demonstrations without the consent of the authorities, and gives security forces sweeping powers to disperse “unauthorized” demonstrations. In practice, the authorities have facilitated protests by supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, while routinely dispersing demonstrations by his opponents.

Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed its concerns over the draconian counter-terrorism law. The vague and overly broad definition of “terrorist act” included in the law allows the authorities to suppress any form of peaceful dissent.

The demonstrations follow mass protests 11 days ago, after the handover of the uninhabited islands was announced. The 15 April demonstrations were the largest seen in Egypt for over two years.© 2016 AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Amnesty International Press Release
26 April 2016

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