'125 Release Orders' and Still Detained

When opposition politicians and rights groups complained that amendments to Egypt's constitution would enshrine the Emergency Law in the Constitution by giving police free rein to arrest, search, and spy on citizens without judicial warrants, some government officials responded with the line, "You just need to trust us. These powers are only for legitimate investigations into terrorism cases" (paraphrasing here). It was a line the Bush administration had previously used to respond to criticisms of the PATRIOT Act.

Last week, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated MP Farid Ismail petitioned Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Interior Minister Habib al-Adli regarding a case that neatly illustrates why the "trust us" line doesn't work. Security forces arrested five kids, some of them as young as 15, from the al-Sharqiyya governorate in the Nile Delta on suspicion of belonging to Islamic Jihad following the 1997 terrorist attacks in Luxor. In the 10 years since, Ismail said, magistrates have ordered their release 125 times each, saying there was no evidence to keep them detained. No matter. A decade later, they are still in prison.

Now, I'm in favor of locking up people who want to blow up innocent people. And I can understand that in the wake of a big terrorist attack, you might want to err on the side of caution. But you've got to do it in a way that ensures that you get the right people, and that lets innocent people caught up in the sweep get back to their lives, ideally with compensation (though how do you compensate someone who's spent a week with electrodes on his tongue, nipples, and genitals? Mawlish doesn't quite cover it). This is why the legal protections are so important. I have no idea if these five are innocent, but 125 release orders (times five is what? 625) from magistrates who have seen all the evidence strongly suggests that they are.

If the good people working for Egypt's stability and security won't respect what slender legal protections exist today, how are we supposed to "trust them" when those legal protections are gone?

Right. Apologies for the rant, but this is a particularly outrageous case.
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Syrian Cyber-Dissident Arrested

Via Reporters sans frontières:
(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of arrested human rights activist Ibrahim Zoro, who regularly posts material on foreign-based opposition websites. It noted that two other people were in prison in Syria for posting similar material. It said the state security service, whose agents arrested Zoro on 5 April 2007 in Damascus, were "as always, acting quite illegally" and his family had not been told why he was picked up or where he was being held. "It is more like a kidnapping than an arrest," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. Zoro, who belongs to Syria's Kurdish minority, was helping to organise a seminar called "The Philosophy of Lies." He has posted many articles in Arabic on websites such as the blog Tharway and Mengos. Zoro, 47, has already spent seven years in prison, from 1987 to 1994, for belonging to the Syrian Communist Party. He is a member of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights in Syria. Journalist Muhened Abdulrahman and writer Habib Saleh are also in prison in Syria for posting material online.
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Online Censorship Suit

Hossam has linked to Judge Abd al-Fattah's lawsuit here. It's riddled with factual errors. More on that later. It's still not clear if this is going anywhere, but as commenters on Issandr's original post on the topic noted, we have early warning in this case, and we should take advantage of it. A list of the URLs the judge is asking the government to censor follows. Since a court has yet to rule on whether these are libelous, archiving them in Egypt may be risky. So people outside of Egypt who might be interested in hosting mirrors, here are the urls. They include the sites of some of the most prominent human rights organizations in Egypt: http://www.hrinfo.net/ The Web site of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (hrinfo) http://www.hrinfo.net/egypt/hmcl The page of the Hisham Mubarak Center for Legal Aid, hosted on hrinfo's site http://www.afteegypt.org Web site of the Nur Center http://wwwshamsannews.net/newsdetails.asp?id=402http://www.eipr.org The Web site of the Egyptian Inititative for Personal Rights http://www.hrinfo.net/egypt/hmlc A typo leads to a 404 page, but it's named in the suit. The correct URL for the Hisham Mubarak Center is named above. http://www.hrinfo.net/egypt/elmarsd/ The Urban Center [lit. "Observatory"] for Human Rights http://www.hrinfo.net/egypt/eojl/ The Egyptian Center for Justice and Law http://www.hrinfo.net/egypt/nadeem/ The page for the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, hosted on hrinfo http://www.hrinfo.net/egypt/eaat The Egyptian Association Against Torture http://elsaeedi.katib.org/node/48#comment A page from a blog concerned with human rights issues http://harakamasria.org/node/9062#comment-7416 From Kifaya's Web site http://gharbeia.net/ar/judgebookreview Blog that has campaigned for democracy, human rights, and respect for the environment http://www.alghad.org.eg Purportedly the Web site of the Ghad Party's newspaper. Incidentally, this URL was inaccessible from Egypt March 14 using the ISP LINKdotNET. http://www.gn4me.com/nahda The Egyptian Renaissance site http://www.gn4me.com The Good News company's site, named as the owner of The Egyptian Renaissance, above. http://www.alnoor.se/othernews.asp?year=200 Web site of the Nur Center http://www.shamsannews.net/newsdetails.asp?id=402 Shmasan News http://www.wna-news.com/inanews/news.php?item3699.6 Web site of the Iraqi News Agency http://mohamed.katib.org/node/34 Blog post http://taranim.wordpress.com/2006/02/22/kareemyagod/#comments Blog post http://bentmasreya.blogspot.com/2007/02/blog-post_14.html Blog post http://www.hrinfo.net/reports/net2004/egypt.shtml The Egypt chapter of HRinfo's 2004 report on Internet censorship in the Middle East http://www.hrinfo.net/reports/re2006/re06-2.shtml HRinfo report on April-May 2006 crackdown http://www.hrinfo.net/reports/re2006/#egypt HRinfo report on Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt http://elsaeedi.katib.org/node/ Blog http://gharbeia.net/ar/judgeBOOKReview#comment Blog post
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Send Spiders

Did a little digging into Judge Abd al-Fattah Murad's lawsuit to get the government to censor 21 Web sites and blogs:
  1. Abd al-Fattah Murad will likely not be the judge in Abd al-Karim Sulaiman's appeal. This would too nice a present to the defense team, who are engaged in a separate legal dispute with the judge and so could clearly not get a fair trial from him. If Judge Abd al-Fattah is on the stand next session, we can all start believing the rumors that the government never wanted to imprison Kareem in the first place. Or we should all be very scared because the government will have dropped its last shred of shame.
  2. The only source for the suit's existence remains Egypt's finest, Rose al-Yusef. Lawyers have had no communication from the courts. A scanned copy of the Rose al-Yusef article is here. It's possible the lawsuit won't progress, and that this article (in a paper whose meager readership consists mostly of those who have a professional interest in trying to guess what Security is thinking) is another shot over the bow. [Update: AFP cites "a judicial source" and "sources" to confirm the story]
  3. His honor reportedly has very good wasta in the Interior Ministry—but less so in the Judge's Club. It's unclear whether he has the clout to get the government to change its current policy of not censoring the Internet.
Let's hope this one dies on the vine. In the meantime, reason enough to be vigilant and for techies abroad to start archiving sites. Release the spiders. And if anyone from the ICT or information ministries is reading, please read Nart Villeneuve's excellent discussion of the pitfalls of Internet censorship for governments. To these I would add economic ill effects. Egypt's perception as a friendly country for ICT investment, a perception the government has spent millions on fostering, rests in no small part on its policy with regard to online censorship, which is free... and costs nothing. All the Smart Villages, slick IT projects at the Alexandria Library, and UN-prize-winning Web sites will seem like so much expensive window dressing if the government starts censoring blogs, newspaper Web sites, and the Web sites of human rights organizations. Telecom Egypt is looking for a partner to modernize the country's Internet backbone, at a cost of US$1 billion. And let's face it, Egypt isn't China. China will become the largest broadband market in 2007, with 79 million broadband users. When Egypt launched a program to expand broadband access in 2004, it set itself an initial goal of 50,000 users. The difference in GDP is about US$2.13 trillion. Bad publicity ought to seem like more of a liability here. For the sake of the greater good, Judge Abd al-Fattah, and for the sake of the rights to impart and receive information, please drop this lawsuit. Your good reputation will be better served if you're known as the man who forgave an insult than if you're known as the man who censored the Internet. The same president whose honor you're so anxious to defend has himself spoken about the importance of ICT in "supporting national efforts toward more freedom, democracy, and respect of human rights." So, your honor, for the sake of the president and patriotism, for the sake of the next generation of honest, hardworking Egyptians from Aswan to Alexandria, and for the sake of your good reputation, please drop this lawsuit.
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Public Service Announcement

This won't do much to protect those gutsy Egyptian bloggers standing out on a limb to expose torture in Egyptian detention centers, but given that Egypt has for the first time jailed a blogger for the contents of his blog, and given disturbing reports of harassment and intimidation of bloggers by security forces, less courageous bloggers should check out Ethan's excellent guide to blogging anonymously with TOR and Wordpress. RSF's guide is also worth a look (Arabic here). If you're an anonymous blogger, remember: your pseudonym affords you no protection against anyone with even a little bit of determination and know-how.
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New Torture Cases

From the Shebab Kifaya mailing list. Haven't verified the information or obtained the victim's full and informed consent to publish the details here, so names and details redacted for the moment:
Citizen [...], known by [...] was subject to severe beating and use of electricity on sensitive parts of his body at the state security intelligence headquarters in the city of [...] by the hands of officer [...]. [...] had been arrested in the early hours of the [...] from his house in the district of [...] in the city of [...], Gharbeyya governorate in the Delta of Egypt. [...] woke up at about 2 a.m. upon a heavy knocking at his door. As soon as he opened the door the police was all over the house. [...] asked for the prosecutor's permit to search the house, upon which the state security officer reached into his pocket, got out a small piece of paper, which [...] did not read, returned it back into his pocket again and said: "This is the permit. And even if there is no permit, I shall detain you as I wish". The police then took [...] down into the police car, then went up again in arms to search his house causing panic to his wife and children. The police took school books and botebooks of the children, a praying carpet, a computer which was searched by the officer himself at the state security office in violation of the law which states that examination of a computer should be carried out by the technical office upon an order of the prosecution. As soon as [...] arrived in the state security office in [...] he was beaten, slapped and kicked all over his body by officer [...] and [...]. Then [...] stripped [...] of all his clothes, forced him to the floor on his back with his hands tied and eyes blindfolded. He then put a chair between his legs and used a baton to pressure sensitive parts of his body. While [...] was screaming of pain, officer [...] was laughing and saying: "I shall make you lose your manhood totally. You will sleep with your wife with no difference between the two of you!!" After 20 hours of torture, [...] was referred to the prosecution charged of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. His file was registered as administrative case no. [...]. [...]'s lawyer has filed a complaint to the public prosecutor's officer and the National Council for Human Rights.
Perhaps the formal complaint with the prosecutor's office makes this fair game for public distribution, but absent confirmation, and given Imad al-Kabir's momentary retraction of his story in the face of intimidation after the details of his case were publicized, I'm erring on the side of caution. It's rare for members of the Muslim Brotherhood to face torture these days. Those who do tend to be young, rank-and-file members from the governorates, like this unfortunate man from Gharbeyya. More senior members, and members from Cairo, now generally say they are not physicaly abused in custody. Update: Hossam reports on another Kifaya anti-torture initiative here.
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One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Here's a scan of the front page from the Dec. 19 Daily Star Egypt: Censored front page of the Daily Star And here's the original photo: Uncensored photo of Kifaya Demonstration Enlarge Notice anything? Sources at The Daily Star say their printer unilaterally censored the photo. Others who have edited publications registered abroad aren't buying it: They say the printer would sometimes warn them about content that could get an issue banned, but the final decision would always be the papers'. But let's give The Daily Star the benefit of the doubt. So when are they firing their printer?
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Enemy at the Gates

I've been following this for a while, but had gone to sleep while the rebels poured out of Darfur and made it all the way across Chad to the capital N'Djamena. This is huge:
Heavy fighting has subsided in Chad's capital after breaking out at dawn, between government troops and rebels trying to overthrow the president. A BBC correspondent in N'Djamena said gunfire and shelling began at dawn and lasted for some two hours. Speaking on the radio, President Idriss Deby said government forces had destroyed a small rebel column that attempted to enter the capital. He said that government troops were in "complete control" of N'Djamena. Only sporadic gunfire could be heard around the capital following his announcement.
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April 1 at the Wafd Headquarters

The bullet entered Mamdouh Badawi’s abdomen on the left side just above his hip and exited above the right hip. Badawi, who married two months ago, served Al-Wafd journalists tea and coffee for a living. He was one of almost two dozen people (Reuters is saying 23, I have only been able to confirm 21 names) injured in clashes between members of rival factions of the Wafd Party April 1. Around 8:00 a.m., deposed Wafd Party chairman Noman Gomaa arrived at the party’s headquarters in Doqqi. Between 30 and 40 men, armed with guns, clubs, and metal bars, followed in microbuses, overpowered volunteer night guards, and occupied the building. A confrontation ensued when journalists, Wafd Party activists, and support staff showed up for work and the armed men prevented them from entering the building. “I was sitting in the building, not doing anything, when Gomaa and his thugs arrived,� Ahmed Mohammed Hossam, a 28-year-old night guard, said. “Gangs armed with clubs and metal bars started beating everyone in the building. Everyone was terrified. There were women there. The gangs took my identification card, all my money, and all my clothes. I was left naked. They said nobody could leave.� Hossam said he was treated at a nearby hospital and returned to the building. Eyewitnesses said one of Gomaa’s men shouted insults from a window by the front door. The journalists responded by throwing rocks and bottles. According to one witness, who has an office on the block, police, who reportedly arrived at the party headquarters at the same time Gomaa did, tried to disperse the crowd with teargas, but this made matters worse. More bottles and rocks flew in both directions. Eyewitnesses said that the men holed up inside the building then shot five men around 11 a.m.. Word spread, and a crowd formed around the building, chanting slogans against Gomaa and periodically trying to force their way into the building. Gomaa and his supporters ransacked the headquarters’ archives and burned documents. At midday, journalists, Wafd Party activists, and young men affiliated with (or rented by) the faction loyal to Mahmoud Abaza and Mustafa al-Tawil, elected as Wafd Party president when Gomaa was deposed in January, broke into the compound through the back window of an adjoining building. As they emerged from a basement corridor into the backyard, they clashed with Gomaa’s men. Men from each side threw Molotov cocktails, bottles, and rocks at the other. The building caught fire. The fire was quickly extinguished, but not before several rooms were destroyed. Men from Abaza’s faction forced their way into the back entrance and occupied the top floors of the building. Gomaa and his supporters were ensconced on the ground floor. As Abaza supporters chanted outside the building, their representatives argued with security forces at the front entrance—10 generals were on hand, one high-ranking Wafd Party member said—about whether the police should be allowed to storm the compound. At one point, one of Gomaa’s men left the building and Meanwhile, men loyal to each faction faced off at the staircase leading from the main lobby. At times men from both sides would shout at each other, sometimes calling each other by name, sometimes throwing fire extinguishers at each other. A wire journalist I met on the staircase said that he had seen one of Gomaa’s men leave the building. “They kicked the shit out of him,� he said. “What do you mean? Really? Was he alright?� “I mean he was in a pretty bad way. They beat him up with stakes and metal bars, you know, pieces of the fence.� At around 5:00 p.m., Wafd Party activists loyal to Abaza cleared the building of all youths who were not party members. Around 5:15 p.m., soldiers massed outside the building. At around 5:45 p.m., soldiers pulled up to the building and, after a brief melee, arrested Gomaa and six supporters. I arrived in the afternoon, interviewed Wafd Party members protesting outside the building, and after about an hour managed to get into the building through the back entrance. I spent about 90 minutes on the staircase that formed the border between Al-Tawil’s supporters and Gomaa’s supporters and was there when police entered the building. When police did enter, they behaved professionally and had Gomaa out of the building in a few minutes. There were violent clashes when the doors first opened. I got as close as I felt I safely could in order to take pictures. Most turned out blurry or too dark. As Gomaa left in an armored truck, the crowd swarmed the vehicle, shouting insults and slogans. A partial list of those injured follows (Full list soon, spelling of names unconfirmed): 1. Samir Beheiry (journalist) 2. Mohammed Shahda (party activist) 3. Mohamed Ali Hanafi (journalist) 4. Mahmoud Ali (journalist) 5. Essam Shiha (lawyer) 6. Mostapha Shaaban (prepares tea and coffee for journalists) 7. Mamdouh Badawi (prepares tea and coffee for journalists) 8. Khaled Sheikh (Wafd Party advertising and public relations) 9. Khaled Idriss (journalist) 10. Mohammed Ibn Naki 11. Adil Sabri 12. Fatouah Mohammed Abd al-Mohsi 13. Mohammed Said Abd al-Aal 14. Tamir Farag 15. Mahmoud Mohammed Hassan 16. Abd al-Aziz al-Nahas 17. Amr Okesha (journalist) 18. Mohammed Abd al-Reziq 19. Said al-Qassass 20. Fatah Ahmed Abd al-Ghani 21. Mohammed al-Maliki The injured were treated at Shabrawishi and Misr al-Dawli hospitals, not far from the Wafd Party headquarters. Mohammed al-Maliki was treated first for a bloody nose, then returned to the headquarters to be shot in the leg. This is not the first time factions of the Wafd Party and their hired thugs have clashed since Gomaa was deposed in January. He maintains that the assembly that voted to unseat him (with 94.4 percent of the vote) was convened illegally since only he has the right to convene such an assembly. The Wafd Party dominated politics until the 1952 revolution, when political parties were banned. The party was founded again in 1983, but has had little affect on politics since. It won only six of 444 seats in the People’s Assembly in the 2005 elections, and Gomaa placed third in the presidential elections, winning only 2.9 percent of the vote. It looks like the "new guard" Wafdists only allowed the police into the building once the warrant for Gomaa's arrest came through and that the delay in the police's action was caused in part by this. But that does not answer the question of why the police did not immediately storm the building when shots were fired, or why there were few policemen in sight when I arrived in the afternoon, and the few that were there did not seem very concerned. The brass, when it came, was concerned, but members of the crowd had to be restrained they were shouting at them so vehemently. While waiting for Abaza to finish talking to a TV crew, I spoke with one guy who just happens to have an office on the block, who told me that the police initially used tear gas but that this made things worse. It's interesting to note that the Wafdists uniformly said the police stood by and did nothing. But it's also interesting that the Wafdist line is evolving in other ways: Last night I met the son of the former chairman (before Gomaa), who told me that Gomaa had set fire to the headquarters, to his office, and that this is what caused the fire. I told him I thought it was Abaza's youths (I didn't want to say thugs) throwing Molotov cocktails. He asked me where I had heard this and started sweating when I told him I had it from one of the youths directly. I was also interested to note that when a journalist friend met this one guy today he was wearing a sling and bandages. When I had seen him yesterday---after Gomaa had been arrested, Abaza had marched triumphantly into the building, and the crowd was dispersing---he was fine. I was interested to note that the archives had been ransacked. Several Wafdists and one foreign journalist told me that Gomaa had spent the day burning documents. That Noman Gomaa, the former head of the Cairo University Law School, a grey-beard, if insignificant, political operator in Egypt, simply went postal one day and started firing at journalists strikes me as an entertaining but unlikely prospect. Perhaps he had just been emboldened by his meeting Thursday with Safwat al-Sherif (in his capacity as head of the Political Parties Committee), in which he again got the government's line: "We don't interfere with the internal administration of the parties." This, of course, is total bullshit: Interfering in parties' internal administration is what the PPC does. This whole problem was caused by the state/NDP's shenanigans to keep its man Gomaa in power despite the fact that the party wanted him gone. Abaza says he thinks Gomaa really thought he was popular and that subterranean forces in the party were conspiring to get rid of him, against the wishes of the majority in the party but with American support. Certainly, his grandiose offer to Al-Wafd journalists to defect en masse to his rival version of the paper suggests he really believed they would. OK, but I think this whole stunt was about destroying those documents. I'm not sure what could be so bad in those documents that would make occupying the party headquarters and shooting at party journalists look like a misdemeanor. But I speculate that they might have contained documents outlining shady stuff that would also have implicated senior NDP guys, which would further encourage the NDP guys to make Gomaa think he could pull a stunt like this with impunity. Abaza said he knew what was in the documents, but got very vague when questioned further. Abaza's a politically smart man. He recognizes he's building the party up from the ground (literally, now). The people in his camp, that is, 94.4% of the assembly, are energized and idealistic. Note the appearance of the pre-1952 flag as stickers in shop windows and banners on Web sites, flown in solidarity with the Judges' Club, but also as a salute to the liberal values of the post-Independence era. The movie version of The Yacoubian Building will have Adel Imam talking wistfully about that bygone time "when the shops in Cairo had the fashions before London and Paris had them." If the Wafd can reinvent itself, it could, could become a focal point...if it doesn't become a total laughing stock. (Crossposted at The Skeptic الشكاك)
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