The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Shi'as arrested in Egypt

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Shi'a Muslim are being harassed in Egypt. A bizarre case, although not at all unlikely -- similar harassment and imprisonment has happened in the past, notably with Ba'hais in Upper Egypt.

Read their press release below.

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Right to Privacy Program

Press Release-5 January 2004

Arrests of Shi'a Muslims Violate Freedom of Belief


The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today expressed its deep concern over the arrests of Shi'a Muslims in the Red Sea town of Ras Ghareb (300 km south ofCairo). The organization said those arrests were a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed and internationally recognized right to freedom of religion and belief.

According to information received and verified by the EIPR, officers from the State Security Intelligence (SSI) Hurghada Branch have over the last month staged three raids of houses belonging to suspected Shi'a Muslims in Ras Ghareb. The first of these raids took place on 8 December and included the houses of Ahmed Gom'a, Kashif al-Hilbawi, 'Abdel Hadi Tammam, Isma'il al-Hag, 'Ali Khalil and Mohammed (Hamam) 'Omar. Some of them were arrested while the others were asked to report to the SSI office in Hurghada in the following morning. A week later, SSI arrested Sirag Rashwan, Mohammed 'Abdel Hafez and Yasser 'Abbas. The last raid took place on 27 December when 'Adel al-Sh! azli and Salah 'Abdel Salam were arrested. The SSI squads confiscated all the religious books they found in these houses. They did not show the arrestees or their families any warrants for search, confiscation or arrest.

All of those arrested or summoned were released after different periods of time with the exception of Ahmed Gom'a, Mohammed (Hamam) 'Omar, 'Adel al-Shazly and Salah 'Abdel Salam who are still in incommunicado detention at the Hurghada headquarters of the SSI. The EIPR believes the arrestees who were released had been mistaken for Shi'a Muslims solely because of their belonging to the Ashraaf tribes that relate to the Prophet's family.

According to interviews the EIPR conducted with released arrestees, interrogation by SSI was limited to questions concerning the religious beliefs of the arrestees, such as how they prayed or how they viewed certain Companions of the Prophet. The EIPR believe the SSI officers have no right to pose questions about the religious beliefs of citizens, let alone to conduct arrests based on them. Such behavior, the organization added, was a breach of Article 46 of the Constitution as well as Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which became part of domestic legislation upon its ratification by Egypt in 1982. Both articles oblige the State to strictly uphold freedom of religion and belief.

While no information is available about torture or mistreatment that the current detainees were subjected to, the EIPR does not rule out this possibility given the widespread nature of torture in places of detention inEgypt, especially in SSI offices, and the impunity that SSI officers enjoy against accountability for torture incidents.

The EIPR called on authorities to immediately release the four detainees who have been in detention for weeks against the law and without appearing before any judicial authorities. The organization also calls on the State to uphold its legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to freedom of religion and belief and to hold accountable those responsible for the illegal detention of citizens based on their religion.

The EIPR plans to take all necessary legal measures to secure the release of the detainees and to report the incident to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief.