The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

'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.