CAIRO: Violence broke out at a number of locations across the city as police attempted to disperse solidarity protests for two judges facing disciplinary hearings for exposing incidents of electoral fraud.
Activists were dragged and beaten by plain-clothed police clutching batons, and several were forcibly escorted into nearby buildings. Protests mobilized in at least three locations. However, in all cases, security forces quickly moved in and broke up the crowds.
Journalists were harassed and measures were taken to prevent photographs and video from being shot. Cameramen from Al-Jazeera and Reuters were beaten during the protest, while several female journalists were reportedly trampled and groped by riot police.
The hearing for Hesham Bastiwisy and Mahmoud Mekki has been delayed until May 18 at the request of the prosecution. Both men have been stripped of their judicial immunity and face possible dismissal for criticizing alleged voting irregularities that would ultimately earn the ruling National Democratic Party two-thirds of the seats in parliament last December.
What is happening today is an unprecedented scandal. The judges all refused to enter the courthouse, which is besieged by thousands of police forces who are interfering with the country s judiciary, Bastawisy was quoted by AFP as saying.
Thousands of armed riot police sealed off streets surrounding the High Court, preventing protestors and traffic from coming close. Some businesses in the vicinity shut down in fear of the uprisings outside their doors.
The scheduled start time of yesterday s hearing was delayed due to a dispute over who would be permitted inside the courthouse. According to members of the Judges Syndicate, only Bastiwisy, Mekki and their defense teams were permitted to enter though they had sought to bring a 150-strong delegation in as well.
Anyone who comes here will be arrested, screamed a uniformed officer to protestors stampeding away.
Human Rights Watch reports as many as 100 arrests, most of them affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, while a Brotherhood spokesman, according to Reuters, said police held a total of 300 activists during the morning s events in Cairo. Police sources said eight people had been formally detained.
These new arrests indicate that President (Hosni) Mubarak intends to silence all peaceful opposition, Joe Stork, the rights watchdog s deputy regional director said in a statement.
Dozens of members of the Muslim Brothers were arrested, Brotherhood spokesman Essam Al-Aryan, whose Islamist opposition movement was for the first time taking part in a demonstration in support of the judges, was quoted by AFP as saying.
Activists with the Engineers Syndicate and the Pharmacists Syndicate, as well as the secular Kefaya (Enough) movement, and the Tagammu party were also out supporting the judges.
Judges, judges, save us from the tyrants, chanted protestors nearby the court, some waving banners, others holding the Quran.
The judges have given the reform movement what it neede, honest leadership, says Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The Judges Syndicate, which represents more than 8,000 judges in Egypt, has fought for years to win their independence from the executive branch of government. The group threatened to boycott last September s presidential elections. However, a deal was struck within days of the vote. Absence of the judges could present a violation to the constitution as judicial supervision is required for any election.
The cases of Bastiwisy and Mekki have reignited calls for the resignation of Interior Minister Habib El-Adly, who has been under fire for the government s handling of a number of internal security upheavals. The recent attacks on Dahab, coupled with the renewal of the controversial Emergency Law, have riled up opposition groups more than ever.
Did you see this terrorism? shouts Hanafi Mohammed Abdel-Salem, 60, after being chased away by police. I want to die. I want my children to smell freedom.
The judges have the right to be independent, adds Ibrahim Fouad El-Saed, a member of Kefaya. Democracy by Hosni Mubarak s standards is something and democracy by the people s standards is something else.
Another protest is scheduled for May 25 to mark the one year anniversary of the referendum which allowed for multi-candidate presidential elections. May 25, 2005 became commonly known among oppositionists as Black Wednesday, after a number of protestors and journalists were beaten and sexually assaulted.