CAIRO: A recent US State Department report criticized the human rights situation in Egypt during the era of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Released by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a press conference Friday evening, the 2010 Country Report on Human Rights Practices covers the legal status of human rights in more than 190 countries and territories around the world including Egypt.
The Foreign Ministry frequently objected in the past few years to the US State Departments reports, considering reporting violations committed in Egypt as interference in the country’s domestic affairs.
The report began by criticizing what it described as the “irregularities” and “reelection restrictions” marring the parliamentary elections in Egypt held in June and November 2010.
During the People’s Assembly (the Lower House of the Parliament) elections on November 28, independent media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and rights groups reported low voter turnout, fraud, exclusion of accredited monitors and candidates’ representatives from polling stations, lack of independent oversight at polling stations and interference and intimidation by security forces.
Moreover, the Supreme Electoral Commission, the report said, ignored court orders invalidating election results in some districts due to problems with candidate registration, which lead many political groups and opposition parties to boycott the elections whether the first round or the runoffs.
The authorities have long been slammed over alleged vote-rigging in favor of the then ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, ruling the country since Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11 following an 18-day nationwide uprising, suspended the People’s Assembly and the Shoura Council (the Upper House of the Parliament) on Feb. 13.
Parliamentary elections will be held again later in September this year followed by presidential polls.
Torture and abuse
The report referred to the Khaled Said case where two undercover police informants allegedly beat to death the 27-year-old businessman after approaching him in an Alexandria internet cafe.
The shocking incident stirred the outrage of human rights advocates in Egypt and abroad. The two policemen were referred to the criminal court on charges of cruel treatment, torture and wrongful arrest but they haven’t received a verdict so far.
“Police, security personnel, and prison guards often tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, sometimes in cases of detentions under the Emergency Law [active since 1981], which authorizes incommunicado detention indefinitely, subject to a judge’s ruling,” the report said, adding that the government rarely held security officials accountable who often operated with impunity.
The report accused the government of not publicly taking an action to investigate the 2008 killing by security forces of four individuals during violent clashes between police and protesters in Mahalla city.
Neither did they deal with the 2008 killing by Central Security Forces (CSF) of three Bedouin tribesmen during demonstrations that followed the CSF killing of a suspected drug smuggler, the report said.
The report further pointed out that there have been 36 cases of forced disappearance in 2010 documented by local and international human rights groups.
State Security violations
Before it was disbanded by the interior minister on March 15, 2011 dozens of violations committed by state security policemen were reported last year.
“Local and international human rights groups reported that the State Security and other [authorities] continued to employ torture to extract information or force confessions,” the report said.
In addition, there was evidence that security officials sexually assaulted some victims or threatened to rape them or their family members.
Human rights groups reported that the lack of legally required written police records often effectively blocked investigations.
On March 7 and 8, according to an NGO source, a security officer beat Taha Abdel Tawab, a supporter of former International Atomic Energy Association chief and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, in a police station in the city of Fayoum.
An officer also allegedly withheld food and deprived Abdel Tawab of medication, causing him to be hospitalized. The prosecutor general ordered an investigation of the officer and questioned him on March 12.
“Yet by year’s end, the authorities had not taken further action on the case,” the report said.
Arbitrary detentions and Emergency State
Though the Egyptian constitution prohibits arbitrary arrests and detentions, security forces frequently engaged in such practices, including continued large-scale detentions of hundreds of individuals without charge under the Emergency Law.
The Emergency Law allows arrest without a warrant and detention of an individual without charge for as long as 30 days, after which a detainee may demand a court hearing to contest the legality of the detention order.
A detainee may resubmit a motion for a hearing at one-month intervals thereafter; however, there is no limit to the detention period if a judge continues to uphold the order or if the detainee fails to exercise the right to a hearing, and there is no possibility of bail.
“Many detainees under the Emergency Law remained incommunicado in state security detention facilities without access to family members or to lawyers before their cases were referred to trial, and some faced torture in detention,” the report said.
Interference in judicial independence
The report accused the executive authorities of exercising control over and pressuring the judiciary.
“The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice the judiciary was subject to executive influence and corruption,” the report said.
One example was the Egyptian government ignoring court orders to halt parliamentary elections pending reinstatement of some candidates banned by the Supreme Electoral Commission.
Freedom of speech
Though the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government partially restricted these rights in practice through harassment, censorship, arrests and detentions, sometimes under the Emergency Law and in other instances under provisions of the penal code that prohibit incitement or discrimination, the report said.
In 2010, many journalists, writers and bloggers, including chief editor of independent Sawt Al-Umma newspaper Wael El-Ebrashy and former TV host and daily independent Al-Shorouk Al-Gadid columnist Hamdy Qandil, faced trials over criticizing laws or government officials before criminal courts.
There were 68 lawsuits against 24 journalists throughout 2010, according to the Moltaqa Forum for Development and Human Rights Dialogue.
Right to privacy
The constitution preserves the right to the privacy of home, correspondence, phone calls and other means of communication.
However, the report pointed out that the Emergency Law suspended the constitutional provisions regarding the right to privacy, while the government used the Emergency Law to limit these rights.