CHRLA's activities in 1995

The 1995 end-of-year report, published in Cairo by CHRLA, the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid, 1996


Part 1, Section I: CHRLA's activities during the latter half of 1995

Part 1, Section II: CHRLA's activities in raising citizens' awareness of their rights and of the contents of international human rights treaties

Part 1, Section III: Arab international activities

Part 1, Section IV: Relationship with the government

Part 1, Section V: Funding

Part 2: Continuing dilemmas and threats; ambitions


Introduction


In 1995, the status of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt deteriorated severely, with the continued enforcement of the Emergency Law and other exceptional laws, increased acts of violence committed by militant Islamic groups trying forcefully to impose their beliefs and ideas, and escalated armed confrontation between the authorities and Islamist groups. The government's determination to block all peaceful channels for dialogue with authority further decreased the margin of democracy and party and political plurality, with the adoption of a legislative policy that curtails and weakens constitutional and legal guarantees to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and restrictive practical policies.

The beginning of 1995 saw violence in the heated confrontation between the government and armed/militant Islamic groups. The confrontation took on new dimensions both quantitative and qualitative, giving rise to fears over the direction and consequences of the crisis in relation to basic rights and freedoms. Acts of violence rose to unprecedented levels: in 1995 alone the number of deaths was approximately 400, constituting more than a third the total number of victims of violence over the last five years (a total of around 1000 persons killed). The authorities also extended the use of their exceptional powers under the Emergency Law, arresting hundreds of armed Islamic group elements, or those suspected of belonging to or sympathizing with Islamic groups, and referring hundreds of civilians accused of committing acts of violence to military courts. These special courts have issued, since the start of their activity in December 1992, 64 death sentences and hundreds of severe hard labor and prison sentences, after trials which lacked any of the standards or guarantees for fairness and justice stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, along with closing prisons and prohibiting visitors, the use of torture and harsh, humiliating maltreatment spread as a policy against detained persons, resulting in some deaths.

The most dangerous qualitative development monitored by CHRLA on the confrontation level, however, remains the government's tendency to widen the scope of the conflict to include, along with militant Islamic groups, the Muslim Brotherhood. This action threatens to raise the confrontation to a political level from merely being an internal security matter. Throughout the year, the government took a number of restrictive measures against the leadership and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that they were 'involved in acts against the basis and components of the State, and working within a secret, illegal group' with the purpose of overthrowing the government. Most political and party observers, as well as human rights circles, interpreted such measures as part of a government plan to restrict Muslim Brotherhood participation in public life, especially after the said group succeeded in gaining control of most professional and labor syndicates, and there was strong evidence of their winning, within the 'Islamic Alliance' with the opposition Labor Party, a large number of parliamentary seats in the 1995 People's Assembly elections.

The most significant restrictive measures which the government took against the Muslim Brotherhood were the arrest and detention campaigns to which many of the group's members were subjected within the framework of the cases known as 'Salsabil' and 'The Revival of the Salsabil Organization'. The People's Assembly also issued a new law on 12 February 1995, Law No. 100 on professional syndicates, without presenting the said amendment to the syndicates concerned, which gave the government the opportunity to interfere with syndicate elections. Moreover, hundreds of Islamic students were omitted from student election lists, while many others were expelled and detained for demonstrating and protesting. Eighty-three Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members were also referred to military courts, which issued verdicts against some of them - just a few days before the legislative elections. The restrictive measures culminated in a mass arrest campaign against hundreds of the Islamic Alliance candidates' delegates during the legislative elections.

On the legislative level, the government tended towards imposing further restrictions on basic rights and freedoms. This started with the amendment of the law on professional syndicates, and ended on 28 May, 1995 with the issuing of Law No. 93 of 1995, known as the 'Press Assassination Law', which added new amendments to both the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedures Law, including increased penalties for publication offenses and the withdrawal of journalists' immunity (they may now be held in preventive detention). The said amendments also defined new offenses, in a vague manner, and further protected government officials and employees.

Despite the government's pledge not to enforce the original Law No. 93, pending the issuing of a new law as a response to severe criticism by the Journalists' Syndicate and all human rights circles, the competent authorities committed Magdi Hussein, editor-in-chief of Al-Shaab newspaper, to trial, charging him with libel against the Minster of the Interior's son in accordance with the provisions of the new law. Abd al-Aal Bakuri was also sentenced to two years' imprisonment by the Alexandria Felony Court in the first juridical precedent enforcing this law.

Apostasy campaigns by the fundamentalist Islamic stream against symbols of the state - intellectuals, writers and journalists - escalated. The Egyptian judiciary was dragged into apostasy cases brought against persons on the grounds of their ideas in what seemed to be a scheme planned by some Islamist and reactionary powers, thus widening the scope of abuse of the judiciary. Although Egyptian law does not support hisba[footnote 1] cases, such cases became a sword threatening to cut the throats of intellectuals, writers, and researchers, in the form of legal persecution. Within this context, the Center followed up with concern the Appellate Court judgment on 14 June 1995 separating Dr. Hamed Abu-Zeid from his wife for having published writings and research judged by the Court as "apostasy and offensive to Islam". The judgment brought to light a number of essential problems related to the extent of its concordance with national laws and international standards regarding hisba cases, and the degree of judges' commitment to enforced legal texts, and widened debate on the right of any 'official' or 'non-official' authority to declare anyone apostate on the grounds of his/her ideas.

The situation of economic and social rights was no better than that of civil and political rights. Administrative intervention in professional and labor syndicate affairs increased. The Engineers Syndicate was placed under the control of a judiciary-appointed triumvirate, and many laborers were dismissed within the frame of the race to sell off public sector companies and adopt free market mechanisms. Discrimination against women increased, as was shown clearly in the debates over the new marriage contract, circumcision and the Peking Conference. Discussion of women's rights in international human rights treaties was even denounced as contrary to religion and morals. Moreover, the situation with regard to juveniles deteriorated. The gap between the status of juveniles, as stated in the law, and their status in practice grew.

As for public participation in running public affairs, contrary to all the hopes that political and human rights circles' placed in the 1995 legislative elections as a tool to activate political life and end the political stagnation considered to be one of the factors contributing to fundamentalism and violence, government practices during the elections shattered such expectations and emphasized the government's tendency to monopolize authority and marginalize the role played by parties and political powers.

The Center's activities were strongly affected by the deteriorating situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt, especially during the second half of 1995. The situation posed a number of additional problems and challenges which called for an extremely positive, objective and effective response, even if that required re-prioritizing the Center's activities.

Epitomizing this, four main problem areas for the Egyptian human rights movement may be cited due to their critical nature with regard to the status of human rights. The response to the challenges created by these cases was a decisive test of the credibility of the national human rights organizations, including the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid. The four areas are as follows:

This report presents CHRLA's activities during the second half of 1995 across three sections: the first section presents a general overview of the Center's activities, stating examples of cases which the Center handled. The second section deals with problems and challenges faced by the Center. The third and last section addresses the features of the Center's 1995 development plan.


Footnotes

1. Hisba is the right of any Muslim to bring legal action against any person who they believe have violated the rights of the Muslim community.


Introduction | Part 1, I | Part 1, II | Part 1, III | Part 1, IV | Part 2

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