Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Labor rights in Egypt

A notice comes from the Land Center for Human Rights issued a reminder that the government continues to violate international labor agreements and threaten the right of Egyptian workers to freely associate in a union of their choice.

The center complains that the government-approved labor union, which has minority support among workers has been unfairly aided in the ongoing labor syndicate elections because opposition candidates were prevented from running for office by the government.

"[Opposition candidates were refused] the labor syndicate membership certificates, which are required for the nomination process, and those who were able to fulfill all their papers were also excluded, as their names were not enrolled among the candidates, which made them file complaints, but these complaints were denied by the Ministry of Manpower. This has led to the end of the first stage with the winning of many candidates uncontested. This will also help these winners in the second stage being held today," according to the center's statement.

The center's statement goes on to say that some workers protested the situation with a peaceful sit-in but were quickly arrested by security officials. There were significant voting irregularities during the election, with some polls closing early, and the security officials maintained a significant and oppressive positioning during voting.

To read the full statement, go to the center's website, here.

This is a long-standing concern. It is a labor problem, but it's part of the larger effort by the government to muzzle civil society. This is similar to the problems faced by opposition groups in professional associations, such as the bar and doctors and engineers association, by opposition journalists, human rights defenders, members of minority religious groups, academics and even gays. Anything not under the government's control is seen as a threat and a target for action.

The government uses it's powers under laws governing NGOs and the elections of professional associations to suppress criticisms from these groups, which are vital to a healthy civil society. Amnesty encourages the government to remember it's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 22 states: "(1.) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Attacks on Blogger, Sadat Stifle Freedom

Amnesty International is concerned by the arrest and detention of blogger and former al-Azhar University student Abdel Karim Sulaiman Amer apparently because of his critical writings about Islam and Egypt's al-Azhar religious authorities, and the recent imprisonment of Tal’at Sadat, a member of parliament, for “spreading false rumours and insulting the armed forces". These cases represent a further erosion of freedom of expression in Egypt. (For a previous report on harassment of Amer, click here.)

Abdel Karim Sulaiman Amer was summoned to appear before the office of the Public Prosecutor in Maharram Bek district of the city of Alexandria on 7 November following a complaint reportedly made against him by al-Azhar University. He was charged with an array of offences, including “spreading information disruptive of public order”, “incitement to hate Muslims” and “defaming the President of the Republic”. The Public Prosecutor ordered his detention for four days on 7 November, which was later reportedly extended for a further 15 days, to allow further time for investigation.

Abdel Karim Sulaiman Amer was dismissed from al-Azhar University in March 2006 after the university's disciplinary board found him guilty of blaspheming Islam. The disciplinary measures were taken against him after he was detained by the Egyptian authorities for 12 days in October 2005 because of his writings about Islam and the sectarian riots which took place in the same month in Alexandria's Maharram Bek district following reports that a play believed to be anti-Islam was being screened in a Coptic church in the district.

Tal’at Sadat, nephew of the assassinated former Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar Sadat, was sentenced to one year's imprisonment with labour and fined on 31 October after being convicted of defaming the armed forces. On 5 October, the Military Prosecutor General requested that Tal'at Sadat be stripped of his parliamentary immunity to be investigated for defaming the armed forces and for spreading false information. Several days earlier, Tal'at Sadat gave a series of media interviews on the anniversary of the former president's assassination, and alleged that senior army officers had been implicated in the killing, which was carried out by Islamist soldiers on 6 October 1981. In these interviews he suggested that Egyptian President Husni Mubarak – then vice-president – was also involved. Although a civilian, he was tried and convicted by a military court.

Amnesty International has consistently urged the Egyptian authorities to put an end to the trial of civilians before military courts, from which there is no higher judicial appeal, which violates some of the most fundamental requirements of international law, such as the right to be tried before an independent and impartial court, and the right to appeal to a higher court.

Amnesty International considers Tal'at Sadat to be a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release. The organization is awaiting further details of the charges against Abdel Karim Sulaiman Amer but is concerned that he may also be a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views about Islam and the al-Azhar religous authorities.

Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to review or abolish legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the exercise of the rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.