Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ayman Nour, suffering in prison

Ayman Nour is in prison, but he's not been forgotten. Unfortunately, conditions appear to be getting worse for him.

The former presidential candidate who was convicted on what many human rights and democracy activists believe to be patently phony charges related to his political party, was allegedly assaulted in court by prison guards, his wife said in May. She has sent out several post-assault photos of him -- one is left. Other images can be found here. There are questions about whether he will survive his jail term, although a state-controlled medical board recently ruled he was healthy enough to fulfill the full sentence.

Egyptian democracy continues to get beaten. It is resilient, there is reason for hope. But Ayman Nour and his wife Gameela need our support. It's easier to remain strong and resilient when you know you are not alone.

The Reuters story here details Nour's allegations. The former leader of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party suffers from a number of ailments, including irregular heartbeats.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Egyptians are voting; Where is Amr Tharwat?

Shura legislative council elections began today throughout Egypt, with the elections already marred by violence, a crackdown on the Muslim Brothers, and the disappearance of Amr Tharwat and others.

It's an ugly scene. The first priority should be to find where is Amr Tharwat and the others arrested with him. To repeat, the four arrested and their ages are Adellatif Mohamed Saied, aged 40; Ahmed Dahmash, 30; Abdelhamed Abdelrahman, 26, and Amr Tharwat, aged 25. No legal charges have been brought against any of them. Prison authorities continue to deny that they are being held. I talked with colleagues in Egypt today who informed me that every day they try a new prison and they are always turned away. Very simply, for more than a week now, the four have been disappeared.

The four are members of a Islamist religious group set up by Tharwat's uncle. The group's aim is to counter the influence of violent Islamists. Group members say that although their group is peaceful, they have faced both threats from armed Islamist groups and the government. Like much of civil society, the group is caught in the middle of two bodies each eager to wipe out any vital center.

Please contact the Egyptian embassy about the case and ask that the four either be released or publicly charged with a recognizably criminal charge. You can call the embassy at (202)895-5400.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

America, Egypt, Italy and the Kidnapping Business

The Middle East Times begins its report today with the line "America is in the kidnapping business." The line has shock value, but it's accuracy is getting harder to deny. All of this unfortunately is making the work of human rights activists in Egypt more difficult.

Three different events occurred this week to bring the kidnapping business into light. One, Amnesty International and a number of other HR organizations issued a joint statement citing evidence that 39 people had been "disappeared" by the CIA. It's not just terror suspects. Our documentation indicates that suspects' relatives, including wives and children as young as seven, have been held in secret detention.

Second, in Italy this week, a number of Italian intelligence agents and 26 CIA agents went on trial for the kidnapping of Egyptian national Abu Omar. Omar was taken to Egypt, held in detention for almost four years and tortured on several occasions before being released. Here's the BBC report on the first day of the trial.

Finally, today the European Union released its report on CIA jails in Europe. Investigators uncovered proof that jails in Poland and Romania held secret detainees outside of the legal system. Here's Amnesty's reponse to the report.

Together, the picture is painted of a system where individuals, both suspect and innocent, are subject to kidnapping and secret detention with no access to legal rights or to anyone outside of the prison for that fact. It's a system that has been tried in many places before, such as Egypt, and frankly I don't believe it's been all that effective, or at least any more effective than traditional and standard legal techniques. What is clear is that when it comes time to taking a stand against torture, against illegal and prolonged detention and against secret trials, a country that builds the system as described in these three reports doesn't have much credibility... or effectiveness.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Election Arrests

The Egyptian government is arresting opponents prior to the shura elections, and it is arresting them in large numbers and with impunity. It calls for outrage.

Yesterday, I wrote about the attack on Muslim Brothers; today comes information about related arrests. The information comes from Mr. Saad Ibrahim, director of the well-known Ibn Khaldun Center, which has promoted human rights and democratic development in Egypt for years. He himself is a former prisoner of conscience. This time one of the arrestees involves a staff member at the center. The concerns are even greater because Saad has attempted to get information and contact the detainee without success for a week now.

Here's what Saad has to say:

"On Wednesday May 30th, Amr Tharwat an Ibn Khaldun employee, was arrested by Egyptian State Security at his families' residence in Matereya. Mr. Tharwat was the major organizer of the recent Shura Election monitoring as well as the Ibn Khaldun public opinion polling that was carried out earlier this year. In addition to Mr. Tharwat, the Egyptian authorities arrested four other people staying at the house of Dr. Ahmed Sobhy (Adellatif Mohamed Saied, Ahmed Dahmash, Abdelhamed Abdelrahman, Ahmed El Sayed, Amr Tharwat) and confiscated files, books, and computers that were found on the premises.

"Those arrested were originally taken to the Shubra El Khima police station, but in the seven days since their arrest nothing has been heard regarding there whereabouts or the nature of the charges filed against them. Several human rights organizations as well as the team of lawyers working on this case have made repeated requests to the Egyptian government regarding this issue and have received no response until now.

Some speculate that the group was arrested due to their involvement in the religious "Quranic" movement which stresses the importance of the Quran over the Sunna and Hadith. A website was recently constructed for the movement which has gained notoriety for criticizing fatwas issued by Al Azhar authorities. "

Please express your outrage to Ambassador Nabil Fahmy at the Egyptian embassy. The number is 202.895.5400. The e-mail address is, but we've found in the past that when large numbers of protests are sent to the embassy, the e-mail stops working.

Also please contact the U.S. Secretary of State urging her to press the Egyptian government to stop the harassment of political opponents and democratic activists in the run-up to the shura elections. Secretary Rice can be reached by phone at 202-647-4000 e-mail here.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It must be election time in Egypt. That's because political opposition candidates are getting arrested. This time around its the Muslim Brotherhood, again, considered to be one of the strongest opposition parties.

The BBC and the Middle East Times reports that 79 members of the banned party were arrested over the past three days. Two of those detained are candidates for the upcoming shura elections. According to MB representatives, the individuals are being charged with using religious slogans. Here's the Middle East Times story. And here is the Muslim Brothers' account of the arrest of one of the shura candidates.

This is a story repeated several times over the past decade. The Mubarak government's standard operating procedure has been to control the democratic process at election time through a series of attacks on opposition rallies, independent election observers, opposition press and sometimes the candidates themselves.

The people of Egypt deserve better. There are thousands of Egyptians working to have a better political system, to open it to more voices and to attempt to reach consensus in a positive political way. In the name of stability and the war on terror, we repeatedly are expected to look the other direction when these activist's efforts are thwarted by an aging and unyielding regime.

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UPDATE on Sameh

A U.S. judge has granted a stay of deportation for Sameh until Monday, June 18. A new hearing will be held prior to consider his claims. Thank you to everyone who assisted.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

URGENT ACTION: Act to Halt Deportation Proceedings of Copt

Amnesty today is raising concerns that Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian Copt who allegedly is wanted on murder charges in Egypt could be forcibly returned to Egypt on June 7. The deportation is based on assurances the U.S. has received that he would not be tortured upon his return. We believe that the U.S. can not rely on such assurances, that torture is likely and that as a Copt he could be in particular danger of torture. Here is the full statement: Addresses to contact are below:

Sameh Khouzam (m), Egyptian national

Egyptian national Sameh Khouzam is in imminent danger of being forcibly returned to Egypt. A court order preventing this will expire on 7 June. Amnesty International fears that he would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment if returned.

He fled Egypt in 1998 after reportedly being tortured and otherwise ill-treated by the Egyptian police because of his Coptic Christian religious beliefs. He alleges that he and his family had been subjected to a sustained campaign of intimidation and abuse on account of his refusal to convert to Islam. On one occasion in 1997 he alleges that he was beaten and sexually abused in a police station. The Egyptian authorities have reportedly told the US State Department that he is wanted in Egypt on a murder charge.

Sameh Khouzam was detained when he arrived in the US in February 1998. He applied for asylum, but his application was turned down after the Egyptian authorities reported the murder charge. The immigration judge ordered his immediate removal from the USA. However, in 2004 an appeals court found that it was “more likely than not” that Sameh Khouzam would be tortured if returned to Egypt and ruled that he should not be removed.

Sameh Khouzam was held in US immigration detention until February 2006, when he was released on condition that he report regularly to the immigration authorities. However on 29 May 2007, he was taken into custody again and told that he could be returned to Egypt within days. He is believed to have received a letter from the US Department of Homeland Security stating that it had received diplomatic assurances from the Egyptian authorities that he would not be tortured on his return.

On 31 May, a US court granted a one-week stay of removal which is due to expire on 7 June. Amnesty International fears he could be returned to Egypt on or shortly after that date. In Egypt everyone taken into detention is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, especially political detainees.

Amnesty International continues to receive well-supported allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt. Some people taken to police stations in connection with minor offences are tortured or ill-treated to force them to confess; others are detained without being accused of anything.

The torture takes various forms. The most frequently reported methods are beatings; electric shocks; suspension by the wrists and ankles and in contorted positions for long periods; and threats that the victim or their relatives will be killed, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.


Amnesty International opposes the use of diplomatic assurances when they are used to circumvent states’ international legal obligations, believing that such arrangements cannot be trusted and that reliance on them when seeking to expel people to countries where they risk torture or other ill-treatment violates states’ obligations under international law.

Under international law, states are under an absolute and unconditional obligation not to expel, return or extradite any person to a country where they risk torture or other ill-treatment (the principle of non-refoulement). This obligation applies to all states, irrespective of whether they have signed up to the relevant human rights treaties, and to all forms of involuntary transfer, including extradition, deportation after serving a criminal sentence, or removal after refusal of asylum. It is absolute – it permits no exceptions arising from circumstances such as war or public emergency, or individual factors such as offences allegedly committed, or danger posed, by the individual concerned. There are no international or regional treaty provisions, explicit or implicit, for the use of such assurances to alleviate a state’s absolute obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement.

Recently, using the justification of the "war on terror", diplomatic assurances have been increasingly used as a basis for sending certain individuals to countries where the sending government acknowledges that it would otherwise be prohibited from doing so, because they would risk torture or other ill-treatment. In these circumstances reliance on diplomatic assurances amounts to a circumvention of states’ obligations under the principle of non-refoulement.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English or your own language:
- expressing concern that Sameh Khouzam may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment if returned to Egypt, and calling on the US authorities to halt his deportation;
- calling on them never to rely on diplomatic assurances when deciding whether a person is at risk of torture or ill-treatment if transferred to another country;
- calling on them to reaffirm the absolute nature of the obligation under international law not to transfer any person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.


The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20520, USA
Fax: +1 202 261 8577
Salutation: Dear Secretary of State

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security
US Department of Homeland Security
Washington DC 20528, USA
Fax: +1 202 456 2461
Salutation: Dear Secretary Chertoff


The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20530-0001, USA
Fax: +1 202 307 6777
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Monday, June 04, 2007

Government Takes Steps to Ensure MB Trial Kept from Public Scrutiny

Amnesty International today released the following statement:

The Egyptian government yesterday refused to allow human rights groups to observe the military trial of 33 leading members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, undercutting the government’s claims that civilians will have a fair trial before military courts, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

Amnesty International, the Arab Commission for Human Rights, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch had sent observers to monitor the trial of 33 leading members of the Brotherhood. None of the groups was allowed to attend. Among the accused is Khairat al-Shatir, the organization’s deputy supreme guide, who was arrested on December 14, 2006, along with 16 other prominent Muslim Brotherhood members in predawn raids. They were subsequently charged with membership in a banned organization, providing students with weapons and military training. On January 29, 2007, a Cairo criminal court dismissed all charges against al-Shatir and his co-defendants and ordered their immediate release. Security forces re-arrested the men moments after the ruling, and on February 4, President Hosni Mubarak, ignoring the court’s verdict, ordered the cases, and those of 23 other alleged members of the Brotherhood, transferred to a military court. On May 8, a Cairo administrative court ruled that President Mubarak’s order was invalid, but on May 14, the Supreme Administrative court reversed that decision after the government appealed. After the June 3 session, the court adjourned until July 15.

The trial observers arrived at the outskirts of Haikstip Military Camp, northeast of Cairo, at 9 a.m. and negotiated with officers at the scene and representatives of several ministries until 2 p.m., when a man in civilian clothes and military intelligence officers finally told them they would not be allowed in. Lawyers, daughters, and wives of the accused were allowed to attend the trial.

“Twelve years ago the court granted me unfettered access when I observed the military trial of senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Palestinian lawyer Anis Kassim, Amnesty International’s senior trial observer. “I am extremely disappointed in the government’s attitude this time.”

For the full statement, click here.

When the Mubarak government feels like they have something to hide, they do so with good reason. Open, public trials are a cornerstone to a transparent, healthy and independent judicial system, something the Egyptians have taken much pride in until the Mubarak government has attempted to remove all three of those adjectives from it. We have heard promises that military and security courts would be ended. There can be no doubt now that those promises will never be met.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Egyptian Blogger Disappears?

Unfortunately there is a new turn in the case of Abdel Moneim Mahmoud. According to friends, he was scheduled to be released on May 30. Instead he was taken, allegedly, to the Alexandria Transfers Department in Alexandria, Egypt, where prisoners are taken for processing. According to Moneim's attorney, Islam Lofty, Moneim was able to send several messages to him during the process.

Then nothing. The third and last message the attorney received indicated that Moneim arrived at the department in the early hours of June 1. But when Lofty attempted to reach Moneim there, authorities denied he was there.

"It is illegal to keep Monem for more than 24 hours after his release. I am worried Monem is being subject to re-interrogation by State Security, or even torture and re-detention," Lotfy stated.

Amnesty International has documented that prisoners are at greatest risk for torture when their whereabouts are kept secret or are denied. Urgent action is requested. Please call the Egyptian embassy and tell Ambassador Nabil Fahmy that we are concerned about the status of this prisoner of conscience. The embassy can be reached at 202.895.5400. Click here to find out addresses of consulate offices in other parts of the country.

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