Covering events from January - December 2000
Arab Republic of Egypt
Thirty prisoners of conscience were sentenced to between six months' and five years' imprisonment; 20 remained held at the end of the year. Eight prisoners of conscience sentenced in 1999 remained in detention at the end of 2000. While hundreds of suspected supporters of banned Islamist groups were released, thousands of others, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained held without charge or trial. Others served sentences imposed after grossly unfair trials before military courts. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be widespread; the majority of cases occurred in police stations. Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were reported. At least 79 people were sentenced to death and at least 22 people were executed.
Hundreds of supporters of the opposition were detained during the months leading up to parliamentary elections which were held between mid- October and mid-November. The vast majority of the detainees were alleged members of the banned Muslim Brothers organization. A ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court in July led to legislation being amended to require judicial supervision of the election process inside the polling stations.
During the elections excessive use of force by the security forces resulted in civilians being killed and injured during demonstrations protesting at restricted access to polling stations. An AI delegate was beaten and kicked in front of a polling station in the Shubra al-Khaima district of Cairo. He was assaulted by several men who were acting under the orders of or in collusion with the security forces. Several journalists covering the elections were ill-treated in similar circumstances. Candidates of the ruling National Democratic Party gained an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament. In May the state of emergency, declared in 1981, was extended for a further three-year period.
In January sectarian violence in al-Kushh, a village in Upper Egypt, left 20 Coptic Christians and one Muslim dead. The trial of 96 men charged in connection with the killings began in June and was continuing at the end of the year. All detained defendants were released without bail in December.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ASSOCIATION
Hundreds of possible prisoners of conscience - including members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and political activists - were held for weeks in so-called preventive detention; the majority of them were released without being formally charged.
Civil institutions such as political parties, NGOs, professional associations and trade unions, and the news media, continued to face legal restrictions and government control. In June the Supreme Constitutional Court found that the NGO law of 1999 was unconstitutional on procedural grounds. In July, the authorities informed the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) that its registration as an NGO had been postponed for ''security reasons''.
The Political Party Committee, a governmental body, decided in May to freeze the activities of the Islamist Hizb al-'Amal (Labour Party) and to suspend the publication of its newspaper al-Sha'ab (The People). In September the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the ban on the newspaper had to be lifted. However, publication of al-Sha'ab had not resumed by the end of the year.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Human rights defenders continued to be targeted.
PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
Prisoners of conscience, including political activists, journalists and members of religious groups, were sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment, in some cases following unfair trials that did not allow for appeals.
DETENTION UNDER EMERGENCY LEGISLATION
Hundreds of political detainees were released and hardly any new cases of administrative detention under emergency legislation were reported. However, thousands of suspected members or supporters of banned Islamist groups arrested in previous years, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained administratively detained without charge or trial. Some had been held for more than a decade. Others were acquitted by military or (Emergency) Supreme State Security Courts, but remained in detention.
In September the Ministry of the Interior announced that flogging as a punishment in prisons would be outlawed. Thousands of detainees continued to be held in prisons where conditions amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Several prisoners reportedly died as a result of diseases for which they received little or no treatment.
Scores of Islamist activists in administrative detention were reportedly held in overcrowded conditions with inadequate sanitation and health care and poor quality food. As a result illnesses including tuberculosis and skin diseases were common. Several prisoners reportedly died as a result of diseases which received little or no treatment.
Hundreds of political detainees continued to be denied the right to visits by lawyers and family members. A ban on any visits imposed for more than five years remained in force in three prisons holding political detainees.
Torture in police stations continued to be widespread. The decrease in arrests of alleged members of armed Islamist groups was reflected in a significant reduction in reports of systematic torture of political suspects. The most common torture methods reported were electric shocks, beatings, suspension by the wrists or ankles and various forms of psychological torture, including death threats and threats of rape or sexual abuse of the detainee or a female relative.
DEATHS IN CUSTODY
Several people died in custody in circumstances suggesting that torture or ill-treatment may have caused or contributed to their deaths.
HARASSMENT OF VICTIMS AND RELATIVES
Victims of torture and their relatives who made complaints continued to report harassment.
Despite the fact that hundreds of victims of torture had filed complaints with the authorities over the past decade, no prompt and impartial investigations which met international standards had been carried out by the end of 2000.
EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE
Excessive use of force by the security forces resulted in civilians being injured and killed in the context of demonstrations. Mass demonstrations in Cairo, consisting mostly of students, took place in May in protest at the publication of a novel and in October in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Several people, including young people, were killed in demonstrations protesting at the security forces restricting access to several polling stations during the parliamentary elections.
There were reports of the forcible return of Egyptian nationals suspected of being affiliated to armed Islamist groups.
The death penalty continued to be used extensively. At least seven women and 72 men were sentenced to death by criminal courts during 2000, the majority of them on charges of murder. At least six women and 16 men were executed, including two men who had been sentenced following unfair trials in absentia.
In October, two members of an armed Islamist group were killed when members of the security forces raided a flat in Aswan. The circumstances surrounding the deaths suggested that the two men may have been extrajudicially executed. No further incidents of clashes between security forces and armed Islamist groups were reported. The leadership of the main armed Islamist group, al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, Islamic Group, maintained that it had halted its armed operations. Islamist groups failed to publicly revoke death threats issued in previous years against civilians whom they considered political and ideological enemies, including the writer Naguib Mahfuz and university professor Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid.
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