Egypt Quashes Protests in Denial of Citizens' Rights
Freedom House condemns the Egyptian government for denying its citizens their basic human rights to peacefully demonstrate and call for reform on the one-year anniversary of an important general strike. Members of the April 6 Movement organized the demonstrations to press for a raise in the national monthly salary and the formation of a body to draft a new constitution.
Over the weekend, police beat and rounded up dozens of would-be protesters, including 25 in the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Sheikh who staged a sit-in to oppose the arrests. Security deployed throughout the country today to prevent mass demonstrations marking last year's worker's strike in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla. Despite the heavy police presence, hundreds of people held anti-government protests in Cairo and the southern city of Assiut.
"Egyptian courts are now releasing many of those arrested, an admission that the government violated its own laws by detaining them," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "Freedom House applauds the April 6 Movement for its courageous efforts to open a democratic space for all Egyptians, so that they can hold their government accountable and seek genuine solutions to the country's economic and political challenges."
Article 54 of the Egyptian Constitution guarantees citizens the right to hold public meetings, processions, and gatherings “within the limits of the law.” However, permission from the Ministry of the Interior is required and generally denied and public gatherings that do occur draw a large police presence. Egypt's Emergency Law, which has been in place since 1981, allows police to make arrests for activities such as distributing leaflets and posters and blocking traffic.
Egypt also enforces strict curbs on freedom of expression, criminalizing direct criticism of the president, the military and speech that is un-Islamic or "harmful to the country's reputation." To circumvent these laws, many reform-minded Egyptians are now using online social networking sites and mobile phone messages to exchange opinions and organize pressure groups.
"The Egyptian government is making a strategic mistake by blocking these peaceful demonstrations and allowing resentment to grow among its youth," said Windsor. "Instead, these young people should be allowed to publically present their views, which represent a viable alternative to other ideologies that pose a far greater threat to Egypt's stability."
Egypt is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Egypt since 1972.
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