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CESR condemns assault, coercion and threats of human rights workers and journalists in Egypt




MADRID--The Center for Economic and Social Rights condemns the assault, coercion and threats by Egyptian police, military and unidentified mobs in an apparent effort to persecute and silence human rights activists, demonstrators and reporters.

What had been relatively peaceful demonstrations in Egypt until February 1, dubbed the "March of the Millions," rapidly turned aggressive when pro-government supporters attacked protesters, wielding weapons and employing seemingly-calculated intimidation tactics the following day. Regrettably, this violent escalation resulted in several deaths and thousands more casualties--the numbers are not yet fully known.

Increasingly over the last two days, journalists and human rights advocates have been deliberately targeted by pro-Mubarak mobs and even by the Egyptian army. This alarming and apparently coordinated crackdown campaign suggests an attempt to stifle the flow of information, silence independent reporting and to eliminate potential witnesses to further government repressions that may occur in the coming days. The situation appeared to have calmed somewhat today, however it is too early to tell if this repressive tactic has been abandoned.

Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told Democracy Now! that several human rights organizations, including the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, had their offices raided by police, and some had the SIM cards from their mobile phones confiscated. Several human rights advocates were arrested, including staff from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Other observers reported that some staff had been beaten by unidentified thugs after police removed them from the building.

Almost every major news network is reporting that their journalists and crew have been intimidated, beaten and assaulted, had their equipment stolen or have been arrested or interrogated. No reporter seems to be immune to the apparently deliberate strategy by President Hosni Mubarak to greatly reduce or eliminate the flow of news and information from Egypt. In the past 24 hours alone, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has "recorded 30 detentions, 26 assaults, and eight instances of equipment having been seized. In addition, plainclothes and uniformed agents reportedly entered at least two hotels used by international journalists to confiscate press equipment."

State-owned television has actively tried to fan the attacks by perpetrating conspiracy theories that "Israeli spies" had infiltrated the crowds, which are among the purported causal factors for the gangs' attacks on international reporters and activists. This irresponsible behaviour has put many lives in danger. Speaking on Egyptian state-run Nile TV, Vice President Omar Suleiman fuelled these false rumours by blaming the media for the country's unrest.

In a country where a permanent state of emergency since 1981 has been repeatedly abused as a pretext to curtail rights and constitutional protections, and under a government with a long history of persecution, detainment and torture of human rights activists, this latest clampdown illustrates the limited space for the right to defend human rights in Egypt. These attacks and restrictions yesterday prompted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to respond that the actions are "outrageous and totally unacceptable."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said today that "all journalists and human rights defenders who were arrested for practicing their professions must be released immediately and unconditionally." 

CESR echoes these condemnations and urges the Egyptian government and other international actors to act immediately to end the harassment, abuse and assault of human rights workers and journalists.