Egypt at a post-revolution nadir, says rights group

Egypt at a post-revolution nadir, says rights group
Human Rights Watch's annual report says Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has systematically reversed the gains of Egypt's 2011 revolution and attacked the civil liberties of his people/
3 min read
31 January, 2015
Thousands of protesters in Egypt have been killed or injured since 2013 [AFP]

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has systematically reversed the fragile gains of Egypt's 2011 revolution, according to a damning report by Human Rights Watch.

In its 25th annual report on civil liberties, publish this week, the group criticises the government of Sisi for jailing tens of thousands of protesters and clamping down on rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

Sisi, the former army chief, lead a coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president, Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, and was elected president in 2014.

"[Sisi] has presided over a state of impunity that has allowed security forces to get away with mass killings while imprisoning hundreds of peaceful protesters," HRW stated.

Chief among the accusations was the deaths of more than 1,000 protesters in Rabaa Square in 2013, an event described by HRW as one of the worst cases of mass killings in modern times and a possible "crime against humanity".

The report said Egyptian authorities had held holding no one to account for the killings.

The report says that 29,000 members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, have been arrested since the coup by Sisi.

Others that have been incarcerated are critics from a wide range of political backgrounds – from salafists to liberals. 

Feeling the strain

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East and North Africa director said: "Egypt is at a post-revolution nadir, and right now there's no light at the end of the tunnel… the situation for thousands of Egyptians is getting worse by the day."

The report accuses Egypt's judiciary of being "willing accessories" in the clampdown.

"In April and June 2014, a judge in the governorate of Minya sentenced 220 defendants to death and 495 to life in prison after two trials marred by due process violations."

     The report accuses Egypt's judiciary of being "willing accessories" in the clampdown.

Another judge in Giza handed down 188 preliminary death sentences in December for an attack on a police station.

Even the interior ministry has admitted that 7,389 people have been arrested in connection with the unrest surrounding Morsi's overthrow, and that over a year later they remain behind bars.

Martial law

Powers of the state have been extended since Sisi issued a decree that vastly expanded the authority of military courts over civilian cases.

At least 820 civilians have been prosecuted in martial courts, according to the report.

Bread, freedom, social justice: read our anniversary coverage of Egypt's 2011 revolution

Criticism was also directed at Egypt's 2013 anti-protest law, which has led to hundreds of convictions of protesters, including of high-profile activists and human rights defenders Yara Sallam, Ahmed Maher, and Alaa Abdel Fattah.

"The law allows the interior ministry near-total power to ban any gathering of more than 10 people that it has not authorised," HRW said. "Security forces have used the law to repeatedly and violently disperse unauthorised demonstrations, resulting in a number of deaths.

Activism quashed

"Authorities have also clamped down on independent groups, requiring them to apply for official registration under an onerous 2002 law that allows the government to curtail their activities and funding."

Amendments to the penal code were also highlighted that could result in a life sentence for anyone accused of receiving foreign funding without official permission.

The report also said that authorities targeted other remaining sources of criticism, including the decision by interim president Adly Mansour to place all mosques and preachers under state control. 

Academia has also been targeted with hundreds of students arrested for protesting, and the president given sweeping powers to hire and fire university heads.

Journalists continue to work in a climate of fear, with six reporters killed since the July 2013 military takeover, and 11 others remain in custody.

This includes the controversial case of three al-Jazeera journalists who were jailed for seven to 10 years after what has been widely slammed as a sham trial.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.