Egypt uses prosecution branch to crush dissent: Amnesty International

Egyptian security forces carried out a harsh crackdown in September to stamp out small but rare anti-government protests. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2019

Egypt uses prosecution branch to crush dissent: Amnesty International

  • Egyptian security forces carried out a harsh crackdown in September to stamp out small but rare anti-government protests
  • Late Tuesday, police made six new arrests — including three journalists — in central Cairo

CAIRO: Egypt’s government is using a secretive security agency designed to fight terrorism to detain peaceful protesters, journalists and critics on trumped-up charges without trial, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.
The 60-page report by the London-based rights group details how Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution, or SSSP, has become increasingly central to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s sweeping crackdown on dissent.
“In Egypt today, the Supreme State Security Prosecution has stretched the definition of ‘terrorism’ to encompass peaceful protests, social media posts and legitimate political activities,” said Philip Luther, the group’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Concertgoers were accused of terrorism for waving rainbow-colored flags. A journalist charged with “broadcasting false news” was detained repeatedly for three years. A human rights lawyer was arrested for joining a protest he says he didn’t attend. Several Christians were imprisoned for “aiding a terrorist group,” a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization.
“Ridiculous” prosecutions have proliferated, said report author Hussein Baoumi.
Citing these cases and over a hundred others, Amnesty International said the SSSP, a secretive agency comprised of just a few hand-picked judges, is abusing its legal powers as a counterterrorism branch to stifle political dissent.
“There’s no judicial oversight. We’re talking about a completely closed circuit,” Baoumi said. “If these cases were referred to trial, people would be acquitted at once,” as the state’s accusations are based on confidential police reports, he added.
Egyptian security forces carried out a harsh crackdown in September to stamp out small but rare anti-government protests. The SSSP played a critical role in sweeping up thousands of people on charges of terrorism, the report said.
The prosecution agency renews people’s detentions for months and years without evidence, denying them access to lawyers and a fair chance to appeal, it added.
Amnesty said SSSP investigations into allegations of torture and enforced disappearance by the police intelligence division amount to a whitewash. The SSSP routinely buries evidence of police abuse and gives credence to confessions extracted with torture, it said, drawing on court documents and interviews with dozens of witnesses.
Under El-Sisi, Egypt has seen a “meteoric rise” in cases prosecuted by SSSP, according to Amnesty. The report drew attention to the expansion of the branch’s covert role since a court declared indefinite administrative detention unconstitutional in 2013.
There was no immediate comment from the government on Amnesty’s report, but authorities have repeatedly denied charges of violations or police brutality. Authorities say they are fighting terrorism and have accused rights groups of working with foreign entities to undermine the state.
El-Sisi led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president in 2013 after his one-year rule proved divisive, sparking nationwide protests.
The general-turned-president has overseen an unprecedented political crackdown, silencing critics and jailing thousands.
“Our goal with this report is to make it very clear that when someone is accused of terrorism in Egypt, the international community cannot take it at face value,” Baoumi told The Associated Press. “More likely, that person was arrested for peacefully expressing an opinion.”
Late Tuesday, police made six new arrests — including three journalists — in central Cairo. Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafiz, a board member of Egypt’s journalists’ association, wrote a post on social media about the arrests, listing the journalists as Solafa Magdy, Hossam El-Sayyad and Mohamed Salah.
In Washington, a senior State Department official called on Egypt “to ensure journalists can work without threats of imprisonment and intimidation.” Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters Tuesday that “as part of our long-standing strategic partnership, we continue to raise the fundamental importance of respect for human rights.”
For decades, the US has been Egypt’s largest weapons supplier, with over a billion dollars in military aid each year.


Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

Updated 55 min 24 sec ago

Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

  • Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting
  • Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal

VIENNA: The remaining signatories to the faltering 2015 Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Friday with the survival of the landmark agreement at stake after Tehran vowed to continue to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which is the first time the six parties will have gathered in this format since July.
Since May, Iran has taken a series of measures, including stepping up uranium enrichment, in breach of the 2015 deal, with another such move likely in early January.
Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take these measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of crippling sanctions.
Since last month, European members have in turn begun raising the possibility of triggering the so-called “dispute resolution mechanism” foreseen in the accord, which could lead to the resumption of UN sanctions on Iran.
On the eve of what was already likely to be a strained meeting, Britain, France and Germany accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, in a letter to the UN on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the allegation as “desperate falsehood.”
However, despite the mounting tension observers say Britain, France and Germany are unlikely to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism on Friday when their diplomats attend the joint commission meeting chaired by senior EU official Helga-Maria Schmid.
Analysts say if UN sanctions are re-imposed and the deal falls apart, Iran could also withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
“It’s not clear whether that’s worth the benefit,” Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group told AFP.
But he warned the risk of the deal collapsing was increasing as Iran was “running out of measures that are easy to reverse and non-controversial.”
“Both sides are locked into an escalatory cycle that is just very hard to imagine that they would step away from,” he said.
Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, also says tensions were expected to continue to rise.
“Maybe it won’t be this time, but (the deal falling apart) will certainly be in the background of the discussions,” Nicoullaud told AFP.


Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned Sunday that if European partners triggered the dispute mechanism, Tehran may “seriously reconsider” its commitments to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors the deal’s implementation.
European efforts to shield Iran from the effects of US sanctions by creating a mechanism to carry on legitimate trade with the Islamic republic have borne little fruit, much to Tehran’s frustration.
The EU is growing increasingly concerned by Tehran rowing back from its commitments.
The dispute resolution mechanism in the deal has numerous stages, but it can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether Iran should still have relief from sanctions lifted under the deal.
In such a scenario, says Vaez, “we will have a major non-proliferation crisis on our hands in the sense that the Russians and the Chinese have already declared they would not recognize the return of (sanctions).”
Vaez said in the end the path to a diplomatic solution would depend on Washington’s next moves and whether it would at least be willing to relax its attempts to prevent sales of Iranian oil, a vital source of income for the country.
“The remaining parties to the deal have proved incapable of providing Iran with any kind of breathing space,” Vaez said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran is willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States first drops sanctions.