Saturday, September 30, 2017

Egypt: Stop arrests, crackdown on LGBT individuals


Egypt: Stop Anti-LGBT Crackdown, Intimidation
‘Rainbow Flag’ Arrests Violate Privacy, Freedom of Expression

September 30, 2017

Egypt should stop arresting and harassing people suspected of homosexuality using trumped-up “debauchery” and “inciting debauchery” charges, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces rounded up at least eleven people in the days following a September 22, 2017 concert in Cairo at which young concertgoers waved rainbow flags, a symbol of solidarity with  lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people, a defiant act in a country known to persecute gay men and transgender people.

After concertgoers shared photos of the rainbow flag display on social media, pro-government media went on an overdrive attack and conservative politicians and religious leaders demanded that the government take action. Police arrested one man on September 23 through entrapment on a dating app, a common police technique in Egypt, and claimed he had been among those to wave a flag.

On September 25,  the government said that it had arrested seven people identified through video footage of the concert. Several Egyptian activists questioned the veracity of this claim, but they documented additional arrests on September 27, when police picked up six men from the streets, charging them with debauchery and claiming they were all involved in the rainbow flag incident.

“Whether they were waving a rainbow flag, chatting on a dating app, or minding their own business in the streets, all these debauchery arrest victims should be immediately released,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Egyptian government, by rounding people up based on their presumed sexual orientation, is showing flagrant disregard for their rights.”

The Dokki Misdemeanor Court in Giza sentenced the first victim on September 26 to six years in prison and a fine for “debauchery,” based on his presumed sexual conduct, and “inciting debauchery,” as prosecutors alleged he was among those who raised the rainbow flag at the concert. The court sentenced him to an additional six years of probation which will require reporting to the police from 6p.m. to 6a.m. until 2029. No lawyer was present at his trial.  He now has legal representation, and his appeal will be heard on October 11.

The six men arrested on September 27 are scheduled for trial on October 1. At least two more men were arrested on September 28 because of their presumed sexual orientation, and Egyptian media reported that another six men were arrested on September 28 in a raid on a home, although Human Rights Watch has not independently verified that report.

At the September 22 concert, people raised rainbow flags during the performance of the Lebanese group Mashrou’ Leila, which has an openly gay lead singer and has performed songs addressing same-sex relationships and gender identity. The Egyptian Musicians Syndicate opened an investigation into the event and banned future Mashrou’ Leila concerts in Egypt.

In Egypt, police routinely round up gay and bisexual men and transgender women, actively seeking them out and entrapping them on dating apps and through social media. One Cairo-based organization has documented the prosecution of at least 34 people for consensual same-sex conduct in the last 12 months. Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came into power in 2014, several hundred people have been imprisoned on charges of consensual same-sex conduct.

Egyptian activists told Human Rights Watch they fear that the past week’s arrests could signal the beginning of an even harsher crackdown on LGBT people and those who publicly support them.

Egypt’s Forensic Medicine Authority also routinely subjects people to forced anal examinations. The archaic technique was devised in the 19th century to seek “evidence” of homosexual conduct,  but forensic experts around the world have condemned the practice as lacking any scientific validity and violating medical ethics. The UN  special rapporteur on torture,  the UN Committee Against Torture, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have described the exams as a form of torture or ill-treatment, prohibited under international law. The Egyptian Medical Syndicate has taken no steps to prevent doctors from conducting these degrading exams.

Egypt is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression. Egypt’s constitution also protects these rights.

“Egypt should stop dedicating state resources to hunting people down for what they allegedly do in their bedrooms, or for expressing themselves at a rock concert, and should instead focus energy on improving its dire human rights record,” Whitson said.

*Photo by Jamal Saidi, courtesy of Reuters

Former prez. candidate sentenced to jail, in bid to bar him from 2018 elections

Egypt: Former presidential candidate given jail term in bid to stop him running in 2018 election

25 September 2017

Today’s conviction of Khalid Ali, a former presidential candidate and prominent human rights lawyer who is widely viewed as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s top contender for the 2018 presidential elections, is politically motivated, said Amnesty International.

Khaled Ali was sentenced to three months in prison which would prevent him from standing in the 2018 presidential elections if the verdict is confirmed on appeal. The court found him guilty of “violating public decency” in relation to a photograph showing him celebrating a court victory after successfully reversing a controversial Egyptian government decision to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

He was released on a bail of 1000 Egyptian pounds pending appeal.

“Khaled Ali’s politically motivated conviction today is a clear signal that the Egyptian authorities are intent on eliminating any rival who could stand in the way of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s victory in next year’s elections. It also illustrates the government’s ruthless determination to crush dissent to consolidate its power,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s Head of North Africa Campaigns.

“It beggars belief that Khaled Ali, a prominent human rights lawyer and political activist, has been given a jail term simply for celebrating his victory in a court case. His conviction on this absurd charge must be quashed.”

The trial in Khaled Ali’s case was also riddled with flaws; the court issued its decision without hearing the defence lawyers’ final pleadings or allowing them to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution about disputed video evidence submitted against Khaled Ali, which his defence lawyers argued was fabricated.

Earlier this year Amnesty International warned that the Egyptian authorities have intensified their crackdown on opposition activists ahead of the 2018 presidential election by rounding up activists from opposition parties. 

*Photo by Mohamed El-Shahed, courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Int'l labor unions petition Egypt to release jailed unionists

Ahram Online 
International trade union groups write to Sisi demanding release of 8 Egyptian union members

Monday September 25, 2017 

Two international trade union confederations sent an open letter on Sunday to Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail calling for the release of several Egyptian union members detained in the past week.

The letter was signed by the general secretaries of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Public Services International (PSI), which represents 669 public services unions in 154 countries.

The letter was also sent to Egypt's Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS), which provided a copy to Ahram Online.

"We are deeply concerned about the unprecedented and unjustified escalation of retaliation against independent trade unionists over recent days, and we demand their immediate and unconditional release," the letter reads.

According to news reports, eight members of Egyptian independent trades unions were arrested last week following union training events and attempts to organize protest actions.

Two of those detained work for the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, while another four are employed at the Real Estate Taxes Authority (RETA), including the president of RETA's independent union. Finally, two workers with the Public Taxes Authority were also detained.

All those detained were apparently members of independent trades unions, the legality of which is still a matter of dispute in Egypt.

The taxation union members were arrested after several tax workers applied to the interior ministry for permission to hold a protest demanding pay rises. Egyptian law requires all protests to be authorized by the ministry before going ahead.

The members of the electricity union, meanwhile, were arrested after providing training to members of syndicates representing government administrative workers.

The detainees are facing a range of charges, including inciting strikes and demonstrations, misuse of social media and affiliation to a group banned by law.

"The blocking of a legitimate sit-in and strike action, as well as the arrest of trade unionists on security and anti-terrorism grounds, are a violation of the principle of freedom of association enshrined in the constitution and ILO convention 87," the letter said.

The Egyptian government introduced a law in 2013 that severely restricts protests and strikes, requiring prior notice from the interior ministry, which is rarely given. Thousands have been jailed for violating the law, including workers.

However, in December the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Article 10 of the 25-article law was unconstitutional.

In April, the parliament approved an amendment to the protest law, according to which authorities have no right to prohibit protests once all documents have been submitted, except through a court order.

According to the annual report of the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights, issued in December, the governmental sector witnessed almost 478 “industrial actions” during 2016, while the public sector saw 133 actions and the private sector witnessed 107 actions.


*UPDATE: Following domestic and international efforts, along with global solidarity campaigns - the aforementioned jailed workers and unionists were all released on October 17.


KSA Religion Textbooks Promote Intolerance


Saudi Arabia: Religion Textbooks Promote Intolerance

Textbooks Disparage Sufi, Shia; Label Jews, Christians ‘Unbelievers’

September 13, 2017 

Saudi Arabia’s school religious studies curriculum contains hateful and incendiary language toward religions and Islamic traditions that do not adhere to its interpretation of Sunni Islam, Human Rights Watch said today. The texts disparage Sufi and Shia religious practices and label Jews and Christians “unbelievers” with whom Muslims should not associate.

A comprehensive Human Rights Watch review of the Education Ministry-produced school religion books for the 2016-17 school year found that some of the content that first provoked widespread controversy for violent and intolerant teachings in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks remains in the texts today, despite Saudi officials’ promises to eliminate the intolerant language.

“As early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The lessons in hate are reinforced with each following year.”

This research was part of a broader investigation into Saudi officials and religious clerics’ use of hate speech and incitement to violence for an upcoming Human Rights Watch report. The reviewed curriculum, entitled al-tawhid, or “Monotheism,” consisted of 45 textbooks and student workbooks for the primary, middle, and secondary education levels. Human Rights Watch did not review additional religion texts dealing with Islamic law, Islamic culture, Islamic commentary, or Qur’an recitation.

The United States Department of State first designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations in 2004. It has continued to do so every year since. The designation should trigger penalties, including economic sanctions, arms embargoes, and travel and visa restrictions. But the US government has had a waiver on penalties in place since 2006. The waiver allows the US to continue economic and security cooperation with Saudi Arabia unencumbered.

Saudi Arabia has faced pressure to reform its school religion curriculum since the September 11 attacks, particularly from the US, after it was revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Saudi officials have said repeatedly they will carry out these reforms, although past reviews of the curriculum over the last dozen years have shown these promises to be hollow. In February 2017, Saudi’s education minister admitted that a “broader curriculum overhaul” was still necessary, but did not offer a target date for when this overhaul should be completed.

Saudi Arabia does not allow public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam. Its public school religious textbooks are but one aspect of an entire system of discrimination that promotes intolerance toward those perceived as “other.”

As Saudi Arabia moves towards implementing its Vision 2030 goals to transform the country culturally and economically, it should address the hostile rhetoric that nonconforming Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and non-Muslim expatriate workers face in Saudi Arabia, said Human Rights Watch.

Saudi Arabia’s al-tawhid, “Monotheism,” curriculum harshly criticizes practices and traditions closely associated with both Shia Islam and Sufism. In many cases, the curriculum labels practices, such as visiting the graves of prominent religious figures, and the act of intercession, by which Shias and Sufis supplicate to God through intermediaries, as evidence of shirk, or polytheism, that will result in the removal from Islam and eternal damnation.

The curriculum repeatedly condemns building mosques or shrines on top of graves, a clear reference to Shia or Sufi pilgrimage sites.

The third book in the five-part secondary level curriculum, for example, contains a section, entitled, “People’s Violation of the Teachings of the Prophet with Graves,” stating that “many people have violated what the prophet forbade in terms of bida’ or ‘illicit innovations’ with graves and committed what he prohibited and because of that fell into illicit innovations or the greatest polytheism” by “building mosques and shrines on top of graves.”

The text also states that people use shrines as a place to commit other acts of illicit innovations or polytheism, including: “praying at them, reading at them, sacrificing to them and those [interred] in them, seeking help from them, or making vows by them…”

Ministry of Education, Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Secondary Semester Program, Level Three, 2016-17, p. 104
The second semester of the seventh-grade text expresses similar sentiment, saying that “those who make the graves of prophets and the righteous into mosques are evil-natured.”

Toward the end of one chapter, “The Role of Reformers in Declaring and Defending the Correct Doctrine,” in a secondary-level textbook, a short glossary lists practices of those who have deviated from correct religious practice. It describes Sufism as “a perverse path that began with the claim of asceticism, or severe self-discipline, then entered into illicit innovation, mis-guidedness, and exaggeration in reverence to the righteous.”

Saudi Ministry of Education, Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Secondary Semester Program, Level One, 2016-17, p. 40 
Saudi Ministry of Education, Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Secondary Semester Program, Level One, 2016-17, p. 40

The curriculum reserves its harshest criticisms for Jews, Christians, and people of other faiths, often describing them as kuffar, or “unbelievers.”

In one fifth-grade second semester textbook, the curriculum calls Jews, Christians, and Al Wathaniyeen, or “pagans,” the “original unbelievers” and declares that it is the duty of Muslims to excommunicate them: “For whoever does not [excommunicate them], or whoever doubts their religious infidelity is himself an unbeliever.”

Saudi Ministry of Education, Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Fifth Grade, Second Semester, 2016-17, p. 55

In a chapter listing markers by which one can recognize the approach of the Day of Resurrection, one passage states: “The Hour will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews, and Muslims will kill the Jews.”

Saudi Ministry of Education, Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Secondary Course, Level Two, 2016-17, p. 102.

A recurring and alarming lesson in the curriculum warns against imitating, associating with, or joining the “unbelievers” in their traditions and practices. One passage rejects and denounces the Sufi practice of celebrating the birth of the prophet, accusing Sufis of imitating Christians, i.e. “unbelievers,” in their celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Fifth Grade, Second Semester, 2016-17, p. 279
[Translation: Celebrating the prophet’s birth in the spring of every year is prohibited; for it is a new innovation and is in imitation of the Christian celebration of what is known as the birth of Christ.]

In another chapter, “Loyalty to Unbelievers,” the text explicitly calls on Muslims to reserve loyalty to God, the prophet, and other believers and to express hostility and antagonism toward “unbelievers.” It warns Muslims that by imitating “unbelievers” or even joining them in their celebrations, one is at risk of expressing loyalty to them, and worse even, becoming one of them.

Saudi Ministry of Education, Al-Tawhid, Student Book, Secondary Course, Level One, 2016-17, p. 165

The Saudi government’s official denigration of other religious groups, combined with its ban on public practice of other religions, could amount to incitement to hatred or discrimination.

International human rights law requires countries to prohibit “[a]ny advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

Article 18 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or relief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

“Saudi Arabia’s officials should stop denigrating other people’s personal beliefs,” Whitson said. “After years of reform promises there is apparently still little room for tolerance in the country’s schools.”


Read also:

“They Are Not Our Brothers” 

Hate Speech by Saudi Officials

Egypt's Torture Epidemic = Crimes Against Humanity


Egypt: Torture Epidemic May Be Crime Against Humanity
Beatings, Electric Shocks, Stress Positions Routinely Used Against Dissidents

September 6, 2017  

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s regular police and National Security officers routinely torture political detainees with techniques including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

Widespread and systematic torture by the security forces probably amounts to a crime against humanity, according to the 63-page report, “‘We Do Unreasonable Things Here’: Torture and National Security in al-Sisi’s Egypt.

Prosecutors typically ignore complaints from detainees about ill-treatment and sometimes threaten them with torture, creating an environment of almost total impunity, Human Rights Watch said.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s regular police and National Security officers routinely torture political detainees with techniques including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape. 

“President al-Sisi has effectively given police and National Security officers a green light to use torture whenever they please,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Impunity for the systematic use of torture has left citizens with no hope for justice.”

The report documents how security forces, particularly officers of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, use torture to force suspects to confess or divulge information, or to punish them.

Allegations of torture have been widespread since then-Defense Minister al-Sisi ousted former President Mohamed Morsy in 2013, beginning a widespread crackdown on basic rights. Torture has long been endemic in Egypt’s law enforcement system, and rampant abuses by security forces helped spark the nationwide revolt in 2011 that unseated longtime leader Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 19 former detainees and the family of a 20th detainee who were tortured between 2014 and 2016, as well as Egyptian defense and human rights lawyers. Human Rights Watch also reviewed dozens of reports about torture produced by Egyptian human rights groups and media outlets.

The techniques of torture documented by Human Rights Watch have been practiced in police stations and National Security offices throughout the country, using nearly identical methods, for many years.

Under international law, torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction that can be prosecuted in any country. States are required to arrest and investigate anyone on their territory credibly suspected of involvement in torture and to prosecute them or extradite them to face justice.

Since the 2013 military coup, Egyptian authorities have arrested or charged probably at least 60,000 people, forcibly disappeared hundreds for months at a time, handed down preliminary death sentences to hundreds more, tried thousands of civilians in military courts, and created at least 19 new prisons or jails to hold this influx. The primary target of this repression has been the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition movement.

Human Rights Watch found that the Interior Ministry has developed an assembly line of serious abuse to collect information about suspected dissidents and prepare often fabricated cases against them. This begins at the point of arbitrary arrest, progresses to torture and interrogation during periods of enforced disappearance, and concludes with presentation before prosecutors, who often pressure suspects to confirm their confessions and almost never investigate abuses.

The former detainees said that torture sessions begin with security officers using electric shocks on a blindfolded, stripped, and handcuffed suspect while slapping and punching him or beating him with sticks and metal bars. If the suspect fails to give the officers the answers they want, the officers increase the power and duration of the electric shocks and almost always shock the suspect’s genitals.

Officers then employ two types of stress positions to inflict severe pain on suspects, the detainees said. In one, they hang suspects above the floor with their arms raised backwards behind them, an unnatural position that causes excruciating pain in the back and shoulders and sometimes dislocates their shoulders.

In a second, called the “chicken” or “grill,” officers place suspects’ knees and arms on opposite sides of a bar so that the bar lies between the crook of their elbows and the back of their knees and tie their hands together above their shins. When the officers lift the bar and suspend the suspects in the air, like a chicken on a spit, they suffer excruciating pain in shoulders, knees, and arms.

Security officers hold detainees in these stress positions for hours at a time and continue to beat, electrocute, and interrogate them.

“Khaled,” a 29-year-old accountant, told Human Rights Watch that in January 2015, National Security officers in Alexandria arrested him and took him to the city’s Interior Ministry headquarters.

They told him to admit to participating in arson attacks on police cars the previous year. When Khaled denied knowing anything about the attacks, an officer stripped off his clothing and began shocking him with electrified wires.

The torture and interrogations, involving severe electric shocks and stress positions, continued for nearly six days, during which Khaled was allowed no contact with relatives or lawyers. Officers forced him to read a prepared confession, which they filmed, stating he had burned police cars on the orders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

After 10 days, a team of prosecutors questioned Khaled and fellow detainees. When Khaled told one prosecutor that he had been tortured, the prosecutor replied it was none of his business and ordered Khaled to restate the videotaped confession, or else he would send him back to be tortured again.

“You’re at their mercy, ‘Whatever we say, you’re gonna do.’ They electrocuted me in my head, testicles, under my armpits. They used to heat water and throw it on you. Every time I lose consciousness, they would throw it on me,” Khaled recalled.

Egypt’s history of torture stretches back more than three decades, and Human Rights Watch first recorded the practices documented in this report as early as 1992. Egypt is also the only country to be the subject of two public inquiries by the United Nations Committee against Torture, which wrote in June 2017 that that the facts gathered by the committee “lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

Since the military unseated former president Morsy in 2013, the authorities have reconstituted and expanded the repressive instruments that defined Mubarak’s rule. The regularity of torture and the impunity for its practice since 2013 has created a climate in which those who are abused see no chance to hold their abusers to account and often do not bother even filing complaints to prosecutors.

Between July 2013 and December 2016, prosecutors officially investigated at least 40 torture cases, a fraction of the hundreds of allegations made, yet Human Rights Watch found only six cases in which prosecutors won guilty verdicts against Interior Ministry officers. All these verdicts remain on appeal and only one involved the National Security Agency.

Al-Sisi should direct the Justice Ministry to create an independent special prosecutor empowered to inspect detention sites, investigate and prosecute abuse by the security services, and publish a record of action taken, Human Rights Watch said. Failing a serious effort by the Sisi administration to confront the torture epidemic, UN member states should investigate and prosecute Egyptian officials accused of committing, ordering, or assisting torture.

“Past impunity for torture caused great harm to hundreds of Egyptians and laid the conditions for the 2011 revolt,” Stork said. “Allowing the security services to commit this heinous crime across the country invites another cycle of unrest.”

*Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany, courtesy of Reuters


Available in Arabic:

مصر: وباء التعذيب قد يشكل جريمة ضد الإنسانية

المعارضون يخضعون روتينيا للضرب، الصعق بالكهرباء، والتعليق

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Trump & Sisi Talk Business

Fucking birds of a feather...

*Artwork by Carlos Latuff, courtesy of Latuff Cartoons

Egypt authorities now blocking 405 websites, VPNs & proxy servers

Egyptian Streets
Egypt Blocks More Websites Raising the Total Number of Blocked Sites to 405    

August 31, 2017

The blocking of websites still continues with banning 261 VPN and proxy websites on 29 August raising the total number of blocked sites to 405, according to the latest report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE.)

On 24 May, the Egyptian authorities started blocking news websites on alleged claims of “supporting terrorism.”     In a span of 3 months, the blockade expanded from news websites to banning VPN sites, websites of non-profit organizations and personal blogs of journalists.

Among the blocked websites are the independent news website Mada Masr and the privately-owned Daily News Egypt.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Reporters Without Borders (RWB) websites have also been blocked.   

Also, the blog of Ahmed Gamal Ziada, a writer for Masr Alarabia, researcher, and photojournalist, has been blocked preventing readers in Egypt from accessing his blog.

The blocked VPN websites are Tunnelbear,  Cyberghost, Hotspot Shield Elite VPN (Hsselite), Tigervpn and Zenvpn among many others.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aloáin, today raised grave concerns with the Government of Egypt over its ongoing assault on freedom of expression.

“Limiting information as the Egyptian Government has done, without any transparency or identification of the asserted ‘lies’ or ‘terrorism’, looks more like repression than counter-terrorism,” they said in the report.


Read Also:   

UN rights experts express concern over blocked websites in Egypt