The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and international rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have issued statements strongly condemning the police raid on the offices of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), in which six workers were arrested by plainclothes police officers.
“Intimidation of political opponents, activists and human rights defenders for peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association must be halted,” said OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani in a Friday press briefing. “An independent and impartial investigation needs to be conducted into the raid on the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.”
Late Wednesday night, about 50 armed Homeland Security officers in civilian clothing raided the downtown Cairo ECESR offices, without a warrant, confiscating computers and files and assaulting ECESR employees before arresting them.
Six employees in the office were taken into custody handcuffed and blindfolded, then held in an undisclosed location for nine hours. Five of the ECESR employees were released on Thursday morning, but Mohamed Adel, a prominent 6 April activist and ECESR volunteer, remains in custody. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
ECESR attorney Mahmoud Belal told Amnesty International that all six of the ECESR employees were mistreated while in custody, and he was beaten on the head when he asked about the circumstances of the arrest.
“I witnessed one of the police officers putting his weapon in [ECESR employee] Mustafa Eissa’s mouth as a threat, and afterwards they took off our clothes, blindfolded us, tied our hands behind our backs and took us to an unknown location,” said Belal. “Some hours later they released all of us except for Mohamed Adel as they said he was the only one targeted by the arrest.”
Belal added that they could have arrested Adel from any other location, “but arresting him from ECESR was deliberate as a showcase of the state’s power and authority.”
In the last three weeks, several other prominent activists have been arrested on charges of violating Egypt’s new Protest Law, stemming from demonstrations in front of the Shura Council building and the Abdeen Court in late November. The detained include Alaa Abdel Fatah, Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Douma.
“The Ministry of Interior’s pursuit of these four activists is a deliberate effort to target the voices who, since January 2011, have consistently demanded justice and security agency reform,” said HRW Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson. “It should come as no surprise that with the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood well underway, the Ministry of Interior is now targeting leaders of the secular protest movement.
“The Egyptian government has sent a strong signal with its attack on a human rights group and these arrests and prosecutions that it is not in the mood for dissent of any kind.”
The ECESR is an Egyptian non-governmental legal and research organisation specialising in human rights, workers rights and social justice. According to their website, the ECESR’s philosophy stems from “the values of justice, freedom, and equality, abiding to all treaties, declarations and international conventions concerning human rights, particularly the international charters for economic, social, cultural rights, and all the treaties and recommendations of the International Labour Organisation as a reference on the level of vision and practice.”