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Amnesty International concerned about environment surrounding referendum process

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Watchdog organisation is apprehensive about ongoing human rights violations

Egyptian policemen stand guard outside at a polling station during the second day of voting on a new constitution on January 15, 2014 in the Nasr City district of the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Egyptians resumed voting in the constitutional referendum, with turnout expected to hold the key to a likely presidential bid by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after clashes killed nine the previous day.  (AFP PHOTO / VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG)

Egyptian policemen stand guard outside at a polling station during the second day of voting on a new constitution on January 15, 2014 in the Nasr City , Cairo.
(AFP PHOTO / VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG)

There is “sharp contradiction” between the aspirations for rights and freedoms in the constitution and the reality on the ground, said Amnesty International’s North Africa researcher Diana El-Tahawy.

As the referendum on the draft constitution resumed on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported eight deaths from clashes occurring on the first day of the two-day long vote.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty International has been monitoring the environment in which the referendum was held, and has shown concern primarily over the restrictions over a No vote and the deadly clashes which occurred on Tuesday between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

El-Tahawy described Tuesday’s violence as a “pattern of excessive use of force by the authorities against those they see as opponent.” She added that even though the death toll was smaller than the death tolls reported in similar clashes during the summer of 2013, the existence of the pattern itself was alarming.

“We don’t believe that the referendum will improve [Egyptians’ suffering from] human rights violations,” El-Tahawy said, adding that the organisation is apprehensive about continued violations conducted with impunity. She reflected the organisation’s aspirations for “proper and impartial investigations into the killing of thousands of protesters not just during the [pro-Mohamed Morsi] Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in, but throughout the past three years.”

Among those who headed to the polling stations to cast their votes, only a few voters who disapproved of the draft constitution could be spotted.

“Egypt is now going through a polarised climate,” El-Tahawy said. “Both public and private-owned media outlets are giving a lot of space for those campaigning for a Yes vote. Voting No is often considered treachery or support for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

El-Tahawy said such atmosphere prompts citizens to exercise self-censorship, adding that dissent is generally punished by the authorities. At least six members of the Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) Party have been allegedly arrested during the week while campaigning for a Novote. “Such cases deterred others in terms of expressing their views,” El-Tahawy said.

Amnesty International had already made public its reservations on the draft constitution. In a statement the organisation released in December, Amnesty said the text falls short of Egypt’s international human rights obligations despite fixing some deficiencies in the 2012 constitution.

The international human rights watchdog criticised the draft for giving the military sweeping powers. Amnesty doubted that, with the excessive autonomy the draft grants the military, real transitional justice, as addressed in the draft, could be implemented.

The organisation also criticised the draft for discriminating against foreign nationals and allowing the placement of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.


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