CAIRO: Activists accused the state of fabricating evidence to support criminal charges against members of the political opposition.
In spite of their relative infrequency, these operations have wide and long term effects in spreading fear among ordinary citizens and amongst some activists who fear their turn will come, read a recent report issued by the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo).
Fabricated charges are usually dropped as courts find defendants innocent of alleged crimes, said activists speaking at a recent conference at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.
Of all charges filed against me, I was proven guilty only of storing political leaflets and posters in my pharmacy, said Gamal Abdel Fattah, a pharmacist, renowned leftist and co-founder of the Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada in Cairo. Abdel Fattah had initially been accused of storing and selling expired prescription-only medicines to the public.
According to critics, the main purpose of such fabrications is to damage activists reputations, a goal that is further served by the active involvement of the state press.
Within hours of my arrest in May 2000, the official Al Ahram newspaper had initiated a smear campaign and published my name and address, said Abdel Fattah, suggesting that journalists often worked in collaboration with the authorities. Needless to say, there were no reports published on the outcome of the trials.
In its report, HRInfo criticized the use of state press organizations to attack political opponents. Danger lies in the fact that these cases, in which journalists and newspapers cooperate, affect not only the victim but also freedom of the press, the report read.
According to HRInfo Director Gamal Eid, the publication of defendants personal details, for example, is illegal unless they have been proven guilty in court.
Emphasizing the relative infrequency of such practices, Eid told conference participants that such heavy-handed methods still served to foster a culture of fear among the population.
The practice doesn t have to be very extensive for it to be effective, Eid said. It s sufficient for the authorities to make an example and sully the reputation of one activist to spread fear among many others.
The government, meanwhile, denies the use of such tactics. It s an absurd accusation, said one interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity. It s illogical to think that the government would go through pains to single out and frame opposition members.
Activists also condemned the reported recent use of sexual violence by the authorities, principally against women activists and journalists.
The most salient example of sexual harassment, according to the report, took place during demonstrations in central Cairo on May 25, 2005, when several women journalists and demonstrators were physically attacked, groped and reportedly had their clothes torn off by government loyalists while senior security officers failed to intervene. A subsequent official investigation into the incident was closed due to a lack of suspects. IRIN