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U.S. government and rights group speak out against alleged abuse

CAIRO: Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday that President Hosni Mubarak should immediately order an independent judicial investigation into last Thursday’s alleged torture and sexual assault by security agents of political activists. The U.S.-based watchdog also slammed the Egyptian government in a statement released yesterday. “We have asked President Mubarak to put a stop to …


CAIRO: Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday that President Hosni Mubarak should immediately order an independent judicial investigation into last Thursday’s alleged torture and sexual assault by security agents of political activists. The U.S.-based watchdog also slammed the Egyptian government in a statement released yesterday.

“We have asked President Mubarak to put a stop to repeated outrages by agents of the state, the HRW statement says.

“The Egyptian government must investigate these attacks and punish the perpetrators, says Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW. “President Mubarak should put a stop to this.

On May 25, following the demonstration in front of the journalists syndicate, Karim Al Shaer and Mohamed Sharkawy were taken as they were leaving the peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. Lawyers have said both men were beaten and Sharkawy sexually assaulted while in custody.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that it is disturbed by the reports coming out of Egypt concerning Sharkawy’s torture and sexual assault.

“At the very least those reports are disturbing and merit further investigation, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that U.S. diplomats would raise the issue with Egyptian authorities.

“There’s a minimal level of care that needs to apply to all people in the custody of the Egyptian government and we would expect them [the Egyptian government] to abide by that, McCormack continued.

Fadi Al Qadi, regional advocate at HRW, says that at the very least, the perpetrators should be investigated. “Those who are responsible for the actions taken [last week] should be, at minimum, investigated, he says. “The government has to know that rights groups will not stop tracking these incidents and inconsistencies.

George Ishaq, coordinator and a leader of Kefaya, says that he hopes that actions such as these and the continued pressure of demonstrations will help break down the barriers of fear in this country.

“Freedom takes time and we must be patient until the whole of the people trust in this movement, Ishaq argues. He believes that if more pressure is applied, like HRW is putting on the government, they won’t be able to continue to treat demonstrators the way they have in recent weeks.

“Although I believe the U.S. cannot be looked to in order to make things happen, it helps when they take notice of what we are doing, Ishaq continues. “I live with the people and they are the only that make it happen, not the U.S.

With Thursday’s demonstration looming, younger Kefaya activists are asking questions on the direction of where their movement is heading.

“Where have the older people gone, Salma Said says on her blog. She says that a common feeling among younger activists is that they feel abandoned by the older generation of more experienced activists.

“Maybe we were mistaken to count on them in the first place . maybe we should only depend on ourselves and not seek protection from anyone. Or on the other hand we may have to change who used to be called leaders for ones who won t let us down!

But, as Ahmed El Droubi, an activist released from Tora last week after 33 days in captivity, says that they must continue strong and highlight the error of the government if they are going to succeed.

“Because members of the opposition haven’t been exposed to such atrocities before, we must go forth and continue the struggle we have begun, Droubi argues. He believes that with the U.S. now taking notice it is a time to galvanize a larger amount of people in order to move forward.

“Thursday’s protest will highlight the abuses of the government and hopefully it will get more people onto the streets in support of change, he adds.

With three journalists facing prison time for libel and slander and a judge also facing imprisonment, Thursday’s protest will have much more meaning for a larger number of people.

The question remains if the opposition will be able to galvanize all the forces needed to have a large demonstration. Last Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood failed to show in front of the journalists syndicate.

Many activists felt betrayed that they left them standing alone.

“Where is the Brotherhood, one activist asked last week, while standing and chanting on the steps of the syndicate. “Are they going to abandon us at this critical hour?

Thursday is expected to have hundreds of people take to the streets, but the government will try to maintain the state of fear instilled in the opposition to keep people away.

“We are going to break down the state of fear in this country, little by little, Ishaq believes.

Today’s demonstrations are planned for the Kasr El Nil police station and the doctor’s syndicate.

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