CAIRO: A candlelit vigil in memory of the victims who died when the 2005 Sudanese protest in front of Mostafa Mahmoud mosque was violently broken up was banned on Monday.
The vigil was set to take place at Mostafa Mahmoud square in Mohandiseen. The square, located in front of the former Cairo office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was in 2005 turned into a permanent protest camp by over 3,000 Sudanese men, women and children over a period of three months.
They were protesting against UNHCR policies towards Sudanese asylum seekers in Egypt. The peaceful protest, which began in September, was violently broken up by over 4,000 riot police in the early hours of Dec. 30, 2005.
Nearly 30 protestors, half of them children, died when the camp was charged.
The vigil was planned to start at 6 pm. Nov Senary, a lawyer with the El Nadim Center for the Victims of Torture, told Daily News Egypt that police officers sealed off Mostafa Mahmoud square preventing anyone from entering. “From 6 pm onwards police officers were posted around the perimeter of the square and inside it until they had closed it off entirely. They told people that security orders prevented anyone from standing anywhere near the square. There were five protestors and film crews and all of us were forced to move on, she said.
Mohamed, a Sudanese man who was involved in the 2005 protest also attempted to approach the square. He was intercepted by a state security officer almost immediately.
“I know this particular officer and he remembers me from 2005. He asked me what I was doing there and told me to ‘say hello to the basha’ – a senior officer who was standing nearby. I told him that I wasn’t there to say hello to the basha, I was there to remember my friends who died in this square, he told Daily News Egypt.
Mohamed was accused of being a member of political movements in Sudan and was given a choice: “Either you leave or we arrest you. He left, but not before the police confiscated papers he was carrying with him.
At 7 pm when Daily News Egypt arrived at Mostafa Mahmoud square it was still sealed off with police officers posted at five meter intervals around the perimeter of the park and groups of plainclothes policemen inside and outside the square.
When a group with the Daily News Egypt walked past the square, we were immediately told to move on by a police officer. After crossing Gamaat El-Dowal El-Arabiyya, the main road on which Mostafa Mahmoud is situated, we were followed by a group of police officers, including a high-ranking general.
The general told us that the Sudanese protestors had “occupied Mostafa Mahmoud in 2005, and that “no country would allow its main square to be taken over like that, making it filthy and dirty.
He also alleged that people in buildings neighboring the square had complained about the noise and the smell.
When it was suggested to him that nothing justified the violent – and fatal – methods used to break up the protest, another officer replied, “We spent three hours trying to persuade them to leave. But they refused. We told them that we would take them to camps, and even offered to take a few of them to see the camps, but they again refused.
His statement contradict protestors’ testimonies according to which the police refused their request to show the camps to a representative group.
Another woman who had tried to attend the vigil told Daily News Egypt, “There was a large group of us who tried to go but security forces prevented us from reaching each other. Police officers prevented groups of more than four people standing together, she explained.
She added that security had not contacted anyone who had announced in advance their intention to attend the vigil in order to inform them that it had been banned.