CAIRO: Young activists from the April 6 movement launched a spirited demonstration Thursday in protest at the arrest of 14 of their compatriots.The 14 youths, aged in their early to mid 20s, were snatched off the streets of Alexandria by police as they celebrated the July 23 national holiday on the beach.
The group will be detained for 15 days, and face charges of gathering with more than five people, forming an organization of more than five people – both outlawed by the emergency law – and leafleting.
According to members of the group who escaped arrest, the group was confronted by police after singing national songs and raising the Egyptian flag on the Sidi Beshr Beach in Alexandria. They were also wearing white t-shirts bearing the words “April 6 Group.
Some of those interviewed said they carried no leaflets, joking that the authorities may have mistaken the flag they were carrying for a leaflet.
Activist and organizer Waleed Rashed told Daily News Egypt that the group made the trip to Alexandria to celebrate the July 23, 1952 revolution and it was a social gathering of different young members of various political affiliations.
“We had wanted to go to Alexandria because it is an important city, and felt we could spread political awareness through plays and songs. What we were doing was certainly not a demonstration or a protest, but a celebration for Egypt, he added.
About 30 of the April 6 group had called for a recreational trip to meet each other in person, explained Mohamed Abdel Aziz, one of the group members. “We also decided to try a new form of protest through patriotic songs.
“We went to Sidi Beshr Beach for a swim, but a police officer prevented us from entering the beach in objection to a kite we had that was painted with the Egyptian flag and the t-shirts we were wearing that read ‘April 6 Youth Movement.’ The officer tore up the kite, said Abdel Aziz.
Members of the group were singing in the street when they were approached by security officers in a civilian car. He ordered the group to cease their activity or face arrest.
“We were singing the songs of Sheikh Imam, Ahmed Fouad Negm and Sayed Darwish. We were walking in a group of 30, when three plain clothed men stopped in front of us, another group behind us and a car stopped to our side, cordoning us in a circle, said Rashed.
The group dispersed, but 15 remained at the scene. According to reports, activists Mohamed Mahmoud, Basim Fathi, Amro Ali, Khalid Adel, Mustafa Maher, Tarek Tito, Nour Eldin Subhi, Moatasem Mohamed, Youssef Shehata, Medhat Shaker, Ahmed Abdel Wahab, Ahmed Nassar and Ahmed Afifi were subjected to violent measures, allegedly including beatings by police, before being bundled into security vehicles.
One girl, Mahinour El-Masry, was also arrested, but was later released. Protesters claim this is because the government does not want to risk creating another “Israa martyr, a reference to Israa Abdel Fattah, the Facebook group administrator who was arrested on April 7 near her workplace.
Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the April 6 movement and well-known for his coordination of the April 6 general strikes via Facebook, was pursued by police by telephone navigation before being picked up the following morning.
Abdel Aziz, who was with Maher when he was arrested, said that they were standing close to Alexandria University’s faculty of pharmacy, when “eight people beat up Maher and kidnapped him and fled in a car.
Wafaa El-Masry, the lawyer who attended the interrogation with the detained, said that the Prosecutor’s office released Mahinour El-Masry, and a high school student who were present at the scene but are unrelated to the group. She said the total of those detained reached 14.
There are also rumors that certain members of the arrested group are being held in unknown locations. However, this is yet to be confirmed.
Daily News Egypt attempted to call some of those who fled security, but most of them had switched off their phones. One of those who answered said, “I’m trying to get out of Alexandria with my friends, but all the city’s exists are monitored by security.
“I’ll have to switch off my phone so that security won’t able to trace me as they did with Maher through his mobile phone.
The group was presented to the public prosecution the same evening, they were denied access to lawyers, a natural right of all arrestees.
“From the reports we got from Al-Ramal Court in Alexandria, the detainees have been dealt with in a way which contradicts the constitution and Egyptian law, Ahmed El-Gawad, an activist and journalist who is considered among the pioneers of the April 6 movement, told Daily News Egypt.
“They were not only denied legal representation, but also neither the police nor the public prosecution informed them of the crime they had supposedly perpetrated, El-Gawad, who is also a member of the Al-Ghad Party, went on to explain.
“We also learned that the prosecutor demanded the investigatory reports from the police officers only after the detainees left the public prosecution’s office. It is regulation, not to mention logic, that happens before they are presented before a court. It is further proof that the Interior Ministry are in control of the matter.
Until late Thursday afternoon, the group was being held without charge. At 5:00 pm Daily News Egypt received reports from campaigner Waleed Rashed in Alexandria that the public prosecutor has issued a decision to detain the group for 15 days until police investigations are carried out.
As lawyers made their way to Alexandria to represent those detained, over 25 activists gathered in Cairo outside Al-Galaa Court of Cassation in a show of solidarity with their peers, demanding their immediate release on the grounds that their celebrations on the corniche do not constitute a crime.
“Is it a crime to raise the Egyptian flag and sing nationalist songs? Magdy Ahmad Hussein, the secretary general of the Labor Party, told Daily News Egypt. “If they had been holding the American flag, or wearing t-shirts bearing the British flag, they would not have been arrested.
Shouting slogans such as “Cancer has eaten us and our blood is polluted and “Egypt’s youth and freedom is locked inside jail cells, young protesters attracted the attention of astounded passersby, who were directed away by security presence whose numbers far outnumbered that of the demonstrators.
Protesters also called for the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, and held up posters stating “We will remain standing until those arrested are released.
Hussein, who was among the organizers of the April 6 protest, told press, “If they think these actions will scare the April 6 youth, they are wrong, and if they do not release them, I will happily deliver myself to the police and declare myself an agitator.
As the protest grew in size, police – after forcing demonstrators onto the narrow platform outside the court – were replaced by state security troops. A tight cordon of security troops was then formed around the protesters, who were restricted from moving outside the cordoned off area.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) have issued a report stating that the arrests indicate that “security agencies are now targeting 35 young men and women that are members of the April 6 Group.
“While they were roaming around the Corniche of Alexandria, doing nothing but singing national songs, they were taken in many cars to the headquarters of the State Security
Inspectors in Alexandria otherwise known as ‘Pharaohs’ Quarters,
ANHRI said in a statement. The network also said that it received a phone call from one of the detainees claiming they were beaten up.