CAIRO: Violence against students by security bodies has increased and spread in the past three months, a rights group said Wednesday.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) lists 124 incidents of students being arrested or sent to disciplinary panels between Feb. 24 and April 23, 2010 in its report, “Security Interference in Egyptian Universities: The Hysteria of Violence against Students.”
Speaking at a press conference to launch the report Wednesday, AFTE director Emad Mubarak attributed the escalated violence to “an unprecedented increase in the collusion between security bodies and university administrations.”
Mubarak pointed to “signs that security bodies are using new techniques” on campuses, such as kidnapping of students.
Both university professors and students allege that police officers permanently stationed on university campuses routinely interfere in academic life and repress student activity.
Mubarak explained that in response to these attacks 12 human rights organizations have come together to form the Campaign for the Defense of Egyptian University Students.
Students from the Universities of Alexandria, Suez, Zagazig and Menufiya described their experiences of police violence and disciplinary punishment for on campus activity during the press conference.
The AFTE director made reference to the case of Tareq Khadr, a member of the April 6 Youth Movement who was taken from Alexandria University’s campus on March 27, 2010 by state security officers. While an administrative detention order has been issued against him, his whereabouts remain unknown.
A total of 68 students were arrested and detained in custody by the police during the period covered by the report.
The report details the case of three Alexandria University students from the faculty of commerce who were physically assaulted by members of the university’s administration and security officers on March 25, 2010.
One of the students suffered a broken arm during the assault, which took place during a security body crackdown on a student-organized campaign to raise funds to buy an artificial respiration machine for the university hospital.
When the students went to report the assault at the public prosecution office they were themselves arrested and charged with wasting public funds, assaulting a civil servant and membership of a banned organization (the Muslim Brotherhood).
Their detention was renewed for a further 15 days on Monday.
Cairo University professor Abdel-Galil Mostafa from the March 9 Group, which campaigns for university independence, said that students are at the forefront of “conscious sectors of society” which are being targeted by an “authoritarian, arbitrary, repressive and corrupt” regime.
He described security interference in student activity and physical assaults and kidnappings of students as “dangerous escalations.”
“Universities are supposed to be a free space for thought, freedom, and expression without restriction within the bounds of the law,” Mostafa said.
The university professor was critical of the government’s challenge to a court verdict issued last year that found that the presence of police officers on Cairo University’s campus is illegal.
He also criticized members of university teaching bodies, saying that members of March 9 staged a protest outside the Ministry of Higher Education last Thursday in order “to remind professors that it is their job to protect and defend students in the face of this police terrorization.”
Mostafa said that university presidents and deans have “proved that [they] are part of the police, not the university.”
“These professors should know that they only live once. Those that still have feelings of dignity and a sense of responsibility towards the future of this country and the rights of students should distance themselves from these crimes…Nothing is worth selling themselves so cheaply,” Mostafa said.
Mubarak told reporters that university administrations “pick up where security bodies leave off,” saying that 57 students have been sent to disciplinary committees in the past three months. Some of them were repeatedly suspended.
Fatma Serag Eddin, who prepared the report, said that lawyers are routinely prevented from attending disciplinary committee hearings, in violation of the law.
Mubarak said that disciplinary action against students for political activity on campus is made possible by article 124 of the executive statute of the universities, which is “full of vague and elastic definitions of offences.”
This, he said, allows university administrations to send students for disciplinary committees for legitimate activities such as signature gathering campaigns.
In addition to demanding abrogation of Article 317 of the Universities Law which concerns the presence of security bodies on campuses and gives them the freedom to commit these attacks, Mubarak called for repeal of a 1994 legal amendment which resulted in the appointment rather than election of university presidents.
The AFTE director described the amendment as a “principal factor in the absence of university independence.”