CAIRO: Four-hundred people detained without charge under the emergency law have been released, the official state news agency MENA reported Thursday.
But judging from the profile of those released and those who remain behind bars, a number estimated in thousands, lawyer and activist Gamal Eid said the news is “not satisfactory.”
According to MENA, Interior Minister Habib El-Adly has formed a legal committee to “examine and re-evaluate” the cases of detainees. More detainees will reportedly be released in the coming days, according to the news report.
This development follows a decree passed last month by President Hosni Mubarak which restricts the application of the exceptional powers of arrest and detention available to security bodies under the emergency law to terrorism and narcotics cases.
Prior to the passing of the decree the government had always claimed that emergency law powers were only used in narcotics and terrorism cases, a claim countered by rights groups.
The decree was passed at the same time as the People’s Assembly voted to extend the state of emergency, continually in force since 1981 — despite the government pledging to put an end to it in February during an examination of Egypt’s human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
Critics allege that the powers given to security bodies under the emergency law allows them to bypass the constitutional guarantees and judicial oversight enshrined in the judicial system and that as a result, violations by these bodies are now systematic.
Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said that ANHRI lawyers saw the detainees being released from Borg El-Arab Prison, Alexandria.
The ANHRI director says that those released “are ordinary people” rather than publicly known figures. “It seems those released were not high profile, politically or religiously,” Eid said.
Eid suggested that “300 more” people should have been released from the Borg El-Arab Prison and that “a total of 2,000” people detained under emergency law powers should be freed.
The government has not provided official figures about the number of people being detained under the emergency law.
Amnesty International and other rights groups say that there are thousands of such detainees, some of whom are held for years without charge.
Eid gave the examples of writer and Bedouin rights activist Mosaad Abu Fagr, who has been in prison since December 2007 without charge despite receiving over 10 judicial release orders, and Hany Nazeer, a blogger in detention since October 2008.
“This is a violation of universal principles of human rights and is unlawful. None of the detainees violated the emergency law and they are not connected with drugs or terrorism,” Eid said of these two cases as well as members of the Muslim Brotherhood being held under emergency law powers.
Eid said the release of these 400 detainees is “not satisfactory” as most of those arrested “were not arrested for major reasons such as politics or religion”
“They should have never been arrested to begin with and should have also been released much earlier,” Eid says, adding that the releases are “largely irrelevant because the Ministry of Interior will continue to arrest others in their place, especially individuals regarded as a threat to the state’s power.”