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‘Deteriorating' rights
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 06 - 2015

In its annual report, issued on Sunday, the semi-governmental National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) says 2,600 Egyptians have died in the violence that followed the ouster of Mohamed Morsi. The casualties include 1,250 members of the
Muslim Brotherhood, 800 security personnel and 550 ordinary citizens.
The report also notes that "the number of terrorist attacks targeting army and police personnel in the last year and half has greatly increased," says NCHR Chairman Mohamed Fayek, a fact that should set alarm bells ringing among the security establishment.
“After Mohamed Morsi was toppled from power by a popular uprising the Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamist movements opted for violence in an attempt to restore their rule. The Brotherhood sought to undermine the foundations of the Egyptian state, igniting a wave of terrorism which has left hundreds dead and thousands injured," said Fayek.
Fayek said the NCHR was targeted by the Brotherhood under Morsi.
“After sweeping the parliamentary polls and winning the presidential elections the Brotherhood moved to impose its control over the NCHR. After the Brotherhood was expelled from power the NCHR was dissolved and reformulated in a more balanced way."
Fayek now urges the government to grant the NCHR greater powers. "President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has vowed to improve human rights in Egypt and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has promised that the NCHR report will be seriously discussed by the cabinet and the law regulating its performance amended to make its recommendations to the government binding," says Fayek.
The report, NCHR's first since the ouster of Morsi, covers detainee conditions and the protest law as well as the victims of violence.
"Following Morsi's ouster on 3 July, 2013 and the dispersal of massive Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo and Giza in August violence erupted across Egypt,” says Fayek.
"Muslim Brotherhood elements, together with hardline Islamist groups including an Islamic State affiliate in restive North Sinai, instigated violent terrorist attacks against security forces, army personnel and churches across the country," says the report. "The insurgency has left 2600 dead in a year and half."
In the same period the report estimates between 80 and 98 citizens died in detention, either in police stations or prisons. The high number of deaths in custody, it says, represents "a return of a pre-2011 revolution phenomenon.”
The report notes that the Interior Ministry admits to the death of just 36 detainees. And "while there is nothing that proves any of them died from torture, there is also nothing to prove otherwise".
The report criticises the Interior Ministry for failing to improve the conditions faced by detainees, claiming the death of many prisoners was due to "poor living and health conditions" and severe overcrowding in temporary detention centres in police stations. Police cells, it said, contain four times as many prisoners as they are designed to hold.
The report also criticised the significant extension in detention periods following Morsi's ouster. “Pre-trial detention has now become a form of punishment," it said.
The report urged the government to take urgent steps to improve detention conditions and demanded "the government and Justice Ministry set an acceptable maximum detention period pending trial."
The report highlights how the controversial protest law, adopted in November 2013, “restricts protest rights and violates international conventions”.
The protest law requires the organisers of any demonstration to notify the Ministry of Interior at least three days in advance and secure permission from security personal for any protest. Failure to comply with the law carries a three year sentence which the report notes has been handed down with alarming regularity to the secular activists who led the revolution against former autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.
The report also says the vast majority of articles relating to human rights in the new constitution are being ignored.
"We hope that when a new parliament is formed measures will be taken to translate constitutional guarantees into facts on the ground," said the report.
It recommends that the yet to be elected parliament prioritise legislation governing media and press freedoms, protest rights, the building of churches and transitional justice.
The NCHR's recommendations are non-binding.
The report is published as Egypt faces growing criticism, both at home and abroad, over its human rights record. Much attention has been focused on the manner in which Egypt's courts have handed down mass death sentences following trails which critics say lack any due process. On 19 May a criminal court handed preliminary death sentences to former president Mohamed Morsi and 105 co-defendants, triggering international condemnation. On Tuesday Cairo Criminal Court said a final judgement in the case will be issued on16 June.
In its annual report published in April London-based Amnesty International called on the Egyptian government to replace executions with jail terms.
In a bid to consolidate domestic security some NCHR members, Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr and George Ishak included, have also urged the authorities to place a three year moratorium on death sentences.
Many of the death sentences handed to Islamists since Morsi's ouster have been reduced or are currently being appealed," says Ishak. "This is a positive development on which we should build. We urge all the relevant authorities to suspend acting on death penalties for three years."
In its recent hearings on the state of human rights in Egypt the European Parliament heard testimony from local activist Bahieddin Hassan.
"Egypt has become a republic of fear," said Hassan. He accused the Egyptian government of “using terrorism as an excuse to muzzle freedoms."
Fayek met with Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar on 13 May to discuss the issues raised by the NCHR's annual report and suggestions the NCHR has made to the Higher Legislative Reform Committee on strengthening laws protecting human rights in Egypt.
"We are pressing to have the Prisons Law changed to allow visits by NCHR members to all prisons and set a time limit on the period citizens can be held in custody pending trials," says Fayek.
The NCHR also wants the law to be amended to allow its members the power of arrest, claiming the change is necessary to clamp down on police officers who regularly torture prisoners.

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