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Human rights abuses in Egypt, Jordan and Syria
Published in Daily News Egypt on 30 - 08 - 2006

DUBAI: Human rights organizations in Egypt have condemned the Egyptian government for two fatal rail accidents and have continued with campaigns for the release from prison of prominent Muslim Brotherhood members.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, poor prison conditions have been highlighted in Jordan and rights groups continued to condemn Syria despite the country signing the Arab Charter for Human Rights.
Following Egypt s worst rail accident in four years, activists condemned what they termed as carelessness on the part of the public transport authorities. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) demanded an immediate investigation into what occurred, insisted that the government lays down basic safety precautions and that parliament establishes a council for crisis-management.
This accident comes as a result of the spreading carelessness in the Association of Public Transport in general, and the Railroads Association in particular, said an EOHR statement.
The rail accident occurred on Aug. 21 near the Nile Delta town of Qalyoub, 20 km north of Cairo, when two trains traveling on the same track crashed. According to the health ministry, 58 people were killed and 143 injured.
The following day, another train crashed into a tractor in Beni Suef, 100 km south of Cairo.
Meanwhile, campaigns to release prominent Muslim Brotherhood members Essam Al-Arian and Mohammed Morsi continued, after a decision on Aug. 14 to release them was then overturned following intervention by the state prosecution. They were arrested in April during a wave of demonstrations in support of judges campaigning for judicial independence.
It s time for some people to stop . neglecting the issue of prisoners of conscience in Egypt, because of their being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Gamal Eid, director of Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. The government regularly cites security and public order concerns as well as membership of a banned organization when detaining Brotherhood activists.
Poor living conditions and abusive practices in Jordan's prisons continued to be in the media spotlight last week. A group of 42 Islamist inmates of Swaqa Yale, around 120 km south of Amman, went on a hunger strike on Aug. 25 as a protest against alleged torture, ill-treatment and the general inhuman conditions they live in.
"The government is going to kill us slowly by putting us in isolated rooms of two by three meters to be shared by four people, reads a letter signed by the inmates and sent to the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) in Amman.
"The prison authorities keep promising changes but nothing has so far been done, said Abdul Karim Shreideh, chairman of the Prisons and Arrested Persons Committee of the AOHR.
International and local rights watchdogs have condemned the alleged widespread abuse of inmates and poor living conditions in Jordanian prisons. The National Center for Human Rights has said that the Swaqa Correctional and Rehabilitation Center must improve the prisoners' health and social conditions.
However, officials from the Police Security Department (PSD) have denied the alleged violations. The PDS issued a statement on Aug. 26 defending its policy of prisoner segregation, saying that it conforms to the law governing the country's prisons. The prisoners had demanded to be allowed to mix with other prisoners and wanted their cell doors to remain open during the night.
"The Department of Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers will not allow prisoners of different types of crimes to mix freely, said PSD spokesperson Major Basheer Daaja.
The Syrian Organization for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Aug. 24 that the trial of Dr Kamal Labwani, a human rights activist who was arrested last November upon his return from the United States, has been postponed to Sept. 19 pending further investigations. Labwani has been charged with contacting a foreign country to instigate it to launch aggression against Syria and if found guilty, he could be given a life sentence with hard labor.
Anwar Al-Bunni, Syria's leading human rights lawyer is still being held by the authorities. Khalil Maatouk, lawyer and human rights activist, said that he saw Al-Bunni on Aug. 24 at Adra Prison [a civilian prison north of Damascus] and that he was "in good health.
Al-Bunni was detained on May 17 along with nine other activists, including prominent writer Michel Kilo. According to a May 31 statement by Amnesty International, the 10 men were charged with weakening nationalist sentiment and inciting sectarian strife, charges which carry maximum jail terms of three years.
On Aug. 17, Syria signed the Arab Charter for Human Rights, which was approved by the Arab League in 2004. However, human rights activists in the country stressed that what really mattered was the commitment to the charter, not just its signing.
The Charter doesn t meet international standards although it is a positive step forward, said Mohannad Al-Hosni of the SOHR.
Since coming to power in 2000, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has freed more than 800 political prisoners and passed laws aimed at liberalizing the state-controlled economy. However, he has also clamped down on political activists, jailed pro-democracy advocates and cracked down on government critics, showing there is limit to the amount of dissent the state is prepared to tolerate. IRIN

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