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Freed activist accuses Egypt of distortion campaign
Published in Daily News Egypt on 28 - 07 - 2006

CAIRO: Anti-government activist Mohammed El-Sharkawi, who spent most of the past three months in jail, accused the government on Wednesday of a distortion campaign against the country s pro-democracy protest movement. He said the campaign, combined with a spate of arrests at street protests in recent months, was taking a toll on turnout. But he vowed that protests would continue. There is a distortion campaign. For example, (they say) these people are financed from abroad, or they are communists, or unbelievers, Sharkawi said in an interview, a week after his release from Egypt s Tora prison. Of course it succeeded, he said. It made the people sort of say: Who are these people? ... It affected us a little bit. Sharkawi, a 24-year-old member of the Kefaya (Enough) protest movement who was a regular at street protests, was picked up as he tried to leave a small demonstration in May and detained on charges including insulting President Hosni Mubarak. That arrest came just three days after he was freed from a month-long detention following his arrest in April at a demonstration supporting Egyptian judges in their demands for greater independence from the executive. Sharkawi became a potent symbol of the Egyptian opposition to the government after he said, in a letter smuggled out of prison and posted on the internet, that he had been beaten and sexually abused while in custody. The Interior Ministry has denied any abuse took place. Sharkawi, who was released along with fellow activist Karim Shaer, had continued to be held in jail long after many other activists, including award-winning blogger Alaa Seif Al-Islam, were released. Demonstrations have faltered since authorities in May began to implement a tougher policy toward street protests, after letting them take place with relative immunity last year. Sharkawi said the crackdown sent a strong message to protesters. The message we got was a message from the security (forces) that anyone who talks will go to jail. He will be arrested ... And maybe in jail there will be beatings and torture, he said. Plainclothes security men backed by riot police have beaten and clubbed peaceful demonstrators, whom the government has dubbed as thugs. Hundreds of people have been detained for at least several hours following protests. Several of the biggest protests were in support of two judges who had criticized last year s parliamentary elections, and a broader campaign for judicial independence. Sharkawi said he planned to attend a protest, his first since he was released, later on Wednesday in central Cairo to protest against Israel s offensive in Lebanon. There is fear. The proof is when I came out today, people said: You don t have to go protest. Don t go. Not this time, leave it to next week, or the one after. Maybe because they are afraid for me, he said. Of course ordinary people are afraid. (But) the streets belong to us. If we want to go down and protest now, we will. Sharkawi said his lawyers were preparing to file a lawsuit against the police for the abuse he said he suffered.

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