Amnesty International deplores Tuesday’s renewal of the state of emergency by the Egyptian authorities, who rushed through parliament a two-year extension to emergency laws that have been used to crackdown on peaceful opposition protests.
Egyptian authorities claim emergency powers, which have been in place for 29 years, are necessary to combat terrorism and drug trafficking but in practice they have been used to crack down on peaceful dissent and to detain people without charge or trial for prolonged periods.
"By renewing the state of emergency, the Egyptian authorities have given their security forces, especially the State Security Investigations (SSI) officers, carte blanche to continue to use repressive emergency powers that have clearly led to numerous abuses,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
“The authorities have routinely used so-called security concerns to infringe upon human rights.”
“The laws unduly restrict the rights to freedom of association and assembly and facilitate arbitrary detention, torture and unfair trials. We are particularly concerned that this extension comes as Egypt prepares for elections this year; the authorities are notorious for relying on the emergency powers to lock up their opponents.”
The government also continues to crack down on freedom of assembly. In April, peaceful demonstrators calling for political reform and an end to the state of emergency were violently repressed by security forces. Such demonstrations are ongoing across the country.
Amnesty International has documented the arbitrary detention of hundreds of members of the country’s largest organized political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, during the run up to elections in 2005.
The organization also documented the banning and violent dispersal of opposition demonstrations.
Egyptian authorities have claimed that the renewed state of emergency will be “relaxed”, with fewer restrictions on freedom of expression.
Emergency powers under the state of emergency allow the authorities to order the detention without charge or trial of anyone suspected on the basis of the mere suspicion of endangering “national security” or “public order”.
Amnesty International has documented many cases where people have been subjected to secret detention, torture or other ill-treatment by SSI, infamous for abuses.
Thousands of people held without charge or trial under the emergency legislation are languishing in Egypt’s jails in degrading or inhumane conditions. Some have been held for more than a decade, including many whose release has been repeatedly ordered by courts.
Amnesty International has also documented how the emergency powers have led to grossly unfair trials in emergency and military courts, which bypass the criminal justice system.
The Egyptian authorities continue to abuse emergency powers to curtail freedom of association. Hundreds of alleged members and supporters of Egypt’s largest organized political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, are currently detained.
Amnesty International is further concerned that abuses could be entrenched by draft counter-terror legislation that is intended as a permanent replacement for the state of emergency.
The legislation’s contents remains secretive, despite repeated requests to see and comment on it by Amnesty International and others.
As part of the Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council, the Egyptian authorities claimed that the draft legislation respected human rights. However, they also rejected a recommendation for them not to introduce emergency powers into the constitution.
There are legislative elections in Egypt this autumn, followed by presidential elections in 2011.