Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to protect demonstrators, after police violently repressed another anti-government demonstration in Cairo on Tuesday, beating and injuring demonstrators with batons and detaining and abusing at least one.
The incident followed the violent repression of a similar demonstration in the city on 6 April, during which 90 people were arrested.
The protestors have been calling for political reform and for an end to the 29-year government-imposed state of emergency which has been used to curb protests and freedom of expression.
"The ongoing crackdown on peaceful protestors shows the authorities are determined to suppress voices calling for reform or criticising their policies," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. "The Egyptian authorities must ensure that peaceful demonstrators can protest safely, rather than unleashing the security forces, with their well-known record of brutality."
An estimated 200 to 1,000 people took part in Tuesday's protest, staged outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the High Court (Dar al-Qada al-Ali) in Cairo by the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya).
One eyewitness told Amnesty International that the security forces sealed off the area and indiscriminately beat men and women, including the elderly. At least one activist, Bahaa Saber, was arrested during the demonstration and his brutal arrest was captured on a video widely circulated on the web.
According to one of his lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, activist Bahaa Saber was beaten up and dragged along the street by security forces at the protest.
On the way to Boulaq Abu El Ela Police Station, he said he was repeatedly hit on the face with a shoe while in a car with security officers.
He was then blindfolded before entering the station where he was stripped naked and had his hands tied behind his back. He said that he was further beaten, insulted and spat upon.
Five hours after his arrest, he was given new clothes and transferred to Azbakeyya Police Station. Lawyers were allowed to see him, as well as a doctor from El Nadim Center for the Psychological Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence who was able to examine him.
"When I saw Bahaa Saber, he was in bad shape. The left side of his face was bruised and swollen, also his eye. He had a cut wound in the upper part of the left cheek. He had bruises on this arms and back and had difficulty moving one of his fingers of his left hand," Aida Seif El Dawla, from the Nadim Centre, told Amnesty International
Bahaa Saber was interrogated by the North Cairo Prosecution, who at first refused to refer him to forensic examination, despite requests by lawyers present with a number of organizations, including the Egyptian Centre for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the El Helali Foundation for Liberties and Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
He was then transferred to the Egyptian Red Crescent Hospital for a preliminary medical examination on Tuesday night but his lawyers were prevented from going with him.
Today the Prosecutor ordered the release of Bahaa Saber on bail, after his lawyers appealed a previous 15-days detention order. He remains under further investigations on three charges: "shouting and demonstrating"; "assaulting police officers verbally and by gesture"; and "blocking road traffic".
The Prosecutor also interrogated the head of the police station on Wednesday about Bahaa Saber's treatment. The lawyers are waiting to see if charges will be pressed against the police.
“The public prosecutor must challenge the grievous record of abuse of the Egyptian security forces and hold them to account. There should be a real investigation into their conduct rather than yet another sham investigation exonerating them”, added Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
The clampdown by the authorities comes at a time of growing dissatisfaction with government policies, the rising cost of living, low wages and lack of labour rights.
Over the last few months, a number of protests and unauthorized strikes have been staged by public and private sector workers to demand better wages and working conditions.
Some of these demonstrations were dispersed by security forces while media workers were barred or expelled from the areas where the protests were held.
In preparation for next year's Egyptian presidential elections, some 30 key opposition figures, including Mohamed ElBaradei, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have made key demands, mainly related to constitutional amendments to ensure transparent and fair elections, as part of their agenda for democratic reform.
Since the state of emergency was imposed in 1981, the Egyptian authorities have used emergency law provisions to ban demonstrations and curb freedom of expression and the related rights to freedom of association and assembly.
Last week, around 33 Egyptian supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei were arrested in Kuwait on 9 April after they attempted to hold a peaceful meeting. Most of them have been summarily deported to Egypt.
Amnesty International has urged the government to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including by honouring the commitment it made to the UN Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Egypt in February 2010. During the UPR review, the Egyptian authorities stated that they already implemented the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, which is contradicted by these latest incidents. During the UPR review, Egypt also denied that political activists are being arrested and detained.