- Hundreds of members of the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood remain in jail in Egypt, following a continued wave of arrests. This began in April during campaigns led by reformist judges to demand greater freedom for the judiciary.
Those who remain in prison following the continued renewal of their 15-day administrative detention include leading members Essam al-Eryan and Mohamed Morsi, arrested in April during a demonstration.
Detained Brotherhood members describe the renewal of their detention as illegal and unconstitutional. According to the Brotherhood’s website, in a bid to enable the detainees to appeal against the court ruling extending their release, the Brotherhood have sued various figures within the justice ministry.
The government regularly cites belonging to a banned organisation and disturbing public order with reference to the detention of Muslim Brotherhood members. Observers say the decision of when and whether to free the detainees will depend on political, not legalistic factors.
"The seething political atmosphere in Egypt is such that the government needs to find ways to continually consolidate its power," said Gamal Eid, prominent human rights lawyer and director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. "This it does by regularly clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood, hence automatically silencing other potential dissident voices, including the secularists'."
Meanwhile, Egypt's oldest rights watchdog the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) has reported that, from 2000 to 2005, 81 people died from torture under police custody in Egypt. For the same period, it recorded a total of 156 cases of torture. Previous reports on torture in Egypt indicate that it is often used by the state security apparatus to extract confessions – often contrived – from victims. For the most part, cases are not politically linked.
International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voiced concern on 8 September following reports that Cairo-based Reuters journalist Summer Said was being harassed by state security. "Security agents made threats when they went to her home (7 September), saying she would regret it if she did not report at once to their headquarters in the south Cairo district of Lazoghly," the RSF press statement read.
The RSF said it would continue to follow up her case over the coming weeks.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government on 7 September ordered the closure for one month of the Baghdad bureau of the Dubai-based al-Arabiya satellite television channel.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) deplored the decision and called on al-Maliki to "rescind this ban immediately to allow Al-Arabiya to resume news coverage of one of the world's most important news stories."
"The arbitrary closure of Al-Arabiya's Baghdad bureau flies in the face of the Iraqi government's promise to uphold freedom of the press," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.
Al-Arabiya Executive Editor Nabil Khatib told CPJ that the channel received a government statement that said its coverage was fomenting "sectarian violence and war in Iraq," without providing evidence.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabagh had also told the state-run Al-Iraqiya satellite television channel on Thursday that some of Al-Arabiya’s reporters were “promoting sectarian violence” and that some of Al-Arabiya’s reports “supported terrorism”.
In another development, the CPJ expressed concern on Thursday over reports that an Iraqi journalist on trial on defamation has been missing since the morning of 3 September.
"A source told CPJ that Ahmed Mutai Abbas, managing editor of the defunct daily Sada Wasit in the southern city of Kut, called Sunday morning to say that he was on his way from Kut to Baghdad to attend his trial hearing," a statement said. Abbas never appeared in court, forcing the trial to be postponed.
Abbas along with Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi, editor-in-chief of Sada Wasit, are facing more than 10 years in prison and heavy fines if convicted for allegedly defaming local police and judicial officials in three articles published in 2005.
"We are worried about the safety of Ahmed Mutair Abbas," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We urge Iraqi authorities to do their utmost to locate our missing colleague."
According to CPJ, at least four other journalists are missing, including two who were abducted last August.
Following hours of heated debate Jordan’s Lower House approved on 4 September the new Khutba law, which was seen by MPs from the largest opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), as restricting freedoms.
According to the law, anyone who wishes to give sermons in mosques must first get a written authorisation from the Ministry of Awqaf [Endowments] and Islamic Affairs.
The head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, Ammar al-Qurba, said that on 23 August the Syrian authorities arrested 15 nationals in Al-Riqqa governorate (some 500 km north of Damascus) for their “proscribed religious activities” . The arrested included students, employees and self-employed people. Four were freed on 25 August.
The Syrian authorities as a rule refuse to comment on human rights issues.
The Syrian Human Rights Association (HRA) welcomed the release from detention on 5 September of human rights activist Mohammad Mahfoudh who had been detained for signing the so-called Damascus-Beirut Declaration. The document had been signed by some 500 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) the main human rights body, the Emirates Human Rights Association was reticent to comment on a 25 August report by Amnesty International (AI). The report said AI was alarmed at what it called “the recent measures of intimidation and harassment of human rights activists in the UAE.”
AI said that on 17 June an arrest warrant was issued against Mohamed al-Mansoori, a lawyer, human rights activist and president of the independent Jurists’ Association, after he was accused of “insulting the Public Prosecutor”. AI said it believed the authorities’ motive was to silence al-Mansoori after he gave several television interviews in which he criticised the human rights situation in the country.
AI also said that on 23 August, Mohamed Abdullah al-Roken, a lawyer, human rights activist and former president of the UAE’s Jurists’ Association, was arrested in his office in Dubai. The reasons for his arrest as well as his fate and whereabouts were unknown.
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