Egypt: the screams of individuals clearly being beaten

By degrees it’s slipping out of the headlines, but the Egypt story is still hugely important for anyone who cares about human rights in Egypt and the wider region.

With “normality” breaking out in terms of some people going back to work, banks opening (albeit briefly) and crowds in Tahrir Square thinning out, the so-called “Week of Endurance” is underway, with protestors desperate to hold on to the momentum they’ve created. (It’s notable, by the way, how clever branding has played an important part in rallying support for the rolling protests).

The key, as I’ve said ad nauseam in earlier posts, is lasting human rights reforms. Will they happen? It’s still not certain.

To be honest, the last few days hardly inspire confidence. Human rights workers and journalists have been targeted in a clear attempt to intimidate these groups and prevent the reporting of events. (Read, for example, Peter Beaumont’s scary account of his recent mini-ordeal).

At Amnesty there’s been serious alarm after a pair of Amnesty researchers were among about 30 people bundled out of a law centre last week and taken off to a military detention centre. A very quickly launched online action for the detainees received a strong response (over 10,000 people in just a few hours) and this may have helped get them freed late on Friday night, dazed but relieved, having been in detention for 32 hours.

Many others have also been taken. Al Jazeera’s Ayman Moyheldin was arrested and held for nine hours on Sunday before being released. Google’s marketing manager for the region Wael Ghonim has also been detained (Amnesty appeal for him here) and we’re hoping that reports this afternoon of his release this are verified soon. There have been many others.

In fact there seems to be an emerging pattern of key individuals being arrested, detained for one to two days and then released. In the case of the two Amnesty staff, they were more or less dumped in the street, after curfew had begun, and other Amnesty colleagues had to struggle across the military checkpoint-strewn city to link up with them (read their blogged account here).

The Amnesty Cairo blog post is notable also for a chilling reference to how the two detained staff members could hear “the screams of individuals clearly being beaten” in a nearby part of the detention centre.

This is exactly the sort of human rights abuse so associated with Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Whatever else is yet to happen in this momentous affair, I don’t think we’ve heard the last about human rights abuse in Egypt.

PS: Amnesty and others are planning a solidarity demo in Trafalgar Square this Saturday (12 February) at 12 noon ("in solidarity, in defiance"). This is an opportunity to express solidarity with those who are struggling for greater human rights in Egypt and the wider region. Please bookmark Amnesty’s Egypt page and check back for further details.

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