EGYPT: Run-up to Shura Council election marred by a wave of arrests

Over the past few weeks, tens of alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested in connection with their non-violent political activities in the run-up to elections to the Shura Council which begin tomorrow.

Yesterday, three peeople were reportedly arrested in al-Mansoura, including Muhammad 'Abd al-Ghani 'Abd al-Rahim, a candidate in the Shura Council elections.

The wave of arrests started on 19 April 2001 when Dr. Muhammad 'Abdullah and Dr. Abu Bakr Mitkis were arrested reportedly inside al-Sharqiya Police Headquarters, where they had just registered as candidates in the Shura Council elections. Dr. Sayid 'Abd al-Nur was allegedly arrested in front of the police station where he was awaiting the two others. The three university professors face charges of membership of an illegal organization, spreading the organization's ideas and possession of illegal leaflets. They continue to be held in Istiqbal Tora Prison.

In yet other attempts to obstruct the participation of alleged Muslim Brothers in the Shura Council elections, five men were arrested in al-Minya on 22 and 23 April 2001, following attempts to register as candidates in the elections. Further arrests took place in Beni Suweif and Alexandria where nearly 40 men have been detained. The men face charges of membership of an illegal organization and possession of illegal leaflets.

Among those detained in Alexandria are Tal'at Muhammad Fahmi Khalifa and Gamal Sa'ad Hassan Madi who have previously served three-year prison terms for their non-violent political activities. Amnesty International adopted the two men as prisoners of conscience who were detained in the context of the 1995 parliamentary elections and subsequently sentenced together with dozens of others in unfair trials before military courts.

Amnesty International fears that the alleged Muslim Brothers have been detained solely on the grounds of their non-violent expression of opinion and in violation with Egypt's international obligations.

'If, as we believe, the detainees are being held in connection with their alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brothers - an organization which does not advocate violence - we regard them as prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release', Amnesty International said.

Background

More than one hundred alleged Muslim Brothers have been tried before military courts in 1995, 1996 and 1999-2000, in conditions which fall short of international standards for fair trial.

Large numbers of alleged Muslim Brothers have been arrested and detained in previous years, in the run-up to elections of both legislative bodies and those of professional associations. Most recently:

- In the months preceding elections to the Bar Association, the authorities arrested 20 alleged Muslim Brothers, sending a clear message to the movement that had dominated the Association's Board in the early nineties. In November 2000 15 of them were sentenced to between three and five years' imprisonment on charges of affiliation with an illegal organization.

- Prior to the parliamentary elections in November 2000 hundreds of opposition candidates and their supporters, predominantly alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested and detained.

Despite Egypt's international obligations pertaining to the rights of freedom of expression, association and religion, numerous people, whom Amnesty International considers prisoners of conscience, have been sentenced in Egypt solely for their political or religious beliefs.

- In January 2001 writer Salah al-Din Muhsin was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for 'offending religion' in his publications.

- In September 2000 Manal Wahid Mana'i, the alleged leader of a religious group, and three of her followers were given between three and five year prison terms on similar charges of 'offending religion'.

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