Fresh warning that Egypt must protect protesters in run-up to this month's elections

The Egyptian authorities must protect protesters in the run-up to presidential elections on 23 May, Amnesty International said today.

A violent attack on protesters in Cairo on Saturday night reportedly left one person dead and scores injured. The attack, carried out by an unknown group of people, led to clashes which lasted into Sunday morning.

On Friday night a group of protesters who had been holding a sit-in in Tahrir Square marched to the Defence Ministry, in the neighbourhood of Abbasseya. The protesters were demonstrating against the exclusion of a well-known politician, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, from the presidential elections. Many had also been calling for an end to military rule.

On Saturday night, the protesters were attacked by an unidentified group of people. According to the protestors, soldiers stationed at the Defence Ministry did nothing to intervene and the resulting clashes lasted several hours. Egypt’s Health Ministry reportedly said that one person was killed and 119 people were injured. Some of the injuries were reportedly caused by shotgun pellets.

Both under former President Mubarak and Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, protesters have often been attacked by unidentified groups of people. Often such groups have accompanied the army and security forces as they have dispersed demonstrations.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“The Egyptian authorities have three weeks before elections and it’s time they made sure security forces fulfil their responsibilities to protect protesters.

“Egypt’s ruling military council must make sure that attacks like this weekend’s are independently and impartially investigated, with anyone found responsible for abuses brought to justice. The lessons of the past must be learned.”

Since the “25 January Revolution”, Egypt’s army and security forces have been involved in a series of crackdowns on protesters, often using excessive force, sometimes with lethal consequences. Last October, soldiers and riot police killed 27 protesters in Cairo when they crushed a demonstration organised by Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. The following month, clashes between security forces and protesters near the Interior Ministry resulted in 50 fatalities. In December, 17 protesters were killed in demonstrations following soldiers’ brutal dispersal of a sit-in outside the cabinet building.

Only a handful of police officers and low-ranking army personnel have so far been tried before civilian and military courts for the killings and other violence. Amnesty has called for all of these incidents to be independently and impartially investigated, and for the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. It has also called for basic reforms for the security forces - including for the rules on use of force to be made public.

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