Political Developments - 2014
The most significant human rights problems were excessive use of force by security forces, including unlawful killings and torture; the suppression of civil liberties, including societal and government restrictions on freedoms of expression and the press and the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and limitations on due process in trials. Domestic and international human rights organizations reported security forces killed demonstrators and police tortured suspects at police stations, sometimes resulting in death. The government arrested thousands of citizens engaged in antigovernment protests, including secularist and Islamist activists who violated a restrictive law on demonstrations. Limitations on due process included the use of mass trials in which evidence was not presented on an individual basis, a new law that expanded the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilians, and the increased use of pretrial detention.
Egypt's interim president announced 26 January 2014 a change in the country's political road map, placing presidential elections as the next step in the transition after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The plan was unveiled one day after clashes between police and protesters left 49 people killed, hundreds wounded and more than 1,000 arrested. While the 2013 road map placed parliamentary elections first, the newly approved constitution allowed Mansour to decide which comes first.
A popular groundswell and government-organized support for Defense Minister Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, who ousted the country's first freely-elected civilian president after mass protests against his rule, to run as president had been building in recent months. Other candidates who had expressed interest in running have qualified their bids, saying they would not take part if General Sissi campaigns.
Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi handed in his government's resignation 24 February 2014, amid increasing economic pressures, including a series of labor strikes. Beblawi had been expected to reorganize his Cabinet in the lead-up to presidential elections, but the resignation took many observers by surprise. Acting President Adly Mansour asked Beblawi to remain in a caretaker capacity and it was not immediately clear if a new government would be appointed before presidential elections, expected in April.
Egypt's president named outgoing housing minister Ibrahim Mahlab as the country's new prime minister. Mahlab addressed said he hoped to have a new government in place within the “next three or four days.” Mahlab, was also an official in deposed President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party.
According to a May 2014 Amnesty International (AI) report, more than 1,000 persons missing since the 2011 revolution were unaccounted for at that time. International and local rights organizations reported new cases during the year. Local activists and rights groups stated hundreds of arrests did not comply with due process laws (for example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and prevented access to their lawyers and families), and that some cases may amount to forced disappearances. In a July 20 report, HRW stated authorities likely forcibly disappeared dozens of persons.
The large number of arrests during 2014 exacerbated harsh conditions and contributed to the prevalence of death in prisons and detention centers. According to security authorities’ estimates in March 2014, authorities arrested 16,000 persons between July 2013 and March. On 18 December 2014, the secretary-general of the fact-finding committee investigating violent incidents since June 30, 2013, stated authorities arrested 12,800 persons since then and had convicted 1,697, acquitted 3,714, and continued to hold 7,389 in pretrial detention. Some NGO sources alleged authorities arrested as many as 40,000 persons during that period. The sharp increase in arrests led to significant overcrowding and harsh conditions, especially in police stations, where authorities held large numbers of persons arrested en masse, sometimes for extended periods.
Mass trials, particularly involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsy and the MB, occurred in 2014. Further judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty. On March 24, a court in Minya issued a provisional sentence condemning 529 people to death on charges of killing a police officer and attempting to kill two other police officers. In cases where the death penalty is sought, the judge is required to seek the opinion of the Grand Mufti on whether the death sentence is compliant with sharia, although the mufti’s opinion is nonbinding. On April 28, after reviewing the Grand Mufti’s opinion, the judge upheld 37 of those death sentences; the remaining 492 were commuted to life imprisonment.
In a second high-profile mass trial on 28 April 2014, the same court in Minya issued provisional death sentences to 683 defendants, including MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, on charges of attacking a police station and killing two police officers. On June 21, after reviewing the Grand Mufti’s opinion, the trial court confirmed 183 of the death sentences, sentenced four to life imprisonment, and acquitted the other 496. All death sentences automatically require a review by the Court of Cassation; hearings were not yet scheduled by the end of the year. On October 2, the judiciary, without explanation, transferred the judge who presided over these cases from his position on the criminal court to a civil court, following widespread criticism of the conduct of the trials.
A 2014 amendment to the penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or nongovernmental organizations “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Violators may be sentenced to life in prison, or the death penalty in the case of public officials and for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.” The broad language raised concern among civil society the article could be used to prosecute NGOs receiving or requesting international funding.
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