by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON – Anti-war activists and protesters detained by Egyptian authorities in recent days are being tortured by police, Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged Monday in a detailed release that includes accounts by eyewitnesses and activists.
The New York-based rights group added that hundreds more people have been injured by brutal police actions to contain and suppress the protests against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories, which have reportedly shaken the 21-year-old government of President Hosni Mubarak.
The security forces have used water cannons, clubs, dogs, and even stones against thousands of demonstrators at Tharir Square, Al-Azhar Mosque, Talaat Harb Square, Ramses Street, and the State Broadcasting Corporation beginning March 20.
Among those beaten or arrested are university professors, students, journalists, and even opposition members of parliament. In some cases, children as young as 15 years old were taken to jail with their parents, according to HRW.
Some detainees reported hearing others being threatened and then tortured with electroshocks at one detention facility controlled by State Security Intelligence.
“The crackdown many feared has come,” said Hanny Megally, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division. “Fundamental freedoms in Egypt are now under serious threat,” he added.
The protests in Cairo, whose size and spontaneity have reportedly surprised authorities and diplomatic observers, are part of a series that have taken place throughout much of the Arab world in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion that began last week.
In Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, at least three people were killed and scores more injured during a violent clash involving tens of thousands of people over the weekend, while thousands of protestors fought with riot police in Amman, the capital of Jordan.
If the protests become more violent Arab leaders friendly to the United States could face “a serious threat”, a prominent political analyst in Cairo, Diaa Rashwan of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Sunday’s Washington Post.
“Arab leaders, especially in Egypt and in the Persian Gulf, are in a very, very, very dangerous situation,” he said. “We could all feel this danger coming.”
Indeed, both Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan repeatedly warned the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush since last summer that an invasion of Iraq risked destabilizing the region.
In the last couple of weeks, influential moderate Muslim scholars, including many at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Al-Sharif Islamic Research Academy, perhaps the most prestigious center of Islamic learning in the world, have become increasingly outspoken against an invasion, even calling for Muslim rulers not to cooperate in any way with U.S. war plans.
Megally said that what began as isolated detentions of Egyptian anti-war activists in December and January has now become a sweeping repression of dissent.
Arrests followed a massive but generally peaceful demonstration in Tahrir Square, which was closed for some 10 hours by tens of thousands of protestors Thursday. While the police violently restrained demonstrators from marching from the square to the U.S. and British embassies, the protest was permitted to go on unhindered.
But on Friday smaller demonstrations throughout Cairo met a violent response by the authorities, who alleged that clashes broke out after a car was torched near Tahrir Square. At that point, police began subduing, beating and arresting large numbers of demonstrators with excessive force, said HRW.
On Saturday morning, arrests continued. At least three female students who have been prominent anti-war activists were arrested on their way to a demonstration on the Cairo University campus. One of them, who was pregnant, was reportedly beaten, bound and blindfolded, and her whereabouts have still not been established.
Most of the detainees were reportedly taken to al-Darrassa, a Central Security barracks in Cairo.
–from ONE WORLD NET
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