Anti-war activists assaulted and arrested in Egypt and Tunisia.

17/02/2003
Urgent Appeal

The FIDH condemns the violent assault and arrests of demonstrators which occurred in Egypt and Tunisia during and prior to the peaceful demonstrations against a possible war in Iraq, on Sunday 16, 2003. At a time when demonstrators throughout the world gathered peacefully to express their refusal of a war against Iraq, the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities violated the right to demonstrate and to peaceful assembly by using disproportionate force against peaceful demonstrators, and arresting them.

On February 16, 2003, in Sfax, an industrial town situated 270 km from Tunis, a demonstration against the war in Iraq organised by several trade unions, NGOs and opposition parties was violently dispersed by police forces. Several hundred people gathered in the center of Sfax to show their solidarity with the people of Iraq and their refusal of war. The police brutally charged the demonstrators, violently hitting them over the head with police sticks. Over 20 people were injured and had to be hospitalised. Six people are said to be very seriously injured, and the police has arrested a dozen demonstrators. Already in December, a demonstration of solidarity with the Iraqi people and against the war had been banned in Tunis for "reasons of security".

In Egypt, over the last weeks, the authorities have used Egypt’s state of emergency law to administratively detain people who participated in demonstration against a war in Iraq. Moreover, it seems that several people have been detained "preventively" to stop them from participating in the February 15 demonstration. During the demonstration on Sunday 16, at least 5 more people were arrested and several more were injured. Already, on January 18th, the State Security Police arrested 11 alleged members of the Egyptian People’s Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian Uprising who had demonstrated against a war against Iraq, under the charges of disrupting public order. Most of these demonstrators are still in detention awaiting trial at the prison of Tora. These arrests were followed by other detentions of antiwar activists in February 2003, including journalist Ibrahim Al-Sahary and film producer Sabri al Ammak. The FIDH wishes to express its concern at the increasing use by the Egyptian authorities of the state of emergency Law, which enables them to suspend basic civil liberties and is used to suppress freedom of expression. The FIDH also fears for the physical integrity of those detained.

In the light of the events in both Tunisia and Egypt, the FIDH calls upon the authorities of these two countries to :
- Put an end to all forms of harassment against demonstrators and activists, who are exercising their legitimate right to collective peaceful expression.
- Release the people detained and guarantee their physical integrity.
- Drop the charges against them, which are arbitrary since they sanction the exercise of freedom of expression and demonstration.
- Respect the freedoms of expression, of opinion and demonstration, as guaranteed by international instruments to which Egypt and Tunisia are party, and in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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