Update: Female detainees released and dumped on desert road

Twenty-six women detainees were released and dumped on the 15 May Road late Tuesday evening near Helwan after being beaten and assaulted.

They were arrested earlier in the day, along with several others, as a protest against military trials was dispersed in what was the first enforcement of Egypt’s controversial restrictive protest law passed earlier this week.

Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah told Mada Masr that the prosecution ordered the release of all the women before they arrived at New Cairo Police Station, but that they refused to go until all the men were also released. They were then beaten and forced into a police van.

All journalists and lawyers detained were also released, Abdel Fattah said, while the remaining people in detention, who are currently being questioned, are those “who do not have a backbone of support.”

Abdel Fattah, whose sister Mona Seif — a founder of the No to Military Trials group that called for today’s protest — was one of the detainees, earlier told Mada Masr that the women detainees were taken in the police van to the Tora prison premises first, then moved again to another unknown destination. He had predicted that there were orders to release them, but that the police were “wearing them out first.”

Not long after the arrests, Seif tweeted a photograph of a list of 31 detainees being held with her, as her phone battery was running out.

Five other protesters were also released earlier in the evening.

Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi agreed to release protesters who were detained, according to Diaa Rashwan, the head of the Journalists’ Syndicate, quoted in the privately-owned daily Al-Masry Al-Youm in the early evening.

Following the dispersal of a demonstration outside the Shura Council and the arrest of over 30 protesters, demonstrators staged a march in downtown Cairo. Security forces used tear gas and water cannons against them on Tuesday afternoon and again in the evening.

More than 50 people were arrested on Tuesday, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic Rights. Many were taken to a police station in New Cairo before being released later in the evening.

Presidential adviser Mostafa Hegazy said on Tuesday evening in a televised interview on privately-owned MBC channel that “today’s protests at the Shura Council were held to reject the rule of law which is a main pillar of the state.”

He added that “there’s no full regime in Egypt for people to oppose, there are only organizational groups assisting a temporary cabinet to build a democratic state moving the country from a reactionary phase to a responsible one.”

“Most are working for the good of the country in one way or another, but what happened today puts huge burdens on everyone. We have to be selfless and act responsibly, forgetting all personal goals to focus only on Egypt,” he said.  

Egypt’s new protest law was adopted by interim President Adly Mansour on Sunday. The law requires citizens to give the Interior Ministry three days’ notice before holding public meetings and electoral gatherings. Prison sentences of up to seven years and fines up to LE300,000 may be imposed on protesters judged to have violated the law. A deputy minister of interior told privately-owned channel ONtv that the protest did not follow the procedures as stated by the new assembly law, and constitutes “defiance of the state and the law.”

Abdel Fatah Othman said that “field work and imposing control is often characterized by violence and force.”

Beblawi met with activists and representatives of the National Salvation Front Tuesday evening to discuss the new assembly law, state-owned daily Al-Ahram reported. Representatives attending demanded that the government release the protesters detained after the dispersal. It was agreed to form a committee to discuss the protest law in light of strong criticism to which it has been subject.

The protest at the Shura Council began at 4 pm, as some 150 protesters assembled on the busy Qasr al-Aini Street. The entrance to the Shura Council was blocked by two APCs and a line of riot police.

Protesters carried placards condemning the military trials of civilians in the new draft constitution, an article that was approved by the committee of 50, responsible for drafting the constitution, earlier in the week. They also chanted slogans against the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators.

Only minutes after the protest began, a police officer announced by loudspeaker that the protest would be dispersed within four minutes. Some protesters moved towards the police line while others attempted to move away. Police officers then stopped traffic on the street and fired water cannons at the protesters while riot police attacked with rubber truncheons.

A spokesperson for the interior ministry said in a phone call to the privately-owned television channel CBC that the police made arrests after protesters threw stones at police. However, other protesters and activists on Twitter denied any use of violence on the part of protesters. Video footage of the incident did not show rocks being thrown.

Photos also showed the presence of men in civilian clothes assisting and making arrests, which is illegal according to the new protest law.

According to initial Twitter reports Tuesday afternoon, some 38 people were arrested and taken inside the Shura Council building. Figures released in the evening by the Egyptian Center for Economic Rights revised that figure up to at least 50.

Abdel Fattah said one of the detainees, Mai Saad, told him over the phone that they were assaulted, beaten, and sexually harassed during their arrest. The Egyptian Center for Economic Rights said on its Twitter account that it issued official complaints about the assaults and sexual harassment  to which the detainees were subjected.

According to Saad, members of the committee drafting Egypt’s constitution lined up outside the Shura Council to watch them chant against military rule.

The Committee of 50 suspended its session in the Shura Council to request the protesters’ release, according to member Mahmoud Badr, a representative of the Tamarod campaign that he co-founed. Al-Ahram reported that committee chairman Amr Moussa phoned Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim requesting the detainees’ release.

Human rights activist and lawyer Ahmed Ezzat said on his Twitter account that he and other lawyers were not allowed to see the detainees inside New Cairo station. He said other human rights activists and relatives of some of the detained managed to see the detainees and deliver supplies, including clothes for some whose were torn during the arrest.

Nazly Hussein, a well-known activist who was arrested at the protest, tweeted that policemen dragged protesters on the ground and physically and sexually assaulted them.

Others arrested include Sara al-Sherif, and human rights lawyers Osama al-Mahdy and Ahmed Heshmat. Ahmed Ragab, a journalist with Al-Masry Al-Youm was released after the newspaper intervened on his behalf.

The first of two protests to be broken up by state security took place at Talaat Harb Square, where activists had gathered at 2 pm to mark the first anniversary of the death of 19-year-old Gaber Salah. Known as “Jika,” the young man has become a symbol of the hundreds of youth who have died in Egypt since the start of the 2011 revolution.

Prior to her arrest, Hussein told Mada Masr that the demonstration was planned to begin at the statue of Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo around 2 pm, before moving on to over areas, including the Shura Council.

“The security forces gathered near us when we arrived at the Journalists’ Syndicate, and when we started to move from there, the security forces began to warn us [that they would] break up the demonstration using water canons, if we do not disperse in the side streets,” Hussein said.

She added that security officers gave protesters five minutes to disperse into the side streets and repeatedly advised the protesters, using loudspeakers: “This demonstration is illegal according to the law on demonstrations.”

Witnesses say that the demonstrators did not respond to the warnings, and security forces began using water cannons to disperse the demonstration. Minutes later, security forces used their sticks, beating the demonstrators and arresting some of them.

Journalist Rasha Azab told Mada Masr that security forces detained her at the demonstration and took her to Qasr al-Nil police station before releasing her.

Two other participants in the demonstration, Mohamed Waked, a member of the National Front for Justice and Democracy, and Zyad Elelaimy, said that they voluntarily surrendered themselves to the prosecutor general for interrogation in solidarity with the detainees. Human rights activist and lawyer Malek Adly also handed himself in.

Human rights activist Ahmed Ezzat told Mada Masr that today’s events are merely a new cycle of criminal acts committed by the Ministry of the Interior, adding that “it is evidence of a political will to suppress the public sphere and punish people for making two revolutions.”

“This will not pass without repercussion,” he said. “We demand the removal of the new protest law and release of all detainees. Otherwise, there will be protests everywhere in Egypt and no one will give their law any regard.”

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