After 80 Days of Detention: State Security Prosecutor Releases All Ahmadi Detainees

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) welcomed the decision by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor yesterday, 7 June 2010, to release six citizens detained for more than 80 days because of their affiliation with the Ahmadi confession. The prosecutor’s decision came four days after a summary court judge issued an order releasing three other defendants in the same case. The EIPR urged the Public Prosecutor to drop the charge of showing contempt for religion, leveled against the detainees by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor, and to hold officials who detained and interrogated citizens in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of belief and expression accountable.

“Holding citizens for such a long period simply because they espouse a different faith constitutes a form of arbitrary detention, and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Adel Ramadan, the EIPR’s Legal Officer. “The government must comply with its international commitments not to punish or question citizens because of their religious beliefs.”

On 15 March, a State Security police force launched an arrest campaign that targeted several individuals affiliated with the Islamic Ahmadi confession. At least nine people were arrested and several books and computers were confiscated during the raids. The nine detainees were held inside various State Security police facilities for more than six weeks without appearing before any judicial body or being charged with a crime. In April, the detainees appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecutor and were charged with showing contempt for the Islamic religion, a crime under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code; the case was registered as no. 357/2010. On 12 May, State Security police arrested the wife of one defendant in the case, and she was brought before the State Security Prosecutor, who charged her with showing contempt for religion after questioning her about her religious beliefs and whether she belonged to the Ahmadi confession. During questioning by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor, some of the detainees said they were tortured by State Security police to compel them to confess to the charges against them.

EIPR lawyers who were present at the questioning by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor asked that an independent investigation be opened into the allegations of torture. The lawyers also argued that questioning the defendants about their religious beliefs is a violation of the Constitution, which protects citizens’ right to espouse whatever belief they wish. The lawyers further argued that Article 98(f) of the Penal Code is unconstitutional because it violates the constitutional right to freedom of belief and expression. They also argued that Article 98(f) does not meet minimum standards of clarity and certainty required of any penal provision.

On 31 May, the detention order for the detainees expired in line with the Presidential Order to extend the State of Emergency and limit its application to terrorism and drug cases. The Supreme State Security Prosecutor then issued an order placing the defendants under preventive detention for four days starting on 1 June. On 4 June, a summary court judge issued an order releasing three defendants and extending the detention of the remaining six by 15 days for further investigation. In a surprise step, yesterday the Supreme State Security Prosecutor released the six remaining detainees.

Soha Abdelaty, the Deputy Director of the EIPR, said, “Article 98(f) of the Penal Code has been on the books for far too long. The government must take immediate measures to abolish this provision, which is used by State Security police to harass, imprison and torture those who hold minority intellectual and religious beliefs, from Baha’is and Qur’anists to Shi’ites and others.”

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Women: Thou must be submissive and look good!! Your divine (and probably fat) husband is king

I was struck by the following pearls of wisdom from a “women’s page” in the in-flight Virgin Nigeria magazine. They entertained me into the 7th hour of a tortuous flight from Lagos to Dakar (with touchdowns in Cotonou and Abidjan… this plane was more like a frequent-stopping bus). The wonderful advice in the magazine made me remember my days reading 1950s women’s magazines for my PhD… a barrage of twin-sets and submissive cheeriness.

In-Flight Journal of Nigerian Eagle Airlines:

Letter from a “career mom of three children, married for six years.” The career mum has become a little overweight. She writes: “everybody at work and my friends think I’m just fine even though my husband is complaining about my weight as well as my going back to work so soon. It is as if he no longer finds me attractive”

Helpful response from the “social entrepreneur and aesthetic diet designer, with a passion for preventing premature aging” (pseudo agony-aunt, with bells and whistles):

“Your major problem is getting your husband’s attention again, right? First of all, you are overweight and that, your husband does not like, so he complains. He has a right to. Secondly, you are working while he would rather you were with the kids. So he feels you are usurping his authority. Thirdly, you listen more to your friends and colleagues, that means, outsiders are more important to you than your husband. That infuriates him. If you forget everything, don’t forget these:

Be submissive: The man is a creature of authority. That means he likes to be obeyed above all else. Let’s take it one after the other. Remember he is king in your home, treat him with respect and you will be amazed at how fast your second honeymoon will come.

Look good: I am sure he didn’t marry you looking this big. Try all you can to look great for him and not your friends or colleagues. Get to understand the male psyche. The man is attracted by what he sees. That means if he says ‘lose weight’, start losing weight and listen for the stop word.”

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Powerful Account from British Citizen on Mavi Mamara

This is a powerful account from Jamal Elshayyal, an Al Jazeera journalist and British citizen who was on the Mavi Mamara. What the hell were the Israeli soldiers and government thinking? And where was the British government?

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To attend or not to attend? The dilemma of a conference in Israel

As the previous posting described, I just presented a paper in Jerusalem at a conference on the protection of children in armed conflict. This conference was held only a week after nine activists were killed in international waters when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Gaza-aid flotilla. This attack has brought understandable international outrage and any foreigner attending the conference inevitably had to think hard about whether they should enter Israel at this time.

A number of key speakers withdrew: Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and Jaap Doek, former chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. None of the speakers from Gaza attended.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) had been urging UNICEF and other academics to boycott the conference from the beginning, pointing out that academics boycotted South Africa during the time of apartheid. In a statement, they said:

In essence, this conference establishes a false symmetry between the Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers and totally ignores the vastly divergent contexts in which children’s lives are embedded. The conference omits, in fact covers up, the fundamental source of the vulnerability and suffering of all children in this “conflict” zone: Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and multi-tiered oppression of the Palestinian people.

Obviously, any academic and human rights practitioner has to think carefully about travelling to Israel. UNICEF and other academics, however, decided to attend – probably motivated by my own belief that boycotting countries isn’t necessarily the best way to improve human rights conditions. The conference was organized by and attended by some very thoughtful Israelis who are well aware of their government’s abuses and bad practices. It is these individuals who have the greatest chance of shifting policies and practices in their country and I believe they should be supported in their endeavour. I, for one, learned a great deal from talking to them.

Much work needs to be done on protecting children in both Palestine and Israel. Surely closing down academic or practical debate on the issue isn’t the best way to achieve the most effective protection of children?

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Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict

I have just presented a paper at an excellent conference organised by the Minerva Centre in Jerusalem. The conference was on the protection of children in armed conflict. I co-presented with my friend Erica Gaston and we talked about the role that warring-party compensation can play in mitigating the effects of conflict on female-headed families. Our geographic focus was Afghanistan, although we hope our findings can be applied to other conflict zones where, despite the fact that children and women are one of the most at-risk groups, their voices are often drowned out and their needs unmet.

We talked about the heightened vulnerability of female-headed households in Afghanistan and the challenges that warring-parties must tackle if they aim to help them. One of the biggest overriding challenges is the lack of access to women. Any aid that is distributed to war-affected civilians is generally handled by men and this leads to a significant danger of male appropriation of the aid, so that the widow and her family do not receive direct benefit. Male village elders handle complaints and male extended family members submit applications for help. But how can warring parties get around this problem? Afghan women’s right to privacy needs to be protected, whilst every effort also needs to be made to empower them by providing them with direct aid. Any assistance mechanism will need to balance rights and tackle complex tensions.

The report that Erica and I wrote on warring-party mechanisms was published in 2009. This was a more general review of the ways that compensation can help war-affected civilians. The conference we just attended provided an excellent opportunity to focus on the specific needs of women and children and emphasise their specific circumstances and needs.

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Israeli-Lebanese Tensions Mounting

There are an increasing number of newspaper articles reporting a rise in tensions between Israel and Lebanon (see here and here). Hostilities, it seems, could break out again, and soon. Many people I spoke with in Lebanon feel the same – it has become a matter or when, and not if, Israel and Hezbollah will start fighting each other again.

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Welcome back to Misr!

I arrived back in Egypt two days ago after an absence of 18 months. The men greeted me with style… lots of hissing and “f*ck” mumbled under the breath. Then, on the metro, two young boys (10 years old, maximum) started harassing me and then, as they jumped off the carriage (and it was the women’s carriage), they yelled “f*ck” and spat hard, directly into my face and body. The other women on the carriage didn’t say a word. The only person who gave me a look of sympathy was a woman who looked Eritrean or Ethiopian. She handed me a tissue and shook her head. Good old Egypt.

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