As State of Emergency is Lifted, Egypt Must Make 'Clean Break' from Abusive Past and Return to Rule of Law

Press Release
June 1, 2012

As State of Emergency is Lifted, Egypt Must Make 'Clean Break' from Abusive Past and Return to Rule of Law

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- As Egypt’s repressive 31-year “state of emergency” ends, the country must make a “clean break” with its abusive past, Amnesty International said today, calling on Egyptian authorities to release anyone still held under the emergency decree or bring them to justice in conformity with fair trial standards.

While Egypt’s parliament allowed the state of emergency to lapse as of Thursday, the abuses associated with the law continue, including brutal crackdowns on peaceful protesters, arbitrary arrests, torture and unfair trials of civilians under military law.”

“Egypt should seize this moment to make a clean break with the past,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director, Amnesty International USA. “The uprising by hundreds of thousands of protesters ended Hosni Mubarak’s reign but his brutal practices survive under military rule. “Even after Mubarak's departure, the military government opened fire on peaceful protesters and tried thousands of civilians in military courts."

"No one should forget that the U.S. government also took advantage of Egypt's 'state of emergency' environment by sending detainees there as part of the 'global war on terror.' Detainees sent by the U.S. and other governments were placed in the same Egyptian torture cells that many criticize today.

Under Mubarak, the state of emergency was used to hold tens of thousands of people in administrative detention without charge or trial for months or years – often in defiance of repeated court orders for their release. The emergency law also fostered a parallel justice system of emergency courts, which flaunted the basic guarantees of a fair trial, such the right to appeal to a higher tribunal.

The state of emergency gave Egypt’s security forces the power to operate above the law. The now-disbanded State Security Investigations service (SSI), in particular, committed serious human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, for which its members have yet to be held to account.

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to launch independent and impartial investigations into all human rights violations committed under the state of emergency, and to bring anyone found responsible to justice in fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty.

Amendments to the Code of Military Justice, a law which in practice allows for civilians to be tried before military courts, were passed by parliament in May.

However the amendments were not wide-ranging enough to stop the army from continuing to try civilians before military tribunals. Around 100 people detained following a protest in May in Cairo’s Abbaseya neighborhood are currently facing military prosecution.

Since the “January 25 Revolution," military courts have sentenced thousands of civilians in unfair trials for crimes, such as “thuggery” and “breaking the curfew."

Systemic torture and other ill-treatment went largely unchallenged during the state of emergency. Under the army’s rule, such abuses have included the forced "virginity tests" on women protesters in March 2011, and the beating of protesters detained following the sit-in outside the Egyptian government’s cabinet building in December.

Impunity under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has also continued for violations committed during the brutal suppression of demonstrations by the security forces and the army.

The crackdowns include protests at Cairo’s Maspero building in October, in which 27 people were killed; near the Interior Ministry in November in which 50 people were killed; and around the Cabinet building in December, in which 17 people were killed. To date, the SCAF have yet to hold a single member of the security forces to account.