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Monday, February 14, 2011

As Unrest Spreads Through Mideast, Human Rights Activists Search For Egypt’s Missing

Bahraini demonstrators run from tear gas Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, as riot police disperse a protest in the village of Duraz, Bahrain, outside the capital of Manama. (AP)

Bahraini demonstrators run from tear gas Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, as riot police disperse a protest in the village of Duraz, Bahrain, outside the capital of Manama. (AP)

Here & Now Guest:

Heba Morayef,  Human Rights Watch in Egypt

At least 85 Egyptians, who participated in the widespread protests that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power, are still believed to be missing, according to a human rights group. Human Rights Watch in Cairo today told Here & Now that those people are being held by the military, who seized control of the country after Mubarak stepped down on Friday.

“Our sense is that the majority of this group is being detained by the military,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Egypt. “They are being held incommunicado, with no contact with their families, no access to a lawyer, no contact whatsoever with the outside world.”

While the country’s Ministry of Interior, which controls the police forces, is accused of detaining demonstrators in the early days of the protests, Human Rights Watch believes that detentions that took place after Jan. 29 were the work of the military.

“When the Ministry of Interior forces left the streets, it was the military that was deployed and the military police is the branch of the military that is authorized to arrest and detain people,” Morayef said. “Most of the detentions were short-termed, but there were also some cases of torture and ill treatment, so that’s of serious concern.”

“They are being held incommunicado, with no contact with their families, no access to a lawyer, no contact whatsoever with the outside world.”

– Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch in Egypt

The youth opposition groups in Egypt are counting on the military to lead the country’s transition to democracy, and have reportedly met with military generals to discuss their demands, including the release of the detained.

Today the military promised to present a list of constitutional amendments to the public within ten days, which the country would vote on in a national referendum within two months. But human rights groups say the detentions are cause for concern.

Human Rights Watch estimates that overall 5,000 people are being detained, including youth protesters, and they say the military should either immediately release them or try them in fair proceedings.

Meanwhile, the ruling military council today ordered state employees, who are on strike protesting wages, to go back to work. Human rights activists say that type of directive is cause for concern, because it’s a sign of how they deal with activism.

Activists also want the military to provide a timeline for revoking the country’s 30-year-old state of emergency, which gives them the power to detain people without cause.

The state of emergency is a tool that the government has used over the years to detain thousands of people. With Mubarak now out of power, Morayef said, “There is no justification right now to maintain the state of emergency.”

Report by Here & Now’s Kevin Sullivan with the Associated Press


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