For Immediate Release
Egypt: Demonstrators Defy Riot Police, Censorship
Internet Blackout Threatens Rights
CAIRO - Thousands of protesters in Cairo and Alexandria defied a heavy
deployment of riot police and other security forces and government
warnings not to participate in demonstrations on January 28, 2011, Human
Rights Watch said today. The government shut down access to the
internet and most mobile phone networks and ordered the army onto the
streets of Cairo ahead of a curfew.
Witnesses described dozens of demonstrators being injured by the
police. Reports say security forces are restricting the movements of the
opposition leader Mohamed el-Baradei and have arrested several leaders
of the Muslim Brotherhood. Police briefly detained several journalists
covering the protests.
"The Egyptian people are on the streets demanding reform and a
government whose police no longer attack them," said Joe Stork, deputy
Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "After decades of torture
and brutality, the Egyptian government is all too comfortable beating
and shooting at its own citizens. But the government and its security
forces should heed the message that the people have had enough."
Protesters in Cairo tried to force their way towards Tahrir Square,
the scheduled meeting point for the January 28 protest. Human Rights
Watch researchers observed demonstrators as they made their way across
Qasr al-Nil Bridge toward the central square, only to be turned back, at
first with water cannons and teargas fired at close range, and then
with rubber bullets fired by riot police. Protesters also attempted to
cross the 6 October Bridge, but riot police there also fired teargas
At approximately 3:15 p.m., riot police at Qasr al-Nil Bridge started
shooting rubber bullets into the crowd and beating them with batons,
eventually leading to the retreat of demonstrators back across the
bridge. Eyewitnesses said that dozens were injured. Human Rights Watch
researchers near the bridge counted nine bloodied victims as other
demonstrators carried them out. One appeared to be unconscious, another
had what appeared to be a dozen bullet wounds, and a 67-year-old man had
a bullet wound to his neck.
An eyewitness, an elderly female demonstrator who said she was at the
front lines of the demonstrators on the bridge, said that the police
fired both the teargas and the rubber bullets at extremely close range.
Another demonstrator, a 62-year-old retired army officer who said he was
a veteran of the 1973 war with Israel, said police beat him with
Meanwhile in the northern port of Alexandria, Egypt's second largest
city, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed security forces shooting
teargas canisters and rubber bullets at about 600 peaceful protesters
after the Friday noon prayer at the Sidi Beshr mosque. The protesters
left the mosque with banners and started marching, shouting, "We are
peaceful, we are peaceful." After an hour of sporadic clashes a large
column of protesters came from the other direction and blocked in
police, holding up their hands and repeating, "We are peaceful." Police
later withdrew from the area and thousands of protesters marched down
the Alexandria seafront. Later in the day Human Rights Watch saw police
cars and trucks burning on the city streets.
International human rights standards on the use of force by law
enforcement agents, as set out in the UN Basic Principles on the Use of
Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, state that force can
only be used when "unavoidable" and when it is used it must be applied
proportionally. Arbitrary and abusive use of force by law enforcement
officials must be punished. Similarly the Egyptian authorities are have a
duty to recognize and protect everyone's right to peaceful assembly,
including permitting demonstrations to move freely.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to reverse its decision to
shut down most communications in Egypt, saying the blackout poses a
major threat to human rights. The shutdown of the internet came in
apparent response to the demonstrations, which began as protests against
police torture and quickly escalated into calls for an end to President
Mubarak's three decades of rule.
"Egypt's information blackout is an extreme step designed to disrupt
planned marches, to block images of police brutality, and to silence
dissent once and for all," said Stork. "Attacks on journalists are also
intended to censor reporting. The government should order police to let
reporters work freely."
According to media reports, on January 28 police yesterday at least
four journalists, beat a BBC reporters, and seized a camera from a CNN
crew. Starting January 25, they briefly detained at least 10 other
Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981under emergency laws which give his
security forces the power to arbitrarily arrest and detain thousands
without charge for unlimited periods of time, and to ban demonstrations.
A culture of impunity has enabled systematic torture. Against this
backdrop, determined young internet activists have increasingly taken to
the internet and used it to organize street protests and share
information about cases.
Human Rights Watch said that the internet and mobile communications
are essential tools for rights of expression, to information, and of
assembly and association. The United States, the European Union, and
influential regional governments should take immediate steps to press
Egypt to end the nationwide telecommunications blackout. Companies and
internet service providers in and outside of Egypt should act
responsibly to uphold freedom of expression and privacy by pressing
Egypt to stop censoring their products and services.
"A state-directed shutdown of all internet access is deeply
chilling," said Stork. "The international community should respond
swiftly to put an end to Egypt's information blackout and human rights
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.