May 11, 2006

Egyptian security beat protesters in Cairo

By Jonathan Wright

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces beat activists
and arrested journalists in Cairo on Thursday during protests
in support of judges facing a disciplinary committee for
criticizing election abuses last year.

Activists organized at least three separate demonstrations
in central Cairo but in each case plainclothes security men
moved in, beating and detaining selected protesters.

Thousands of riot police, armed with sticks and shields,
sealed off main streets near the High Court, disrupting traffic
in the heart of the capital.

One of the largest protests was by some 300 members of the
Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group.

The protesters gathered quietly around the corner from the
court to escape the attention of security forces and then began
chanting "Judges, judges, save us from the tyrants!"

They marched for some 15 minutes before teams of
plainclothes security attacked the leaders, pulling them to the
pavement and beating them with fists.

One activist was held against a wall and beaten until his
face bled heavily. At least a dozen were arrested.

Plainclothes policemen also detained at least six
journalists covering the protest, a Reuters witness said.

They dragged away cameramen from news organizations
including Reuters and Al Jazeera television and confiscated
their cameras. An Al Jazeera cameraman was badly beaten.

Demonstrators dispersed when the security forces began
their crackdown. Some managed to regroup to continue chanting.

The demonstrators included supporters of the opposition
Muslim Brotherhood and secular activists. "Down, down with
Hosni Mubarak," they chanted, in reference to Egypt's


Shops closed their shutters in Talaat Harb street, one of
the downtown area's main streets, for fear of violence.
Security sources said at least eight activists were arrested.

The authorities arrested dozens during a protest in support
of the judges last month. They are still in prison.

The two judges, Mahmoud Mekky and Hesham Bastawisi, face
charges of violating judiciary rules by talking on television
about abuses in last year's elections.

They have also been prominent in a campaign by the informal
Judges Club to obtain full financial and administrative
independence from the Ministry of Justice.

An official of the Judges Club said the hearing had not
started by 11.30 a.m. (0830 GMT), about 90 minutes after it was
meant to begin, because of a dispute over who could attend.

The disciplinary panel would let in only the two judges and
their defense teams, but the judges wanted to bring a
delegation of 150 judges, said the spokesman, Mahmoud Askalani.

Judges say the ministry has used its control of salaries,
bonuses and disciplinary proceedings to influence judges.

The confrontation has been brewing since last year when the
Judges Club threatened to refuse to supervise presidential and
parliamentary elections. They later backed down but released
reports of widespread abuses and fraud in counting.

Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party maintained its
control of parliament in the legislative elections and he won
Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential poll to secure a
fifth six-year term.