May 18, 2006

Egypt police beat activists

By Mohammed Abbas and Yara Bayoumy

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces clubbed
demonstrators in the streets on Thursday and a court rejected
an appeal against a jail term by a former election challenger
to President Hosni Mubarak in twin blows to the opposition.

Plainclothes security men beat and kicked protesters
rallying in support of Egyptian judges and judicial
independence in Cairo, while Egypt's highest appeal court threw
out the appeal by jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour.

Nour had appealed against a five-year prison sentence
handed down to him in December. He cannot launch another

"It's shocking. I hope God gives patience for what he is in
now, which is total injustice," Nour's wife, Gamila Ismail,
said. Nour says the charges against him of forging signatures
to found the liberal Ghad Party were fabricated by the

The United States, a major donor to Egypt, had urged the
government to free Nour, who was Mubarak's main challenger last
year in the country's first multi-candidate presidential poll.

The United States and the European Union have also
criticized the government over its crackdown on protests in
support of two judges who have been facing a judicial
disciplinary panel for criticizing election abuses last year.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood, the largest of several
groups which came out in solidarity with the judges, said
police arrested more than 500 of its members who had tried to
protest on Thursday near the High Court while the panel was in

Some 180 Brotherhood members were injured in the crackdown
-- the latest tough police response to a series of protests
over the judges. The detainees included Essam el-Erian, the
head of the Brotherhood's policy department.

In the face of a massive police presence in the city
center, the demonstrators, who also included secular activists,
gathered in pockets and dispersed when thugs moved in to attack

In a crowded market area just north of the High Court,
photographer Tara Todras-Whitehill said plainclothes men backed
by riot police chased a group of about 800 people down the
street and picked off stragglers for attack.

"They took those closest to the end while the other
demonstrators dispersed. I saw at least 20 people being beaten
with fists and kicks and short clubs," she said.

Another group of plainclothes security men clubbed and hit
Brotherhood supporters accompanying a group of Brotherhood MPs
as they tried to reach the court, a Reuters correspondent said.

The Interior Ministry said 240 Brotherhood supporters had
been detained in Cairo for protesting without permission, and
14 activists from secular groups were also arrested.


The judicial disciplinary panel on Thursday punished one of
the judges, Hesham Bastawisi, by withholding his next
promotion. But the panel cleared the second, Mahmoud Mekky.

Neither attended the session. Bastawisi did not attend the
hearing because he was still in hospital, having suffered a
heart attack on Wednesday.

The panel ruled that he would be dismissed from the
judiciary if he committed another offence. The two judges have
come to symbolize a campaign by the Judges Club for
independence from interference by the executive.

Thousands of police, armed with sticks and shields, sealed
off streets around the High Court and the nearby Judges Club --
flashpoints during weeks of protests.

The Egyptian government has said that media coverage of
beatings last week was misleading and the protesters broke the
law because they did not have permits.

Opposition groups say the authorities never issue permits
for their protests so there is no point in asking for them.

Police also arrested 34 Brotherhood members on Thursday
after demonstrations in the Nile Delta town of Shibin el-Kom,
the Interior Ministry said. Police arrested 50 Brotherhood
activists in the same town on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Amil Khan, Tom Perry and Mohamed