June 17, 1997
Before dawn on Tuesday 17 June 1997, security forces arrested journalist Hamdeen Sabahy, a well-known Nasserist leader and the Director of the Markaz 'Elam al-'Alam al-'Arabi (the Center for Arab World Information). Four other people were also arrested: Mohammed 'Abdu (physician) and Hamdi Heikel (lawyer), both members of the left-wing Tagammu Party, and Mohammed Assayed Suleiman (lawyer) and Mohammed Bayyoumi (employee), both members of the Nasserist Party.
Security forces took Hamdeen Sabahy to the offices of the Markaz 'Elam al-'Alam al-'Arabi in the Mohandessin section of Cairo, and broke into the premises after Hamdeen Sabahy denied them permission to search the Center without the presence of a member of the Public Prosecution Office. Article 43 of Law 96/1996 on press authority prohibits the arrest of a journalist for a press offense except according to an order from the Public Prosecution Office; and also prohibits interrogations and searches of a journalist's work place except by a member of the Public Prosecution Office.
Lawyers from the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) went to the Dokki police station, where Sabahy is being detained, but were unable to receive any official information about the reason for his arrest. Hamdeen Sabahy has not been charged with any offense, and the unlawful entry and search of the Markaz 'Elam al-'Alam al-'Arabi offices has been officially recorded in record no.47/H of 17 June 1997.
CHRLA believes that the arrests of Hamdeen Sabahy and the others are related to their exercise of their right to peaceful freedom of expression, and are aimed at pressuring them after their participation in several conferences and peaceful gatherings protesting against Law no.96/1992, the agriculture land law governing relations between owners and tenants of farm lands. This law allows land owners to evict tenants from their lands once a five-year transition period terminates in October 1997.
The State Security Prosecution Office previously questioned Hamdeen Sabahy last April, within a few days of the arrest of Dr. Ahamad Al-Ahwany (a professor at the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University), about a newsletter opposing the application of the agriculture land law.
CHRLA calls for the immediate release of Hamdeen Sabahy and his colleagues. In addition, CHRLA asks the authorities to cease interfering with their political rivals, and to guarantee to citizens the right to peaceful expression of their opinions in accordance with Egypt's obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982.