June 18, 1997
The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) expresses its severe condemnation of Monday's forced entry into Zaqaziq University by security forces and the use of excessive violence to end protests by University employees. The security forces' heavy use of tear gas caused severe injuries to Mahdi Mohammad Mahdi, an employee in the Orthopedic Department at Zaqaziq University Hospital, and the suffocation of many other employees. Mahdi is currently in critical condition at the University Hospital.
CHRLA sent a lawyer Tuesday to follow up on the explosive situation at the University, and to attend interrogations at the Public Prosecution Office of 29 University workers out of the 270 accused of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
According to information obtained by the Center's lawyer, these events resulted from the University President's decision to reduce workers' benefits from 65% to 50% of their basic salary, a reduction that would significantly reduce incomes when implemented in July 1997. After peaceful efforts by the University workers' union to resolve the problem with the President of the University failed, thousands of workers organized protests on the campus and called a strike.
During the extensive campaign of arrests conducted by the authorities, at least 270 employees were arrested at their homes. This resulted in aggravating tensions on the University campus, and led to clashes between the employees and the President of the University. The security forces reacted by entering the University by force and employing tear gas, resulting in grave injuries to the mentioned employee.
The Public Prosecution Office released all of the detainees except for 29 employees, who have been detained for 15 days pending interrogations. They have been charged with offenses including 'criminal conspiracy' to pressure University officials, damaging University property, refusing to work, and using force and intimidation against the President of the University.
CHRLA denounces the security forces for their forced entry of Zaqaziq University and their use of random arrest and violence to suppress initially peaceful protests. CHRLA emphasizes that these measures constitute a violation of Egypt's international commitments under the International Covenants for Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These measures also violate Egypt's obligations under International Labor Conventions, which protect the freedom of peaceful assembly, the right of workers to strike, and the right of citizens to express their opinions peacefully.
CHRLA points out that some of the accusations made against the detained employees are based on legislation enacted during the British colonization of Egypt designed to suppress resistance to colonization, including the Law on Congregation no.10/1914 which prohibits the assembly of more than five people if the authorities consider it a threat to public peace. CHRLA calls for the prompt release of all those detained in connection with these incidents, and for an impartial and thorough investigation into the actions at the University that resulted in injuries to its employees. CHRLA reiterates the State's commitment to respecting the freedoms of its citizens and asks it to reconsider all laws that interfere with the right to demonstrate and strike peacefully.
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