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MIDDLE EAST: Muslim Brotherhood arrests and releases in Egypt and record journalist deaths in Iraq

DUBAI, 17 October 2006 (IRIN) - In Egypt, eight members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group were arrested in the Nile Delta governorate of Menoufiya, north of Cairo, on Friday. Security sources said the men were arrested on charges of belonging to an illegal organisation and possessing anti-government pamphlets.

The Brotherhood, which is banned but tolerated, operates openly in Egyptian politics. However, its members suffer periodic waves of arrests and crackdowns by security services.

“The policy of random and illegal detentions is not new to the Egyptian regime, [but] such detention campaigns will not break the group’s will and its pursuit for genuine reform,” Dr Mohammed Ali Beshr, Brotherhood Executive Bureau member, said in a statement.

However, on 16 October 15 Brotherhood members, including Secretary-General Dr Mahmoud Ezzat, were released from detention after having been arrested on 25 August.

Meanwhile, freedom of speech activists have expressed concern this week over the banning and seizure of a new book which criticises al-Azhar University – unofficially Sunni Islam’s highest authority. Some 280 copies of the book – ‘Modern Sheikhs and the Making of Modern Islam’ by Dr Mohammed Fattouh - were seized from a distributor by censorship authorities.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said in a statement on 11 October that the seizure was unlawful as “there was no official court decision to confiscate the book”.

In Jordan, a leading local human rights group last week called for the establishment of an exclusive court for minors in a bid to maintain secrecy and insure speedy trial procedures.

Jordan’s National Human Rights Group issued a report on juvenile protection for 2005-2006 in which it criticised the legal system in the kingdom "for not adhering to international standards”.

Scores of minors are being kept behind bars for prolonged periods without trial, said the group, adding that out of 217 jailed minors, 33 were convicted while the others were still awaiting a verdict.

Meanwhile, a human rights activist said on Saturday that more than 600 people were jailed without charge upon orders from administrative governors. “The administrative governors are exploiting the crime prevention law, which gives them the power to detain individuals to stop possible crimes,” said Abdul Karim Shreideh, from the Arab Organisation for Human Rights.

"Why do we have courts if they give themselves the right to decide who is innocent and who is guilty," he said. Some individuals have been in prison for years without charges, he said, noting that some detainees "were thrown in prison for simple traffic accidents and sent to the notorious Al-Jafaar prison, in the heart of the desert”. Government officials were not available for comment.

In Iraq, continued violence claimed the lives of 12 Iraqi journalists and media workers, marking the deadliest week for the media industry since the US-led occupation of the country began in 2003.

On 12 October, gunmen broke into Al-Shaabiya television company, a fledgling satellite channel in Baghdad's eastern district of Zayouna, executing 11 people and wounding two.

Executive manager Hassan Kamil told Reuters "the station had no political agenda and that the staff had been a mix of Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds".

On 10 October, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an Iraqi press freedom organisation, said the body of Azad Muhammad Hussein, 29, a reporter for the Iraqi Islamic Party-owned Radio Dar Al-Salam who was kidnapped a week before, was found and with evident signs of torture.

In all, 85 journalists and 35 media workers have been killed since March 2003. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based NGO, said this made Iraq the deadliest conflict area for the press in the 25-year history of the organisation.

Research also shows that armed groups have kidnapped at least 43 journalists in Iraq since April 2004.

An aid worker was also targeted separately. Abdul-Sattar al-Mashhadani, 43, director of programmes for the NGO Life For Relief & Development in Iraq, was shot dead on 6 October while he was trying to flee the country after receiving threats from sectarian militias.

Life is the only US humanitarian NGO working throughout Iraq. Other US aid agencies either work only in the north or the south of the country due to the ongoing violence.

In Syria, detained prominent lawyer and human rights activist Anwar al-Bunni could face up to three years in prison after four charges were made against him, a human rights group said on 10 October.

The National Organisation for Human Rights (NOHR) said that the investigating magistrate pressed the charges against Al-Bunni during a court session held on 9 October.

According to NOHR, Al-Bunni was charged with spreading false or exaggerated news that could weaken the nation’s morale, affiliating with an unlicensed political group that has an international nature, insulting the state’s institutions and public administration, as well as contacting a foreign country. No date for the trial has yet been set.

Al-Bunni has often called for democratic reforms in Syria and has spoken out on behalf of detainees and Kurdish activists. He has been arrested several times before.

On 9 October, Syria’s Supreme State Security Court sentenced to death Ahmed Mustafa al-Sayyed, a 43-year-old from the northern city of Aleppo, after he was found guilty of belonging to the outlawed Islamist group the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The court later reduced the sentence to 12 years imprisonment.

Since coming to power in 2000, President Bashar al-Assad has freed some political prisoners and passed laws aimed at liberalising the state-controlled economy. But he has also clamped down on political activists, jailed pro-democracy advocates and cracked down on government critics.

On 10 October, Amnesty International expressed concern over the arrest in Yemen of human rights activist Ali al-Dailami, who is the director of the Yemeni Organization for Defending Democratic Rights and Freedoms.

“Ali al-Dailami is being held incommunicado at an unconfirmed location and may be at risk of torture and ill-treatment. He appears to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely as a result of his human rights work,” said Amnesty.

Al-Dailami, who is also a member of the opposition Popular Forces Union Party, was arrested on 9 October at Sana’a airport by the political security authorities. He was due to travel to Denmark in order to take part in a human rights partnership meeting in Copenhagen.

Al-Dailami is believed to be held in the Political Security (al-Amn al-Seyasi) prison in Sana’a and activists say his arrest is connected to his human rights work.

Meanwhile, there was a small glimmer of hope for journalists as Abed al-Mahdhari, the detained editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper al-Diyar, was released on bail on 10 October. Al-Mahdhari had been detained by a member of the Criminal Investigation Bureau in Sana’a at the directives of the Press and Publication Prosecutor.

According to al-Diyar newspaper, al-Mahdhari was arrested as a result of his reports which criticise the state. The prosecutor, however, charged the newspaper with violating the publication law.

On 11 October, the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights released its report on the Yemeni elections held in September. It said there were 60 types of violations during the elections, including detentions, the murder of some candidates or members of election committees, the destruction and/or seizure of polling boxes, dismissal of observers, fraud, and the forcing of electors to vote in public. The government has not yet commented on the report.

In Lebanon, hundreds of family and friends gathered on Friday to hold a sit-in in ‘Gibran Khalil Gibran’ garden, a few meters away from UN house in Beirut to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the day when hundreds of Lebanese soldiers and civilians were taken into custody in Syrian prisons.

“This case will not be solved until light is shed on the fate of those who have disappeared or been imprisoned,” Ghassan Mkheiber, a Lebanese lawmaker, told IRIN. Mkheiber recently discussed the issue of Lebanese detainees with members of the UN human rights council in Geneva.

“This is not a crime that will fade with time, and international support is needed, including that of an International Criminal Court,” he added.

At least 261 Lebanese citizens were illegally imprisoned in Syria, according to SOLID, a local NGO dealing with the issue. This number has recently grown as more families of the detained have come forward since 2005 with information about the fate of loved ones who were allegedly abducted by Syrian security forces in Lebanon.

On several occasions, Syria has denied having Lebanese detainees in its prisons. But in 2000 it released a number of Lebanese captives several years after their abductions from Lebanon.

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Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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