Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] reported [press release] on Tuesday that Arab governments are using violence to crack down on protests inspired by the unrest in Egypt. According to the report, public gatherings in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Yemen have encountered force from security officials. In Ramallah, Palestine peaceful demonstrators were punched and kicked by the "special forces." Two journalists, a HRW research assistant and organizers of the demonstrations in Ramallah have been detained. In Syria, police forces stood by as 20 people in civilian clothing beat demonstrators that had assembled to hold a candlelight vigil for Egyptian demonstrators. On February 4, police detained Ghassan al-Najjar, the leader of the Islamic Democratic Current, after he issued calls for Syrians to demonstrate for more freedom in their country. In Saudi Arabia, citizens canceled their plans for a peaceful sit-in to urge reform and better jobs after they were summoned by Interior Ministry officials. Sudanese authorities have also targeted journalists and censored newspapers covering protests. On February 2, more than a dozen of the staff of al-Maidan, a communist newspaper, were arrested. HRW also reports of an unconfirmed death of a student, Mohammed Abderahman, who was part of a protest in late January which was suppressed by excessive force. In Yemen, 6 people were injured and 28 arrested, including journalists and human rights activists, according to the Yemeni Observatory of Human Rights [official website; in Arabic]. In Bahrain, the government shut down a Facebook page calling for protests.
The violent response to the protests comes at a time of uncertainty in the region. Demonstrations against the 30-year reign of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile] began last week [JURIST report] and have become more violent since Mubarak announced Tuesday that although he will not seek re-election [transcript, text], he does not plan on stepping down nor leaving Egypt. Some reports allege as many as 300 deaths and 1,500 injuries [Ria Novosti report] as a result of the protests. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei [Nobel Prize profile] last week expressed his willingness to lead a transitional government [BBC report]. He has returned to Egypt and is reported to have joined the protests. According to some commentators, the unrest in Egypt is closely related to the recent civil unrest in Tunisia [JURIST op-ed] that culminated last month with the resignation of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [JURIST report].