UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Friday called on Egyptian authorities to immediately release lawyers, journalists and human rights activists [official statement] who have been arrested and for the government to investigate whether the violence against protesters [JURIST report] has been planned. Pillay condemned Thursday's arrest of 20 activists and lawyers [HMLC news release] from the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre [advocacy website, in Arabic] in Cairo. Staff members from the international rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] were among those detained [AI press release] at the law center. Pillay emphasized the importance of protecting human rights during a time of political change in the region:
Governments should listen to their people, and start addressing their human rights deficits immediately. Waiting until unrest actually happens is, as we have seen in Tunisia and are now seeing in Egypt, not only perpetuating systems that to a greater or lesser degree transgress international laws and standards, it is also a classic case of acting too little, too late. We now see there is an intense hunger for human rights in the Middle East and North Africa - and of course in other countries in other regions. Governments who ignore these extremely loud and clear warning signals, are doing so at their own peril.Pillay also urged the Egyptian government to maintain open communications and protect media outlets, criticizing the government's "hijacking" of cell phone company Vodaphone [corporate website] in order to send political text messages [WP report] to citizens.
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 [speech transcript], 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], 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].