[JURIST] The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] voiced concern [UN News Centre report] on Friday regarding recent events in Egypt, “including the military trial and jailing of a blogger/activist.” The blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah, was imprisoned [JURIST report] by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder] at the end of October after refusing to answer prosecutors’ questions because he thought that it was a conflict of interest to the military to investigate itself. The SCAF has accused Abdel Fatah for inciting violence during protests in October in which 27 people were killed and 300 people were injured. In their briefing notes [text] on the the issue, the OHCHR indicated that they had been closely following events in Egypt since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile] and are concerned about what appears to be a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association. They went on to say:
Civil society organisations and human rights activists, whose courage and non-violent protest brought about the change of regime in Egypt, must be guaranteed space for open debate, even if it means that the interim authorities are harshly criticised in public fora.
The OHCHR “called for the release of Mr. Abdel-Fatah and all others who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights to free speech and association.”
In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] warned [JURIST report] that the SCAF may have attempted to cover up various aspects of the killing of more than two dozen mostly Coptic Christian demonstrators. In March, Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused then-president Mubarak and police of murdering protesters during demonstrations, therein prompting the military council to instruct its top prosecutor to investigate the killings. Although the military council attempted to curb future demonstrations with a proposed law imposing prison sentences [JURIST report] and fines for those inciting protests, the legislation was widely condemned [press release] by international rights groups, namely HRW, as a violation of international law. In February, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] accused Egypt’s military council of torturing protester-detainees [JURIST report]. Relying on detainee accounts, AI stated that individuals were tortured “to intimidate protesters and to obtain information about plans for the protests.” HRW echoed this sentiment at the time in claiming that the Egyptian military was improperly detaining protesters and allowing prisoner abuse [JURIST report]. Despite a warning to the Egyptian government from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay [UN profile], in January to respect the rights of protesters [JURIST report], Egypt has endured criticism for the handling of its protests throughout the year.