HRW urges Egypt not to forcibly disperse Cairo sit-ins

Ahram Online, Saturday 3 Aug 2013

The international human rights organisation calls on Egypt's interim government to respect right to protest and halt any plans to end Cairo sit-in protests

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Egyptian government to stop any plans to forcibly disperse the sit-ins of supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo and deal peacefully with any problems arising.

The international human rights organisation's report comes on the same day when the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, an Islamist pro-Morsi coalition, announced the beginning of a new sit-in in Al-Alf Maskan area in Cairo's Heliopolis district.

The new sit-in is the third held in Cairo in addition to that held by thousands at Nasr City’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque and at Al-Nahda Square in Giza.

"The authorities should respect the rights of all to peaceful assembly," US-based HRW said in a report released on Friday.

"To avoid another bloodbath, Egypt’s civilian rulers need to ensure the ongoing right of protesters to assemble peacefully and seek alternatives to a forcible dispersal of the crowds," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

On Thursday, Egypt’s interior ministry said it promised pro-Morsi protesters at Al-Nahda Square in Giza and Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo's Nasr City district a safe exit if they leave their sit-ins "quickly."

The country’s interim cabinet on Wednesday gave the police authority to take "all legal measures necessary to confront acts of terrorism and road-blocking" it said the sit-ins pose.

"The police’s persistent record of excessive use of force, leading to dozens of deaths this month, and the density of the sit-ins mean that hundreds of lives could be lost if the sit-in is forcibly dispersed, Houry said.

Last week, at least 80 civilians were killed and hundreds injured, mostly pro-Morsi protesters, in clashes with the police at the Memorial of the Unknown Soldier in Nasr City near the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in.

"Under international law, the overall duty to ensure the right to peaceful assembly means that state authorities may not treat an entire demonstration as violent due to the acts of a few participants," HRW said in the report.

It added that its representatives visited the two main protest sites saying they were both "densely populated with women, children, and men."

Since 28 June, pro-Morsi protesters have been holding sit-ins in Cairo in his support. They have been calling for his reinstatement since he was removed by the army on 3 July amid mass nationwide protests against him. Morsi has been held incommunicado ever since his removal.

Morsi's supporters and opponents have frequently faced off since his overthrow, leading to over 200 dead and hundreds injured in the past few weeks.

Both camps have used firearms against one other, among other weapons, on numerous occasions. 

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