Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi attend Friday prayers during a rally around Rabaa Adawiya square where they are camping, in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
Egyptian human rights groups have urged security forces to apply the law and protect public safety when dispersing sit-ins by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The organisations issued a joint statement on Thursday urging security forces to abide by the law and guarantee public safety after Egypt's cabinet authorised the interior ministry to disperse sit-ins by supporters of Mohamed Morsi.
The statement said that any security measures to be taken against the sit-in must observe legal limits and international standards in dealing with protests, whether peaceful or armed.
The statement was signed by ten groups, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hesham Mubarak Law Centre, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, and Nazra for Feminist Studies.
Supporters of Morsi, deposed by the military on 3 July after mass protests against him, have been holding sit-ins in Greater Cairo's Nasr City and Giza districts as well as daily marches demanding Morsi's reinstatement as president.
The sit-ins– led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – have been accused by critics of harbouring arms. Several accounts of torture inside the sit-in have been reported, which the Brotherhood denies.
The joint statement called for a sound security assessment to precede any police intervention to prevent the exacerbation and spread of violence thereafter.
Over 100 of the president's supporters have been killed during clashes with the police and army on two occasions. The statement warned against the random use of deadly force, asserting that dozens of non-threatening victims have died due to the "deliberate use of deadly weapons, which amounts to a crime."
The groups said deadly weapons should only be used in self-defence or in defending others from death or serious injury.
"Security forces must remember their main role is restoring security and limiting damage, especially to human life," the groups asserted.
Armed clashes have also taken place over recent weeks between pro-Morsi groups and their opponents during protests around the country, leaving casualties on both sides.
"Regarding the spread of political violence in Egypt's provinces … the government bears the responsibility for violence and the deterioration of security and civil peace outside the capital, where security forces always fail to control and secure affected citizens," the statement read.
On several occasions, the Brotherhood supporters were accused of using automatic weapons against residents in Cairo and Alexandria that left tens dead. Official investigations of the incidents are underway.
The organisations also urged leaders of the sit-ins to take all necessary measures to avoid allowing weapons in the sit-in and the use of arms against representatives of the state and members of the public.
"The use of violence, torture or incitement of either are crimes the state should prevent and punish," the statement said.
The statement also warned of the possibility of committing "crimes against humanity" in the case that people taking part in the sit-in are killed in a wide-ranging assault on the sit-in, saying perpetrators of the attack as well as their leaders should be held accountable for any such action.
A delegation including representatives of a number of the groups signing the statement were prevented from conducting an inspection of the main pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya on Thursday.
The delegation was, according to its members, invited to conduct the search but was met with aggressive protesters who refused to allow them to inspect the sit-in to determine the existence of weapons and torture.
Testimonies by members of the delegation says some members of the sit-in were welcoming but political differences between two pro-Brotherhood members and one of the members of the rights delegation led to arguments.
According to Al-Ahram's Arabic website, one of the rights activists taking part in the visit, Mohamed Zarei, said the delegation left of their own accord and weren't kicked out, as some reports have said.
International human rights group Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Friday calling on the Egyptian government to halt plans to disperse the sit-ins. “The authorities should respect the rights of all to peaceful assembly,” read the statement.