Twelve Egyptian human rights NGOs have issued a joint statement condemning what they say were fabricated charges levied against a group of protesters arrested on Saturday.
"The undersigned organisations express their concern regarding the accusations the prosecution has levelled against the detainees... accusations the prosecution is accustomed to automatically levelling against participants in peaceful demonstrations and gatherings with no serious investigations and based on sham inquiries prepared by the Ministry of Interior, especially the National Security Agency," the statement said.
The National Security Agency is the interior ministry department which deals with political cases. It was previously the State Security agency, infamous for cracking down on political opposition under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The protesters arrested on Saturday were demonstrating against a strict protest law issued in November that gives the interior ministry effective control over demonstrations and imposes harsh penalties on violators.
Twenty-three of the 24 arrested were ordered to be detained pending investigations by prosecutors.
The NGOs accused the prosecution of levelling "fabricated charges that include: assembly, obstructing the enforcement of the law, participating in an unauthorised protest, damaging public property, possession of incendiary material and the show of force in the aim of terrorising citizens."
Among the signatories were the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Nadeem Centre for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, the Arab Penal Reform Organisation and the Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression.
"The detainees were questioned in the absence of their lawyers in a police station by National Security officers. Questions included inquiries about the detainees’ political affiliations, opinions on the protest law and their choice of candidate during the presidential elections. According to the testimony of some of the released detainees, they said a number of the arrested protesters were beaten and threatened to be charged with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and/or the April 6 Movement," the statement read.
Photos of plain clothes men attacking the protest circulated on social media after the protest. Many, including the NGOs, believe the attackers work with police.
The NGOs demanded the repeal of the protest law and urged the "independence of investigation authorities and the public prosecution from the executive authority," accusing them of using "pre-prepared charges to harass political activists and dissenters" and using pre-trial detention as punishment. They warned such practices could lead to the loss of confidence in the justice system.