Human rights watchdogs condemn Alexandria bombing arrests

Two human rights watchdogs condemned the alleged arbitrary arrests by Egyptian security forces of some 300 people in Alexandria, along with an unspecified number in other governorates after the New Year's Eve attack on the Church of St. Mark and St. Peter that left 23 dead.

Al-Karama Foundation, based in Geneva, and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Cairo said in a joint statement on Saturday that the documented abuses "reveal that the Egyptian government is continuing to use the same failed strategy to confront violence and crimes of terrorism, along with the extrajudicial means it routinely employs to deal with sectarian issues."

The two organizations issued a non-comprehensive list of 56 names of identified people who were arbitrarily arrested, calling the Public Prosecutor to investigate these abuses, hold those responsible accountable and refer them to a speedy trial.

Egyptian officials said there are indications that "foreign elements" were behind the Alexandria church bombing. 

Sayyed Bilal, 31, was among dozens of Salafi Muslims arrested by state security investigating officers for possible links to the attacks. He was allegedly tortured to death in a detention center in Alexandria one day after his arrest. An Egyptian prosecutor has ordered an autopsy on Bilal's body.

The Egyptian authorities have not yet revealed the number of suspects detained in relation to the attack, the statement noted.

The two organizations reported cases of torture as well as cases of forced disappearance.

Mohamed Ismail Abduh, 26, an engineer, was arrested at his home in Alexandria by state security forces on 5 January and has not been heard of since, they reported.

“The days following the bombings saw flagrant abuses by security forces, including the arrest of demonstrators who took to the streets to peacefully condemn the bombings, as well as the use of excessive force against the protestors and the deployment of rubber bullets and tear gas canisters,” said Rachid Mesli, director of Al-Karama Foundation's legal department.

“Such security abuses however reached their peak with recent revelations about arbitrary arrests, detention in disclosed locations and even the torture to death of some individuals," he added.

The two organizations said that they have credible information that around 300 people in the Alexandria, along with an unspecified number in other governorates have been arrested and put in "secret detention facilities, in complete seclusion from the outside world."

Opposition groups and human rights advocates have systematically accused police of brutality against detainees and say security forces act with impunity, aided by a decades-old Emergency Law that allows indefinite detention.

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