CAIRO – An international rights group on Saturday accused the Egyptian armed forces of beating and torturing protesters arrested during antimilitary demonstrations early this month, and said that by permitting such actions the military "enables further abuse."
The three days of street clashes in Cairo that began May 2 and left nine civilians dead were the latest in a string of deadly confrontations between the military and protesters in Egypt since a council of ruling generals took power 15 months ago. In its violent crackdown on the May demonstrations outside the Defense Ministry, the military arrested more than 300 people and referred them to military tribunals.
Human Rights Watch condemned the military's response to the protests, and said in a statement Saturday that people caught in the roundup and since released have given "consistent accounts of torture and abuse during arrest and in detention."
"The brutal beating of both men and women protesters shows that military officers have no sense of limits on what they can do," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for the New York-based group.
HRW also criticized soldiers who did nothing as apparent supporters of Egypt's military rulers opened fire May 2 on demonstrators holding a sit-in outside the ministry, killing nine people. Days later, the military detained some 350 protesters as part of its crackdown on the protests and put them on trial before military tribunals. At least 256 of those arrested remain in detention, HRW said.
Shahira Abouellail, an activist against military trials of civilians, said the recent violence showed that the military is "not concerned about their public image and I think this has to do with people being so distracted with elections that they think they can get away with murder."
The protests rattled Egypt just weeks ahead of landmark presidential elections, the first since longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak's ouster last year. The vote marks the first time Egyptians will choose their leader in a race overseen by international monitors.
Mubarak's regime routinely rigged elections and intimidated voters during his nearly 30-year rule.
On Saturday, the deputy chief of Egypt's election commission, Hatem Bagato, showed reporters a number of new security measures that will be used in an effort to ensure the vote is transparent and fair, including ballots with embedded security stamps that cannot be photocopied and transparent folders in which judges monitoring the vote will place the results from the polling centers they observe.
The commission said there are around 50 million eligible voters in Egypt, and that there will be judges at thousands of polling stations to monitor the process.
Egyptian consulates say up to 300,000 Egyptians cast their votes abroad already.
There total results from abroad have not been announced yet, but Egypt's most powerful political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, claimed its candidate had won the greatest share of those votes, which are mostly concentrated in the conservative Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Votes abroad also do not necessarily reflect how the elections will play out locally.