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No Rules, No Limits
Sexual assaults and fabrication of cases against journalists and activists
"Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain"

Introduction: Freedom of expression and political dispute

      No country in the world is void of political opposition, human rights activists, and journalists resisting corruption. Despite the intensity of the disagreement between these institutions and state authorities, this is a healthy disagreement indicating a process of political, social, or economic reform. Freedom of expression and civil society mobility contribute to the exposure of corruption, provide alternative solutions, and present a better vision to curing crises.

     Of the most important indicators defining the level of advancement and democracy of any state is how it deals with its political opposition, the methods it administers in this dispute, and the space available for freedom of opinion and expression.

     Accepting intense criticisms of political opposition is not a grant given by this ruler or that government. Rather, it is a natural right for people in any state given to journalists and human rights activists who use this right for the interest of the people. Here, all states and all people are equal, whether the country is developing or developed, whether the state is a democracy or an autocracy, and whether it is a secular government or a religious one.

     In Egypt, as an example of a developing country, the court has passed famous sentences confirming these rights. In one case, the court ruled that it is agreed that in all constitutional countries, contesting political opposition is generally acceptable more than contesting a specific employee … The person who nominates himself to represent the country is knowingly exposed to having all his or her work a target for contestation and criticism. Public discussions, regardless of how intense their criticisms to actions and opinions of political parties, are in the interest of the nation and that through these discussions can develop a correct opinion pertaining the party it trusts and supports.{1}

     In the United States, as an example of a developed country, the Supreme Court said that for a public official to prove that he or she is right in a defamation case, the official has to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the false statement defaming his or her reputation was published with the newspaper's knowledge that it was false or to prove that the newspaper has neglected in a careless manner the confirmation of whether this statement was false or not.{2}

     These examples are to clarify that political criticism, regardless of its intensity, should not be punished and should not result in the desire for revenge.

Arab rulers: Describing Gods, describing oppressors
     Most Arab rulers, with a few exceptions, have come to power through illegitimate methods, such as, military coups, or nominal elections by which inheritance of power is pursued. It is also rare to find amongst those rulers those who carry the title of "former president, former king or former prince … etc". The rule has become, as a result, that whoever comes to power, regardless of the method, seeks to maintain it for the rest of his life. Many seek to hand down the rule to a family member.

     Most of these rulers, despite the fact that they have been ruling for more than twenty years, use an iron fist against those who dare to criticise their policies and practices. They give a green light to security authorities to eliminate political opposition, human rights activists, and journalists who only have their pens and words to oppose these policies. A series of gross violations with no rules or limits are thus committed, starting with implicating opposition, activists, and journalists in cases, detaining them and imprisoning them, and physically attacking them, passing through coercive disappearance and ending with the most degrading violations, such as framing criminal cases against those opposition forces, attempting to defame their reputations and spreading fear amongst citizens to prevent them from participating in public affairs. This is what this brief paper discusses.

Police authorities: Fabricating cases, dirty operations
     Police authorities in most Arab countries have wide experience in torture and fabricating political cases and physical assaults as a result of training and the large budgets that these authorities receive.

     However, because these methods are occasionally insufficient in deterring some political and human rights activists, and journalists, some authorities have started to prepare policemen for what is known as "dirty operations". These operations, despite being few, have wide and long term effects in spreading fear amongst ordinary citizens and amongst some activists who fear that their turn will come. Such operations include fabricating criminal cases, committing sexual assaults, and scandals aiming at defaming reputations and breaking the spirits of the victims, in addition to spreading fear amongst others, sending a clear message to whoever thinks to criticise or oppose symbols of the regime and its authorities.

Dirty operations: When, why, and how?
      The use of dirty operations is not arbitrary. Rather, governments resort to them when they fail in using the accustomed methods in the Arab World, such as detention, fabrication of political cases, physical assault, and torture to limit the activities performed by victims, whether journalists, human rights activists, or political opposition whom governmental authorities view as a threat revealing their practices.

      Accordingly, dirty operations are used against those activists for a specific aim or to achieve several goals depending on the case:

     Case I: The resort to physical assault or sexual harassment against a specific activist aims at terrorising him or her and breaking his or her spirit. This is usually done whilst the activist is being arrested or after the activist has been kidnapped.

This kind of operation is used either as a punitive method or to force the activist to stop a specific activity, such as stopping the activist from continuing his or her writings on a governmental symbol or official, or to stop the activist from participating in political activities opposing the government.

     Case II: This entails the fabrication of criminal cases or fabrication of immoral scandals against the activist without actually physically assaulting him or her. The scandal or case is then widely published, either through rumours or by using the media. In addition to the goals mentioned in Case I, other goals include spreading fear amongst the surrounding people that this procedure might be used against them if they perform the same or similar practices as the victim.

     Case III: This entails the integration of all of the aforementioned-physical assault, fabrication of criminal cases, or an attempt to scandalise the activist using the media and/or by disseminating rumours.

The press and playing with fire
      It is difficult to achieve the goals of "dirty operations", especially in the second and third cases mentioned above, without the cooperation or participation of some journalists. Rarely, this cooperation takes place without the journalist being aware of the circumstances of the case.

      Danger lies in the fact that these cases in which journalists and newspapers cooperate, affect not only the victim but also the freedom of press.

      At the same time as some journalists accept to be used as tools by governmental authorities in launching campaigns targeting the reputation of activists, who might also be journalists, such campaigns also destroy the credibility of the press itself. This gives justification for the enemies of free press to attack it. In addition, many of those journalists who take a role in these "dirty operations" often themselves become victims of these operations when disagreement occurs between them and the governments and security authorities that use them. A careful look into a country such as Egypt and its current campaigns shows that some of the campaigns against journalists are because they at one time accepted to play such a role in the past. As a result these journalists find it difficult to find support from the press and activists.

Following is detailed accounts of some of these cases:


      Tunisia is the most Arab country that is a member state in international human rights covenants. This is what some know about it. It is also the most stable country in North Africa, and this, too, some already know. This is exactly what the Tunisian government propagates. However, what many might know is not necessarily the truth. Ratifying and signing international human rights covenants or the stability of a country leads to an important question. How does that influence the situation of activists and the status of freedom of expression? How did stability occur? Was it through providing security or through the oppression and control of security forces?

      A recently published report by the World Organisation Against Torture and the International Federation of Human Rights stated in the Middle East and North Africa section on Tunisia that all violations were committed against civil society and human rights activists, starting with violence, arbitrary arrests, and terrorising them, in addition to violating the right to activity. This means that Tunisia is the only country that commits all these violations that could be distributed amongst several countries!

     "In 2005, defenders were victims of assassinations, abductions and death threats (Iraq), acts of violence (Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia), arbitrary arrests and judicial proceedings (Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia), acts of harassment and intimidation (Syria, Tunisia), as well as infringements to their freedom of movement (Occupied Palestinian Territories)" .{3}

As for the right of association, the report stated:
     "Freedom of association was once again blatantly flouted in Tunisia, where many independent associations were still not legally recognised by the authorities, such as the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT), the International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners (AISPP), the Tunisian Association Against Torture (ALTT), the Centre for the Independence of Judiciary and Lawyers (CIJA), the Assembly for Alternative International Development (RAID-ATTAC) and the Observatory for the Freedoms of the Press, Publishing, and Creation (OLPEC)" .{4}

      Of course, for these harassments to become tangible violations they have to strike at specific persons, whether they be journalists or political or human rights activists. Following are a few examples of such cases.

  • Sihem Bensedrine
          No Arab human rights activist has been exposed to what Sihem Bensedrine was exposed to from assaults and fabricated cases, embodying the unity of state authorities in confronting an individual in order to defame her name and create obstacles to her efforts to shed light on the deteriorating situation created by security authorities that don't know honourable disputes or the basics of the democratic process.

          After security authorities failed in destroying Sihem Bensedrine's will during the 1970s and 1980s, the use of "dirty operations" against her started with the participation of yellow press affiliated to the Tunisian government, such as Al-Shorouq, Al-Hadath, and Al-Sareeh. A rabid campaign started, aiming at defaming her name and reputation, beginning with accusing her of prostitution and the call for stoning her to forging pornographic pictures of her. The aim was to destroy her history and reputation. Fortunately, this did not work.

          According to Lutfi Hajji, never had such obscene words been used or the situation reached such vileness towards a citizen. {5}

          The situation reached the extent of eliminating all means by which Sihem Bensedrine could earn a living. She was deprived from receiving her membership card from the Tunisian Press Association after Ben Ali assumed full control of it. The publishing house Al-Sabbar, which Bensedrine established, was shut down. It reached an extent that whoever wanted to get close to the dictatorship had to attack Bensedrine and participate in the "'dirty operations" launched against her.

          It seems as if it's a natural solution to get rid of Sihem Bensedrine. She was prevented from receiving medical care while in the Manouba women's prison when she fell ill in July 2001, especially that she did not fully recover from the brutal police assaults on her in 2000.

          Despite these "dirty operations" targeting her, Bensedrine won the 2004 International Press Freedom Award in Canada for her struggle for a free press in Tunisia, even though Tunisian authorities have shut down all five newspapers in which she worked.

  • Radya Nasrawy
         Whenever one searches her name on any of the Internet's search engines, many headlines come out in the results. Many of the headlines include statements such as: "Radya Nasrawy was beaten …", "Following the arrest of Radya Nasrawy …", "Radya Nasrawy was targeted …", etc. All these headlines reflect what the human rights activist suffered from as a result of her defence of the rights of Tunisian citizens, which the security authorities have been trying to deprive them of.

         Radya Nasrawy's face is scarred as a result of a brutal attack committed by Tunisian authorities, which also targeted her young daughter, while she was organising a demonstration in solidarity of the prisoner of opinion Mohammed Abbou in March 2005.

         As a form of division of labour, we find attacks against Radya Nasrawy, the lawyer and head of the Tunisian Association Against torture (ALTT), take place on two levels. On the one hand, the Tunisian police clearly practiced physical assault on her, the last of which was the attack that broke her nose because of her solidarity with the prisoner of opinion Mohammed Abbou, in addition to burning her office door and stealing her files, not to mention stealing her car. On the other hand, under the supervision of the police, some journalists have started to dig up her past and have forged abhorrent stories about her. One of these journalists claimed that Radya Nasrawy was extramaritally impregnated by Hemma Al-Hammami during her visits as a lawyer to him while he was in prison. In response, Monsef Al-Marzuki said about this journalist, that he doubts that the journalist has ever been imprisoned because of a principle or a case like that of Hemma. The journalist did not even refrain from presenting Tunisian prisons as if they were parks in which reckless lawyers can get impregnated by their lovers. {6}

         In this manner, press does not refrain from defaming activists and attempting to destroy their reputations, even though they are in prison, raising questions on the extent to which these "dirty operations" have reached.

  • Mohammed Abbou
         On February 28, 2005, the lawyer Mohammed Abbou, leading member of the Congress for the Republic Party, published an article on the Internet. The article criticised the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to visit Tunisia during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) organised by the United Nations in November of the same year in Tunisia. As a result, security authorities kidnapped Mohammed Abbou the following day and tried him. He was accused of a framed crime dating back to June 2002, claiming that Abbou had harmed his colleague Dalila Marad during a dispute between them in June 2002. In addition, he was accused of a crime related to the article he published on August 26, 2004 on Tunisianews Web site, entitled The Iraqi Abu Ghraib and the Tunisian Abu Ghraibs. In the article, Abbou compared between the status of Iraqi prisons and political prisoners in Tunisia. The article condemned torture practices on Tunisian prisoners and the silence of the judiciary.

         Following an unfair trial that cannot be described at all as a fair trial, in which only 30 of the more than 850 lawyers who had voluntarily come forward to defend their colleague were recognized by the court, the court sentenced Mohammed Abbou to three and a half years imprisonment. The yellow press disseminated the news using the following headlines:

      1. Al-Sabbah newspaper published on April 30, 2005, on the front page, "For violently attacking his colleague and defamation, the court sentences Mohammed About to three and a half years imprisonment".
      2. Al-Shorouq newspaper on April 29, 2005, published an article entitled "Mohammed Abbou is tried for physically assaulting his colleague, causing her serious injuries, and for inciting the people to violate the country's laws".
      3. Al-Sareeh newspaper crossed all lines as it considered Mohammed Abbou's trial to be unfit because the context of the trial was not related to the lawyer profession but rather to a citizen who attacked another citizen, in addition to another accusation that is totally contradictory with the fact that he is lawyer who should contribute to the implementation of the country's laws.
         These are all articles that present Mohammed Abbou as merely a deviant and violent person inciting the violation of the laws of the country and accused in a criminal case.

         These articles ignored the basics of good journalism as they did not present to public opinion the circumstances of the accusations directed against Abbou. These articles also revealed the intentions of the judiciary, which insisted on connecting the two cases and dealing with them in the same session and judicial district, even though this is against the simplest guarantees of the right to defend oneself .{7}

         Even though more than a year has passed since the imprisonment of Mohammed About and despite a wide campaign, the Tunisian police are currently continuing their "dirty operation" against Abbou. The police have threatened Abbou and his wife that they will frame the same immoral scandals against his wife if the solidarity for him and the demands for his release do not stop .{8}

  • Naziha Rajiba (Om Zied)
         On February 28, 2004, the Tunisia appeals court sentenced Om Zied and Mohammed the Fifth Al-Hany to a six-month suspended sentence because she had 170 Euros in violation of the law.

         This is what Tunisian newspapers affiliated to the government published. However, the newspapers intentionally ignored the fact that Om Zied had refused to stand before the appeals court because she was convinced that it was not independent and defence before the court that is controlled by the executive authority is useless. In addition, she stated that this case was framed in a scandalous manner. She was carrying 170 Euros sent to Mohammed the Fifth by his brother via Om Zied to help him pay the rent of his flat after the security authorities had closed all doors for the man to find a living, simply because he is the brother of Abdel Wahab Al-Hani, an activist. Also, these newspapers did not publish the comic procedures by which the trial was conducted; comic to the extent that the judge told one of the lawyers not to worry as there won't be any imprisonment. This only comes to prove that the sentence was pre-arranged.

         Even more, the case-if you consider it to be one-does not carry a prison sentence in the first place. The case, according to law, simply entails confiscation; not to mention the fact that the amount of money was small and trivial.

         Om Zied, a teacher who had been teaching for 35 years, left her job with a reasoned resignation because of her fear of the police authorities that control teachers, particularly as Tunisian police are accustomed to attack teachers.

         After that she worked as a journalist with several newspapers in addition to her Web site Tunisia's Word http://www.kaklimatunisie.com/, one of the Web sites expressing independent press and which has been blocked in Tunisia. Because Om Zied is one of those who cannot accept the horrific practices of the Tunisian government and has her free pen to confront the government with, and because her husband is the activist lawyer Mohammed Al-Mokhtar Jelali, she is a target for dirty operations performed by the Tunisian security authorities and their allies. The last of these operations was on March 7, 2006, when her husband received an anonymous letter threatening him with a sexual scandal and demanding 100,000 Dinars in return for silence.

         A day before the letter arrived, Jelali received a telephone call in his office, also from an unknown person, using the same threats. The caller emphasised that he is not from the police and promised that Jelali would cry like a woman .{9}

         In an article written by Om Zied, she presented evidence that the anonymous person is affiliated to the security authorities. She also insisted that such dirty operations do not affect her as they incriminate the perpetrators and not the victims .{10}

  • Abdallah Al-Zawary
         In early 1991, journalist for Al-Fajr newspaper Abdullah Al-Zawary was arrested in a campaign that targeted many Tunisian citizens. On charges of belonging to the banned Al-Nahda Islamic movement, he was imprisoned for 11 years. Following his initial release in June 2002, however, Tunisian security forces did allow him to enjoy the freedom he had been deprived of for so long.

         Zawary was re-arrested in August 2002 and sentenced to another eight months in jail for not respecting monitoring procedures. After his release he contested a decision by the minister of interior to send him into internal exile in Al-Gerba district of Gergeis City, which lies 500 km away from his residence. The goal was to deprive him from living with his family, and to make his and his family's life difficult.

         Zawary was released for a short period, during which a new case was being framed. He was accused of attacking the owner of an internet café by insulting her in public. As a result he was sentenced to four months in prison.

         Zawary remains exiled, deprived from work and from living with his family. He is restricted from contacting the foreign world, even through the internet.

         Egypt is a security state, propelled by a quarter century of emergency law. But the heavier security becomes, the greater the danger.

         It is not the ordinary citizens who suffer the greatest risk however, but rather the security authorities, those who constitute prominent perpetrators of corruption and the ruling party. Thus it appears that the authorities have no choice but to carry out 'dirty operations' against activists, journalists and even large sectors of citizens. While they act in the name of national security, their goal is in fact the maintenance of the security of the ruling party and the corrupt.

         While Tunisia is perhaps better known for its experience in the field of 'dirty operations', Egypt nevertheless continues to pursue its own projects. Not only does Egypt carry out 'dirty operations' on individuals but also on a collective level, without the slightest degree of accountability.

  • Gamal Abdel Fattah
         Pharmacist Gamal Abdel Fattah has been a political activist since the 1960s, and has been arrested and accused in several political cases. Near the end of 2000, he was elected to become one of the members of a leadership group for the Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada in Cairo. His peaceful activism contributed to garnering support for the Palestinian cause.

         Because of the Egyptian security authorities' poor reputation, however, Abdel Fattah refused to meet the head of the state security bureau in Cairo, in what turned out to be his gravest error.

         In the middle of the night of 13 May 2002, 18 police officers stormed his residence, claiming he was selling expired restricted pharmaceutical medicines (prescription-only). He was also accused of intentionally spreading tendentious news in a bid to disturb public security. When Abdel Fattah asked to see the court order for the search, he was physically assaulted and insulted. Police proceeded to arrest him and to confiscate medicines and money, in addition to publications related to the support of the Intifada.

         However, for lack of evidence, no formal charges could be brought against him. But the goal of this operation seemed to have been secured when Al-Ahram ran a news story about the case the following day, in violation with Egyptian and international press codes. In an unhindered bid to cast a slur on Abdel Fattah's reputation, the item mentioned him and his pharmacy by name, as well as his pharmacy's address. Professional codes of ethics prohibit the publication of names of accused prior to the establishment of guilt. But in spite of the story, which was published to punish him for his active support of the Palestinian Intifada and for refusal to meet the state security bureau chief, Abdel Fattah's reputation remained unscathed. He is widely known to be an honest political activist.

         Later, Abdel Fattah was interrogated by the prosecutor for the Basatin district of Cairo. The prosecutor uncovered the 'dirty operation' against the activist. According to Abdel Fattah's lawyer, the drugs combating officer cursed the state security bureau that involved him in this case, in which he was about to be transformed into a criminal.

         Before the Basatin prosecutor was able to take a decision in this case, the file was withdrawn and transferred to another bureau of the prosecution, in an attempt to find a loophole and charge Abdel Fattah.

         No formal charges were pressed against Abdel Fattah, except for his possession of political publications in the pharmacy, for which he paid a fine after confessing that they were indeed his, confirming his right to support the Intifada. He did not deny his ownership of these publications. Rather he confirmed that freedom of expression is a right that should be guaranteed to all.

  • Ayman Nour and Gamila Ismail
         Never did Ayman Nour think that what human rights organizations, opposition political parties and the independent press in Egypt said about the nature of the police state was true. On the contrary, he fully believed government claims in newspapers of their support for political participation, free elections and partisan plurality. Consequently, he established opposition political party Al-Ghad, not to acquire the title of "head of party", as many have done in the past. Rather he established the party in order to reach power through democracy and ballots. To this effect, he started to strengthen his presence in parliament, and announced his support of the reform movement in Egypt.

         Because Nour was not simply a political activist, but also a strong parliamentarian and head of a party, he rose to prominence in Egypt, thus posing a serious challenge to the hegemony of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The scale of the 'dirty operation' that lay in store for him was proportionate to his crime - namely, the peaceful search to rule Egypt.

         He was framed in a power of attorneys' case. His parliamentary immunity was lifted within hours, despite the fact that it was a weekend. Several authorities and ministries participated in the operation. The justice and interior ministries, the public prosecutor, the People's Assembly (PA) Speaker and the PA legislative committee - which is composed of 45 members - were all on call for the job on Friday 28 January 2005. On Friday, Nour's immunity had been lifted, he was arrested before he left the PA, and a rabid press campaign against him was launched. Indeed, the press campaign against him did not exempt his wife, Gamila Ismail. Numerous newspapers criticized her, targeting everything from her fashion sense to her reputation. It even appeared as approaching the Egyptian government depended on providing proof of loyalty by destroying Nour and Ismail's reputations. Both official and independent media outlets took part in this operation, conveniently ignoring the fact that Nour was innocent until proven guilty.

         Nour's trial began in June 2005 and continued for almost six months. He was sentenced to five years in jail in December of the same year. The trial itself was plagued with irregularities. To start with, the defendant and his lawyers did not understand why the trial ran for so long. But the intention to deform Nour and his family's reputation became clear as members of the tabloid and state-run press were allowed in for each of the 17 sessions. The defamation campaign went as far as disseminating doubt about Nour's degrees and history. Some even questioned his lineage to his father Abdel Aziz Nour, who died in grief during the trial period.

  • Black Wednesday - female journalists and activists on referendum day:
         Sexual harassment has become the newest tool to be implemented by Arab government authorities against opposition activists during demonstrations. The Egyptian government was the first to employ the method. Photographic evidence gathered by Egyptian and foreign journalists and live footage broadcast by international news agencies documented in detail the first public incident of this kind.

         Female Egyptian demonstrators and several reporters - some of them foreign - were sexually assaulted, had their clothes torn off and had their bodies groped. Among the journalists was Nawal Aly Mohammed, who works for Al-Geel newspaper. On 28 May 2005, she took the torn white jacket she was wearing when she was publicly attacked by supporters of the ruling NDP at the entrance of the Egyptian Press Syndicate to the local police station. It is worth noting that during the assaults, police did not interfere.{1} Physical and sexual assaults targeted all those who demonstrated and those who tried to demonstrate against the nominal referendum that the state carried out. But women and girls bore the brunt of the attacks in all three places where protests had been called: by Saad Zaghloul's grave, at the Egyptian Press Syndicate and at the Lawyers' Syndicate. Attacks were made in cold blood, and were condoned by well-known senior officers and prominent members of the ruling party. In addition, some activists say the head of a women's rights organization collaborated in the incident, who was seeking to be rewarded by the ruling party by being nominated in the parliamentary electoral list.

         The goal of the coordinated assault was to send a clear message to women, namely that they would be sexually harassed if they continued to take part in the reform movement and if they persisted in their calls for democracy in Egypt.

         In the majority of 'dirty operations' that are staged beyond the legal framework, whether in Egypt or any other country, junior officials generally shoulder the blame in a bid to save those higher up in the chain of command from losing face. However, in the case of Black Wednesday, the role played by senior officials quickly became common knowledge. Reports issued by human rights organizations and victims mentioned their names. However, given the nature of Egypt's chief public prosecutor, the officials in question had nothing to fear. The judiciary had no power to order an investigation without previous agreement from the prosecutor. For, according to Egyptian law, any complaint filed against a public officer has to be approved first by the public prosecutor. As in many cases, this complaint did not find its way to the courts.

         Eventually, investigations were frozen when the public prosecutor claimed there was not enough evidence, thus ignoring statements made by witnesses, photographs and video footage that captured the attacks.

  • Seleem Azzouz
         In 2000, Seleem Azzouz, who at the time was working for Al-Ahrar newspaper, launched a press campaign against former agriculture minister Youssef Waly over his imports of agricultural pesticides that cause cancer. In light of this, a man posing as a former interior ministry official phoned Azzouz, and said he would provide him with documents incriminating a senior security officer.

         Azzouz went to the appointment, which had been set up in the Moqattam area. There, he was violently attacked by several men and left with what became permanent deformities to his face, composed of four longitudinal scars. They left him after warning him of the consequences of crossing such red lines.

         With difficulty, he made his way to Al-Khalifa police station to file a report on the incident and against the perpetrators. However, he found that the officers in the police station were also involved in the conspiracy. A short while later, he was surprised by the entrance of a woman who claimed that she was his wife by urfi, or blood marriage, and that they had been engaged in "immoral acts" in the Moqattam area. The 'dirty operation' was rounded off with the arrival of a considerable number of journalists, who had been informed by security officials of Azzouz's presence in the police station, allegedly for an immoral case.

         Meanwhile, his wife phoned him and told him that she had been informed that he was being held for involvement in an immoral case. She told him that she would send one of her relatives to him. A few minutes later, Azzouz received another phone call from his wife. She said had she received a second call, and that she was specifically told not to send a relative to the police station, but rather to go herself. It was at this point that Azzouz realized how the operation had been staged. Both his wife's and his own telephones had been under surveillance.

         Ultimately the 'dirty operation' against Azzouz failed. Both his wife and journalists covering the story realized he had been framed. The woman used by the state security bureau grew frightened as the truth began to emerge. She withdrew her statement. {12}

  • Even Students:
         Following the start of the second Palestinian Intifada, demonstrations in solidarity of the Palestinian cause were staged in cities across the country. Cairo University students became particularly influential leaders in these popular solidarity movements.

         State security authorities could neither control nor tolerate the rapid surge in protests, which were in part directed against Egypt's diplomatic stance in the region. Thus the solution, in their point of view, was to launch 'dirty operations' against the leading students.

         Soon enough, more and more students found that they were being framed. Among the cases set up against them were accusations of stealing mobile phones, of engaging in immoral behaviour on university grounds and of physically attacking fellow students. In fact, their only crime had been the peaceful expression of their opinion.

         State security authorities did not consider the youth of the students they targeted, or the fact that their accusations may well expose them to new dangers in future. They arrested several students and physically attacked them. In other cases, students' families were called in by security bureaus, and were forced to sign statements pledging that their sons would not demonstrate. In particular, some female students were threatened by their families with being forced to give up their university studies for participating in demonstrations and for being arrested by state security. Others were temporarily expelled, while still others were banned from sitting exams.

         These framed case files remain open to this day, so do thousands of others that the public prosecutor has not yet closed, perhaps in expectation of the day that they can be used once again to the detriment of the accused.

         Faced with the challenge of imposing power over a majority Shia population, the Sunni-led Bahraini government has implemented two measures to counter the imbalance: unfair naturalization and the extreme oppression of activists, who are mostly Shia.

         When human rights activist Mohammed A. (last name withheld) visited Bahrain to hold official meetings and to meet with numerous civil society organizations, he noticed how he was under constant surveillance by six persons. He was told by local friends that those watching him were affiliated to the police, and that they were naturalized in order to be employed by the Bahraini security services.{13}

         It appears that the Bahraini state security bureau has had a free hand dealing with opposition and activists. And it is clear that it has followed the Egyptian and Tunisian examples, framing activists with crimes they did not commit, and sexually assaulting them.

  • Abdel Raouf Al-Shayeb
         In a Ministry of Interior statement distributed to newspapers and news agencies in March 2004, it was claimed that activist and former prisoner of opinion Abdel Raouf Al-Shayeb was caught committing an immoral act with an Indonesian servant in her employer's residence in the Al-Refaa Al-Sharqy district. Police had reportedly monitored the house for some time. The statement went on to add that the prosecutor decided to detain Al-Shayeb for a week pending an investigation.{14}

         The ministry was keen to punish Al-Shayeb for his views, and to prevent him from organizing a march set to take place during the Formula One race during the first week of April 2004.

         Intentionally or not, Akhbar Al-Khaleej and Al-Ayam newspapers contributed to the attempt to slur his reputation, by disseminating the ministry's statement.

         Prior to being framed, Al-Shayeb had just returned from Geneva, where he presented a file on victims of torture in Bahrain to several international bodies that attended a Human Rights Summit.

         If we overlook some of the more minute details of the case, there are clear parallels to be made with the case of pharmacist Gamal Abdel Fattah in Egypt. As in Al-Shayeb's case, Abdel Fattah was framed in order to slur his reputation as an activist. The different authorities' reasons and goals were identical.

  • Moussa Abd Aly
         On 22 November 2005, a group of up to 500 unemployed citizens gathered at the Bahraini Institute for Training, to head towards the royal divan to demonstrate and call for the implementation of the pledge to provide them with job opportunities. There, negotiations between a committee from the royal divan met with five representatives for the unemployed, including Moussa Abd Aly, on the basis that they would then be invited by the royal divan to discuss the issue the following day.

         Eventually, the divan did not invite them. Rather, members of the committee representing the unemployed received telephone calls during which they were threatened with punishment if they demonstrated before the royal divan again.

         But the unemployed stood their ground and organized a protest for the following week. Pre-empting the protest, Bahraini Special Forces attacked Abd Aly near his home on 28 November. When he unsuccessfully attempted escape, they fired several rounds into the air. His hands were tied with a plastic rope, and he was taken to a desolate spot in an industrial area in Satra Island. There, the officers beat him with bats, while two of them stripped him and tried to rape him. They were eventually prevented from completing their assault only by the force of his resistance. However, they left clear marks on his body. They also told him that they would attack his wife and the rest of his family if he and the unemployed insisted on holding the protest the following day, and that he should inform the rest of the protestors of the instructions. At around 2:30am, they left him lying on the ground and departed from the scene. {15}

         As it happened, the scandal affected the security bureau somewhat more than it did Abd Aly. For the minister of interior denied initial statements that his officers were not involved in this 'dirty operation'. After meeting with Abd Aly, his father and human rights activist Nabil Ragab, the interior minister said that, given his responsibility towards all citizens and his duty as a father, he would not condone such attacks on anyone, thus confirming his personal concern with the case.{16}

         However, two weeks later, Abd Aly announced that he would no longer cooperate with the public prosecutor on resolving the issue. Abd Aly said the prosecution was more interested in making scapegoats of and terrorizing the perpetrators of the crime than in reaping justice, in an attempt to make government bodies and the officials involved appear innocent.


    A report written by Hina Jilani, special rapporteur for the United Nations Commission of Human Rights (according to General Assembly resolution 55/98 dated 4 December 2000 and the Commission for Human Rights resolution 61/2000 dated 26 April 2000, which was ratified by the Economic and Social Council 220/2000 on 16 June 2000), cited several different kinds of violations that human rights activists and journalists face across the world. The following is a selection of these points:
      - Exposure and criticism of policies and practices that violate human rights have resulted in legal proceedings against human rights defenders as a retaliatory measure. Many have suffered long drawn-out trials, sometimes under procedures that, reportedly, fall far short of the standards of a fair trial. - The reporting of human rights violations has frequently led to charges of spreading false information, defamation of authorities or disturbance of public order. The peaceful expression of views on human rights issues has been termed as "incitement", civic education programs have led to charges of sedition and criticism of discriminatory practices has been prosecuted as an offence against religion.

      - Mail and faxes are commonly intercepted, Internet facilities cut off and telephones tapped. Incidents of offices being broken into and theft of information have been reported. Computers and disks containing information on the work of NGOs are usually what are carried away.

      - Smear campaigns against human rights defenders have become a tool increasingly used to discredit their work. Government-controlled media are used for slanderous accusations and attacks on the honour and reputation of non-Government human rights organizations and individual defenders. Many such campaigns carry comments of senior government officials, targeting human rights defenders who criticize or expose repressive State policies or action.

      - Human rights activity is reviled in such terms as "damaging national interests", "disturbing social peace" and, especially the propagation of women's human rights, spreading "immorality" or "obscenity". In the case of women's human rights defenders, vilification of this nature by Government or non-State entities has resulted in physical attacks, threats and ostracism.

      - Finally, a growing number of States tend to create governmental NGOs in order to discredit the work of independent NGOs at the national and international level. {17}
         These points serve to clarify governmental malpractices against activists in the Arab world. And in the case of the three countries selected as case studies for the purposes of this report, the parallels are clear. As mentioned in the report, Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain have all established semi-governmental human rights councils, which work in apposition to independent organizations.

          However, none of these councils have condemned any of the 'dirty operations' perpetrated against activists and journalists. In Tunisia, the governmental human rights council in Tunisia took no steps to condemn the sentencing of journalist Mohammed Abbou, who was imprisoned for three and a half years for an article he wrote. The Egyptian National Council for Human Rights did not lobby for an investigation into the attacks perpetrated against women journalists during the referendum in 2005. Likewise, the Human Rights Committee in Bahrain did not remind the minister of interior of his pledge to find out who sexually attacked Moussa Abd Aly.

          The following are a series of recommendations issued by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information to the relevant authorities. We have excluded security services as they are the tool used to carry out the 'dirty operations'. In future, we hope the security apparatus proves itself worthy of the respect that would enable us to address its members as authorities who respect the law and the rules of dealing with political opposition.

    To Arab Governments:
      1. Announce a renewal of commitment and genuine abidance by international human rights agreements they have signed, and to stop issuing accusations against activists and journalists in political and criminal cases.

      2. Administer their disputes with political opposition groups, activists and journalists in accordance to standards of respect and values, including holding accountable those involved in the 'dirty operations'.
    To the media:
      1. Abide by local and international professional codes of ethics, and work to maintain credibility.

      2. Preserve the message of journalism by not allowing state security authorities to use media outlets to destroy the reputations of activists.
    To the public prosecution:
      1. Work seriously to restore its independence, the remnants of which it is on the verge of losing. Its lack of independence has affected its credibility, because some members of the public prosecution have accepted to perform in the interest of governments and to be hijacked by the authorities in their political disputes.

      2. Support the demand of human rights activists to revive the investigative judicial system, which supports the independence of judiciary and guarantees fair trials.
    To independent civil society:
      1. Avoid turning a blind eye to violations against human rights activists, journalists and political opposition, regardless of pressure or incentive. This is key in the struggle to maintain independence.

      2. Stand firm and collectively against 'dirty operations', and expose those involved in such practices.
    To government-sponsored human rights councils and committees:
      1. Preserve the sanctity of human rights work by ceasing to adulate governments while turning a blind eye to violations as shocking as cases of framing activists and journalists.

      2. Use reasoned resignations if government bodies refrain from honouring pledges and continue implementing 'dirty operations'.

    1- Ruling of the court of cassation on 6 November 1924 – Dr. Muhammad Abdullah, Publishing Crimes, pp. 289

    2- Free Speech in an Open Society, Rodney A. Smolla.

    3- Steadfast in Protest – Annual Report 2005 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH/OMCT),

    4- ibid

    5- Lutfi Hajji is the founder of the independent Tunisian Press Syndicate. Security forces banned the convention of its first conference on 7 September 2005.

    6- Dr. Monsef Al-Marzuki, From Ruin to Institutionalisation
    http://hem.bredband.net/dccls2/ktab/mo1.htm (source originally in Arabic)

    7- The Case of Mohammed About: In response to some of the questionable pens, Samir Ben Omar, The website of the Congress for the Republic:

    8- An interview with a source close to Mohammed Abbou's family

    9- Inspirations from internal clips, an article written by Om Zied on 14 March 2006

    10- Ibid

    11- Published on NDP-affiliated Good News 4 Me website

    12- Interview with Seleem Azzouz, Cairo, 23 March 2006

    13- Interview with Mohammed A in 2002

    14- Statement by the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights issued on 31 March 2004

    15- Hood online

    16- Press statement by Moussa Abd Aly, Bahrain Online, 13 December 2005

    17- UN document A/56/341 published on 10 September 2001

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