In the Middle East last week, senior Muslim Brotherhood officials suffered a setback in Egypt and poor prison conditions were highlighted in Jordan.
In Egypt, a 14 August court order to release Muslim Brotherhood politburo members Essam al-Eryan and Mohamed Morsi was reversed on 16 August following an appeal by state prosecutors. Along with hundreds of other Islamist and secular activists, al-Eryan and Morsi were arrested in April during a wave of protests demanding judicial independence.
“State security has again shown itself to be abusive of the law,” said Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh, a leading Brotherhood member.
Though banned, the Brotherhood constitutes the largest opposition bloc in parliament and enjoys widespread support in Egypt.
“The government has to understand that for political reform to be achieved, different political forces should be integrated in the system,” said Sally Sami, a programme officer with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo).
The government regularly cites security concerns to justify the detention of opposition activists. Those arrested under emergency law provisions for administrative detention regularly see their 15-day detention terms renewed.
On 13 August, activists welcomed a decision by Al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest semi-official news and publishing organisation, to reverse a previous move to block employees’ access to several blogs [diaries or forums on the Internet]and independent political websites. Several others, however, including the Labour Party [a suspended opposition group] website, remain blocked.
There was concern in Jordan on the use of torture in the country’s prisons following the reported death on 12 August of an inmate at one of the prisons. The death was reported by the security authorities who also said that they had opened an investigation into the case.
Public Security Department (PSD) spokesperson Major Basheer Daaja said that 42-year-old prisoner Muwafaq Taha collapsed and fell into a coma at Al-Jafr Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre, in the south-east of Jordan.
“We are waiting for a final medical report to help us with investigations,” Daaja said, adding that initial investigations indicated that the prisoner had suffered from epilepsy and had died of a heart attack.
Taha’s death in prison was the second within a month. Another prisoner, Salameh Nawashrah, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges, died on 3 August while in police custody in the southern city of Karak.
PSD sources have since said they are waiting for the results of Nawashrah’s autopsy. “If the report proves that Nawashrah died of mistreatment while in detention, we will open an official investigation,” Daaja said.
Local human rights groups in Jordan have repeatedly denounced the lack of transparency surrounding investigations of torture practices. These investigations are carried out by a special police and intelligence court which human rights groups say is not impartial.
"Torture practices are very difficult to prove either because victims or relatives of the victims do not have proof or because police authorities systematically deny any accusation,” Hani Dahleh, president of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR) in Jordan said.
Meanwhile, on 16 August the Court of Cassation upheld the verdict of the military-run State Security Court (SSC) which sentenced to jail two Islamist members of parliament on charges related to comments made praising Al-Qaeda’s slain leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
However, the new decision reduced the jail terms for Mohammad Abu Fares, 68, and Ali Abul Sukkar, 45, to 13 months each, with a US $140 fine, instead of the two-year and year-and-a-half jail sentences originally requested by the SSC. Given the verdict, both MPs are now barred to contest next year’s parliamentary elections.