CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of carrying out random arrests after this month’s attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo, citing it as another example of a return to the ways of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Security forces detained around 200 people after Egyptians took part in a protest on September 9 at the embassy. The protesters stormed the embassy building and clashed with police. Three people died and more than 1,000 were injured.
Those in custody could be tried in special security courts under emergency laws still in place after Mubarak’s ouster.
Rights officials said many of those arrested were bystanders or passersby in the residential district, which is near Cairo University and Giza Zoo. The arrests have stoked fears of a return to tough tactics police used under Mubarak.
“We are getting reports that many of those detained were not related to the attacks and just happened to be in the area at that time,” said Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, describing the government response as “hysterical.”
“Security officials during Mubarak’s time simply used to detain every one who was around and now the same thing has happened in the attacks on the Israeli embassy,” Eid said.
Heavy handed security policies are widely seen as one of the factors that led to the mass protests that forced Mubarak from office in February. A military council then took control and appointed a government to steer the country toward elections.
A security source denied any random arrests, saying: “The police and military police have only arrested those who were causing destruction at the embassy.” A prosecution source said investigations were ongoing and no one had been sent to court.
The ruling council has struggled to contain public anger against Israel after Egyptian soldiers were killed in an Israeli operation in neighboring Gaza against Palestinians. A protest just days after the killing in August also turned violent.
“The security forces treatment of the embassy situation was extreme. It reminds us of the old regime’s harsh techniques that were meant to sow terror in people,” said Amir Salem, a rights lawyer who defended victims of torture under Mubarak.
“The detentions were done in a haphazard manner,” he said.
A military source said the army had no role in the arrests. “Those detained will not be prosecuted in front of a military court and we are not involved with them,” he said.
In the wake of the attack, which caused Egypt international embarrassment, the military council affirmed its commitment to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel and reactivated emergency laws in what it said was a bid to restore public order.
Most political groups disowned the violence at the embassy.
Olfat Sarhan said her brother Tawfik, a 23-year-old student, was arrested after reporting a fire in a nearby police station, although she said he was not involved in the protest.
“Some army officers told him to come and sit with them to be safe, then he was detained by police officers in civilian clothes. Now he is in Torah prison,” she said, adding he was questioned by military and state security prosecutors.
Friends of another detainee, cinema student Fady El Sawi, have set up a Facebook page to campaign for his release. They say he was arrested randomly by military police in the area.
“Fady works with a news agency in a street nearby, he had nothing to do with the incident,” Mus‘ad Foda, head of the cinema industry professional syndicate, said in a statement.
Editing by Andrew Hammond