8 February 2016

Egypt: Condemn Justice Minister's Hate Speech

press release

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should condemn recent televised remarks by his justice minister that appeared to advocate the mass killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the president. In a January 28, 2016 interview with a satellite television news show, Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind said that he would not be satisfied until 10,000 Brotherhood members were killed for every slain member of the armed forces.

President al-Sisi should clarify that his government will ensure the prosecution of anyone who commits, orders, or assists in murder or other crimes against Brotherhood supporters or any other group because of their political or ideological affiliation, Human Rights Watch said. The Egyptian government should forcefully dissuade others from engaging in hate speech.

"That a high government official charged with overseeing the rule of law would go on TV and appear to encourage the slaughter of political opponents shows how some members of the Egyptian government have abandoned any pretense of justice," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. "The fact that Egyptian security forces have already committed mass killings of Brotherhood supporters, while judges have sentenced hundreds of others to death in mass trials, means that Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind's threat is very real."

That a high government official charged with overseeing the rule of law would go on TV and appear to encourage the slaughter of political opponents shows how some members of the Egyptian government have abandoned any pretense of justice. The fact that Egyptian security forces have already committed mass killings of Brotherhood supporters, while judges have sentenced hundreds of others to death in mass trials, means that Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind's threat is very real.

Because of al-Zind's authority as justice minister, his statements carry special weight. They add to a national climate already dominated by anti-Brotherhood rhetoric from state officials and prominent media figures, which characterizes all Brotherhood members as national security threats or potential terrorists.

Al-Sisi should communicate directly to the justice ministry, as well as the interior ministry, which is responsible for the police, that the use of violence outside the law against alleged Brotherhood members or other political opponents will be punished.

The interview, conducted by host Ahmed Moussa on the channel Sada al-Balad, was widely shared on social media.

In the interview, al-Zind commented on the sacrifices made by the armed forces during counterterrorism operations, stating:

May God have mercy on our virtuous martyrs. If the armed forces took revenge in a swift response, killing or finishing off 40 wrongful terrorist extremists, the armed forces will do everything they can to take revenge - to quench our thirst for revenge. I believe that these virtuous martyrs - I swear that we will only be satisfied to have 400,000 for their sake ... I swear by God almighty that, personally, the fire in my heart will not be extinguished unless for each one there's at least 10,000.

The host commented that such a figure would mean "the entire Brotherhood," to which al-Zind responded: "I'm saying the Brotherhood and whoever aids them and whoever loves them and whoever pleases them and whoever takes bribes from them and whoever lives off their ill-gotten funds from Turkey and Qatar and Iran."

Since the interview, no Egyptian official has clarified or contradicted al-Zind. The State Council, a judicial body that advises the government on legislation, issued a statement condemning separate and unrelated remarks made by al-Zind on the show.

On January 31, lawyers from the legal committee of the Heliopolis Center filed a complaint with the country's prosecutor general accusing al-Zind of incitement to murder. The prosecutor general has the prerogative to investigate or ignore the complaint.

As justice minister, al-Zind wields strong influence inside Egypt's judicial system, which includes the public prosecution. He has power to request disciplinary procedures against many judges and to assign judges to geographical circuits as well as approve their caseload. He also has responsibility for nominating judges to the inspection authority that investigates judicial misconduct and can assign judges temporarily to desired positions in government ministries.

Since the military removed Mohamed Morsy, Egypt's first freely elected president and a former Brotherhood member, in July 2013, Egyptian judges have issued thousands of sentences against members of the group. Many verdicts have been based on little or no evidence following mass trials, including hundreds of death sentences that remain on appeal.

In July and August 2013, security forces carried out a series of mass killings against Morsy supporters and Brotherhood members, leaving at least 1,150 people dead. Egypt has held no official or member of the security forces accountable for these probable crimes against humanity.

Al-Zind's televised remarks appear to run counter to international law, Egypt's constitution, and views that President al-Sisi himself has previously stated.

In November 2015, ahead of his first visit to the United Kingdom, al-Sisi told the BBC in an interview that the Brotherhood was part of Egypt but that it was not his decision whether to readmit them to public life. "The problem doesn't lie with the government and it doesn't lie with me," he said. "It lies with public opinion, with Egyptians ... They are part of Egypt and so the Egyptian people must decide what role they can play."

Article 53 of Egypt's constitution states that "discrimination and incitement to hate are crimes punishable by law," while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights similarly states, in article 20, that "any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law." Government agencies and officials have a duty to refrain from speech advocating violence, discrimination, or hostility toward any individual or social group.

"If al-Sisi is serious about allowing the Brotherhood to exist in Egypt, then at minimum he should clearly and publicly reject the justice minister's dangerous threat," Whitson said. "A government whose justice minister advocates mass killings of political opponents as an act of vengeance is a government that has no justice."

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