Activists have launched a solidarity campaign as 49 Egyptians facing charges after the Mahalla uprising, writes Hossam el-Hamalawy
The US-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak is prosecuting 49 Egyptians in the Emergency High State Security Criminal Court. It is accusing them of involvement in the recent two day uprising in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla.
Egyptian security forces occupied Ghazl el-Mahalla, the biggest textile mill in the Middle East with 27,000 workers, on the 6 and 7 April.
They were attempting to crush a strike in protest against skyrocketing food prices. The workers also demanded a raise in the national minimum wage, which has remained stagnant since 1984.
The strike was organised by the Textile Workers’ League, an independent union formed last year following a wave of successful textile workers’ occupations.
The union called the strike on 6 April. The regime responded by flooding the Nile Delta town with thousands of troops. They surrounded the textile factory compound.
This move triggered a mass demonstration that drew in workers and the urban poor.
Protestors fought back when security forces attacked demonstrators with batons, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
At least three people were killed and hundreds injured. Police then swooped on neighbourhoods and arrested hundreds of Mahalla citizens, including key strike activists.
Many of these activists were released following international pressure, but 43 ordinary people swept up in the crackdown are still in jail.
Detainees who were released shortly afterwards spoke of horrific torture meted out to them in police stations and state security facilities.
These included severe beatings, electric shocks and sexual abuse. Prisoners were forced to sleep on the floor and threatened with rape. On several occasions security forces personnel trampled over the detainees as they lay helpless on the ground.
The detainees have found themselves trapped in a maze of laws and prisons.
State security agents have ignored orders from the prosecutor’s office to release some of the prisoners.
Others who had made it out of the detention facilities were either kidnapped or rearrested under wide-ranging security powers.
Mubarak’s regime has decided to transfer 43 of the detainees to an exceptional court – which has been denounced by human rights groups as lacking the international standards for a “safe and just trial”.
Six others are on the run and will be tried in absentia.
All the detainees will be tried on trumped up charges and face prison sentences of between six to ten years hard labour.
Egyptian activists have denounced the regime for using the detainees as scapegoats for the uprising. The trial is expected to begin in August.
International solidarity with the Mahalla detainees is urgently needed. Statements of support from trade unions and human rights groups will help put pressure on the Egyptian dictatorship.