CAIRO - HRW noted that, while the country's streets were awash with signs and billboards calling on Egyptians to vote "yes," campaign posters pushing for a "no" vote were almost entirely absent.
CAIRO – HRW noted that, while the country’s streets were awash with signs and billboards calling on Egyptians to vote “yes,” campaign posters pushing for a “no” vote were almost entirely absent.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday expressed concern over the arrest of seven activists from the Strong Egypt Party for campaigning for a “no” vote in a constitutional referendum slated for Tuesday and Wednesday.
In a Monday statement, the New York-based watchdog asserted that the referendum comes “in the midst of widening repression against political dissent in which arbitrary arrests solely for the exercise of peaceful expression and assembly have increased.”
“Egyptian citizens should be free to vote for or against the new constitution, not fear arrest for simply campaigning for a ‘no’ vote,” HRW Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Joe Stork said in a Monday statement.
“Protecting the right to vote requires safeguarding the right to free expression,” he added.
The constitutional referendum is one of three steps in a transitional roadmap imposed by the army following the July 3 ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi. The roadmap also includes presidential and parliamentary elections, the dates for which have yet to be decided.
HRW noted that, while the country’s streets were awash with signs and billboards calling on Egyptians to vote “yes,” campaign posters pushing for a “no” vote were almost entirely absent.
Three of the detained Strong Egypt Party members were arrested on Sunday – only two days before polling – after hanging posters calling for a “no” vote in eastern Cairo’s Hadayeq al-Qubba district.
One of the posters reportedly read: “No to the continuation of the Interior Ministry’s thuggery.”
Upon seeing the poster, officers at a nearby police checkpoint arrested the group and repeatedly beat one activist, shouting: “We will show you the Interior Ministry’s thuggery.”
“The arrests of the Strong Egypt activists fit an increasingly prevalent practice of police detaining political activists solely on the basis of peaceful expression,” the HRW statement said.
Stork called for a comprehensive evaluation of Egypt’s political climate in order to determine whether the poll had been conducted freely and fairly.
“Prosecutors should immediately drop the charges against the Strong Egypt activists and ensure that citizens can peacefully protest during the referendum,” Stork said.