Human Rights First Statement on Protests in Egypt
New York City – In Cairo and other Egyptian cities, thousands of people are taking part in unauthorized street protests against the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Protesters are calling for an end to Mubarak’s 30 year authoritarian rule, as well as speaking out against official corruption, police brutality and economic hardship. Egyptian authorities have confronted the protesters with riot police using tear gas, water cannon and baton charges to disperse crowds. There are reports that Internet service is disrupted, including services such as Twitter and SMS texting, and some protesters have been detained. In response to these reported events, Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks issue the following statement: “Egyptian authorities may try to crack down on dissent, but that will not silence legitimate calls for reform, basic human rights and democracy. Communications companies have a responsibility to keep Egyptian users online and able to exercise their basic right to freedom of expression.” Human Rights First is concerned by reports that the authorities have pressured communications companies to interrupt mobile phone service in an apparent effort to disrupt protests. The group said that communications companies like Vodafone and Mobinil should not allow their services to be interrupted for political purposes, a decision that would cut off a vital lifeline for protester communication via text and social networks. In addition, as in the recent protests in Tunisia, social networking sites like Facebook have played major role in the coordination of the Egyptian protests. Human Rights First urges Facebook to be mindful of its responsibilities not to expose its users to official reprisal for exercising their basic rights and freedoms through this media platform. Moreover, Facebook should resist any official pressure to remove content critical of government policies.