Egyptian police in Aswan have arrested 155 people for “not fasting” during the holy month of Ramadan. According to local reports from the southern Egyptian city, police have targeted those who “break their fast publicly” and if caught eating or drinking anything in daylight, police have arrested them immediately, including one man who was purchasing juice for his family.
That man, Ahmed Mustafa, was quoted by al-Youm al-Saba’a as saying “I was standing at the store buying juice for my children for Iftar [meal that breaks the fast],” adding that he was indeed fasting. He is just one of many citizens who have felt the heavy hand of Egyptian police during the holy month.
It is part of an odd campaign launched by the interior ministry in the southern governorate. According to ministry officials, they want to show Egyptians “what life is like for a hard-line country,” such as Saudi Arabia, where penalties for breaking the fast early can result in lashings or imprisonment.
The campaign of the Egyptian Interior Ministry to “simulate” the experience of some Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi and Kuwait, which punishes those who eat or drink in public during pre-breakfast time in Ramadan has been widely criticized.
Human Rights groups, jurists and activists have condemned the arrests and called for the “campaign” to be rescinded as fears over the unprecendented move in Egypt are rising fears and concerns that hard-line police officers are taking control of the law without cause.
“It is horrible what is going on and we cannot stand by and allow this to continue, because we want to live in a free society,” said Ahmed, a member of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. “Religion is not compulsory and this should be maintained.”
A man in his mid-40s was arrested by police in the town, had a misdemeanor charge filed against him and then held at a local police station, where police accused the man of breaking his fast, a charge that does not exist in the Egyptian legal code.
Gamal Eid, the Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) criticized the so-called campaign, stressing that it is illegal and described the latest move by the ministry as “a maneuver from the government to appease Islamists, so that it would look like a supporter of religion, to gain the same ground the Islamists have.”
He also said it was “evidence of religious extremism that [has] risen amongst some police officers.”
Eid added that the arresting citizens for “breaking their fast” has no legal legitimacy.
“Everyone is free and has the right to fast or not to fast Ramadan and in taking into account the feelings of others it is not for a right to impose upon him,” he added.
Negad Al Borai, a human rights activist and Chairman of the Foundation for the Development of Egyptian Democracy stressed that there is no explicit provision in the law authorizing the arrest of “the person who breaks his fast during the day in Ramadan.”
The activist added that he was strongly shocked to hear of such a crackdown, adding that “it is strange that the state is dissatisfied with the rise and spread of terrorist groups (Jihadists), while the state itself is trying to spread extremism and religious militancy and practice what they do, the members of the militant groups.”
Cases of detention, in addition to being unconstitutional was characterized by a high degree of randomness, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an advocacy organization that often represents activists and those attacked by the state. “Where the arrest of several citizens, for the mere suspicion of interior ministry officers that there are citizens who are not fasting and then arresting them, then they find out that they are “fasting,” suspicion in these cases was based on seeing them buying ‘breakfast’ for their families, or were standing near a cafe,” the law center said, confirming that 155 individuals have indeed been detained over these charges.
**reporting by Mohamed Abdel Salam
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