Top United Nations officials today urged the Government of Egypt to protect the rights of its citizens amid the political protests taking place in the country, particularly freedoms of expression, information and assembly.
“One of the ground principles of democracy is to protect and ensure the freedom of speech of the people,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, when asked about the situation in Egypt.
According to media reports, anti-government protests are intensifying across Egypt, as police clash with demonstrators in several cities demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Protests continued today despite reports of widespread disruptions to Internet and mobile phone service from early on Friday.
The Secretary-General stressed that the situation in Egypt, and the wider region, must not lead to further violence.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Egyptian Government to exercise restraint, and to initiate investigations into reports of the use of excessive force, particularly the killing of at least five and possibly more civilians.
“It has been brought to my attention that since the street protests erupted, police have confronted protestors with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons, and arrested more than 1,000 people, including political opponents,” she said.
“While maintaining rule and order are important, the responsibility of the Government to protect the rights to life, liberty and security is paramount.”
She called on the Government to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including by restoring free use of mobile phones and social networks.
“People must be entitled to express their grievances against violations of their civil and political rights as well as their frustrations at lack of realisation of their economic rights, the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living,” Ms. Pillay stated.
“And governments in the region and around the world must take heed. Suppressing citizens’ voices, silencing dissent and stifling criticism will not make the problems go away. Recent events in the region highlight the fact that tackling serious problems by resorting primarily to high-handed security measures only causes them to fester and eventually erupt on a large scale.”
The protests in Egypt are taking place just weeks after anti-government demonstrations led to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in neighbouring Tunisia earlier this month.