Amnesty: states will cling to power 'at almost any cost'

An Amnesty International report says violence used by Middle East governments to suppress dissent last year is set to continue in 2012.

Egyptian soldiers restrain a protester during clashes near Cairo’s Tahrir Square last month.
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NICOSIA // Violence used by Middle East governments to suppress dissent last year is set to continue in 2012, with some states clinging to power "at almost any cost", according to an Amnesty International report.

"The protest movements across the region, led in many cases by young people and with women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient in the face of sometimes staggering repression," Amnesty's interim Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther, said yesterday.

"But persistent attempts by states to offer cosmetic changes, to push back against gains made by protesters or to simply brutalise their populations into submission betray the fact that for many governments, regime survival remains their aim."

In its 80-page report, Amnesty slammed the rights abuses of Egypt's interim military leaders who replaced Hosni Mubarak in February, calling them worse in some respects than the former president and warning of possible attempts to further restrict freedom of expression.

"The army and security forces have violently suppressed protests, resulting in at least 84 deaths between October and December 2011," the report states. "Torture in detention has continued, while more civilians have been tried before military courts in one year than under 30 years of Mubarak's rule."

The report also criticises Libya's interim authorities for failing to control the armed brigades that helped to remove Muammar Qaddafi or bring to trial an estimated 7,000 detainees being held by the brigades in makeshift centres.

The London-based rights watchdog highlighted the policies of governments elsewhere, notably in Syria, that remained "grimly determined" to cling to power, "in some cases at any cost in human lives and dignity".

Amnesty also accused the Syrian army and intelligences services of "a pattern of killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, in a vain attempt to terrify protesters and opponents into silence and submission". The organisation said that more than 200 cases of people dying in custody had been reported in Syria by the end of 2011 - more than 40 times the country's recent annual average.

Despite the inconsistent response of international powers and regional bodies, such as the UN Security Council and Arab League, towards the pro-democracy protests across the Middle East, Mr Luther said the lack of foreign intervention was also a reason for optimism.

"What has been striking about the last year has been that - with some exceptions - change has largely been achieved through the efforts of local people coming onto the streets," he said.

"The refusal of ordinary people across the region to be deterred from their struggle for dignity and justice is what gives us hope for 2012."