Seven Egyptians, who were arrested while hanging posters against a constitution promoted as defending civil rights and freedom of expression, are facing charges ahead of a nationwide referendum on the document.
Charges handed to the members of the centrist Strong Egypt party range from alleged involvement in terrorism, attempting to overthrow the regime and engaging in incitement against the police and army.
The activists, who were arrested in three separate incidents, were interrogated by prosecutors and police during which “questions fixated on the posters and the men’s political views,” the Human Rights Watch said in a press statement issued on Monday.
The activists were taken in after finding them in possession of posters calling for a “no” vote in a two-day referendum starting January 14 on the military-backed constitution. The referendum is also seen to be a vote on the military-led July coup, and its leaders.
“Egyptian citizens should be free to vote for or against the new constitution, not fear arrest for simply campaigning for a ‘no’ vote,” said Joe Stark, the watchdog’s deputy director for Middle East and North Africa. “Protecting the right to vote requires safeguarding the right to free expression.”
The constitution, which is an amended copy of the Islamist-backed charter approved in a 2012 referendum, is expected to pass by a landslide amid wide calls to boycott the vote.
“The arrests of the Strong Egypt activists fit an increasingly prevalent practise of police detaining political activists solely on the basis of peaceful expression,” the human rights watchdog said.
Changes made to the document include a bar on religious-based political parties, a depiction of the power shift that has seen the fall of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in July, when the army toppled its member Mohamed Morsi, who was also the country’s first democratically elected president.
Alterations to the charter is part of a road-map put forth by the army outlining the country’s post-Morsi transformation to democracy.
Since July 3, expression of dissent has been met with force, as hundreds of Morsi-supporters were killed and thousands were jailed, including prominent liberal activists who supported his oust.
Thousands of Egyptians abroad have cast their votes in embassies and consulates around the world during a four-day period that ended on January 12.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy said that turnout was about 30 percent, according to state-run news agency MENA, which he said is “similar to previous participation” despite a decision that votes cannot be cast via mail.
According to local media outlets reports, unofficial results of the Egyptian diaspora community shows positive ratings in favour of the constitution to be 90 percent and above.