The Washington Post reports: At his office in downtown Cairo, defense lawyer Mahmoud Belal chain-smokes Marlboro Reds and gulps cups of bitter Turkish coffee — fuel to help him juggle constant phone calls and pleas for help amid a vast government crackdown on dissent.
“We try to be everywhere all of the time: courts, police stations, hospitals, prisons, morgues,” said Belal, who spent years defending political prisoners under former strongman Hosni Mubarak and later under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. “But there was never this kind of momentum under Mubarak. They are just putting people in jail — and it’s happening all at once.”
The growing number of people held by Egyptian authorities as part of a frenzied campaign to crush opposition to the military-backed government has squeezed the country’s already broken criminal justice system, leading to widespread legal and human rights abuses by security forces, prosecutors and prison guards, Belal and other rights lawyers here say.
Thousands of Egyptians have been swept up in a wave of arrests since the military overthrew Morsi in a popular coup last summer, including not only the ousted leader’s supporters but also leftist activists, journalists and ordinary citizens caught in the chaos. Security forces have arrested people for offenses such as photographing demonstrations and have accused suspected Islamist militants and demonstrators alike of terrorism. [Continue reading…]