Activists supporting Egypt judges detained

Cairo - Egyptian police beat protesters when they dispersed a Cairo vigil in support of judges facing questioning over remarks about official conduct during recent parliamentary elections, activists said on Monday.

A police official said 15 activists holding a protest in front of the headquarters of an unofficial judges club had been detained early on Monday morning. The official said he had not heard of any beatings.

Organisers from the Kefaya (Enough) protest movement said the protesters were holding a 24-hour sit-in in front of the Judges' Club to draw attention to the plight of the two judges facing questioning.

They said one judge had been hospitalised after policemen in civilian clothes attacked the protest with sticks.

"They beat the protesters with sticks ... Judge Mahmoud Hamza is still in hospital," said Hany Enan, an organiser with Kefaya.

"The sit-in ... is to draw attention to the judges," said Enan. "They (the police) thought that if they can remove the protesters, people will not notice the issue anymore," he added.

"Police arrested 15 activists who were protesting in solidarity with the judges," a police official said. "They were organising a protest in front of the Judges Club in Cairo," he added.

The two judges, Mahmoud Mekky and Hesham Bastawisi have been in the forefront of a campaign for judicial independence from the ministry of justice.

Justice Minister Mahmoud Aboul Leil's decision to send Mekky and Bastawisi to a disciplinary board for possible expulsion from the judiciary provoked a storm in parliament on Monday.

Opposition deputies called for an urgent debate but the parliament speaker rejected their request.

"The Egyptian people think the judges are the last hope for (political) change," Enan said.

The reform movement says the government's action shows the insincerity of President Hosni Mubarak's reform promises ahead of last year's presidential and parliamentary elections, which were marred by violence and allegations of rigging.

Mubarak told a newspaper in an interview published on Monday that the issue was an internal matter for the judiciary and the state was not involved, adding that he backs the independence of the judiciary.

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