Amnesty International, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Violence and Torture are calling to end enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention at a secret military prison in Ismailia.
Al-Azouly prison, located inside the headquarters of the Second Field Army Command, is a three story building that houses an estimated 200-400 detainees. According to first-hand accounts of former detainees, the three rights groups have uncovered a “clear pattern of abuse,” most notably forced disappearances and torture of detainees.
According to both a Amnesty International statement and a Nadeem Centre-EIPR joint statement, the detainees are often abducted from their homes in the middle of the night and held in secret for periods ranging from weeks up to four months. Their whereabouts are not disclosed to their families, and they have no access to lawyers or doctors.
Twenty-three to twenty-five men are locked in a six square metre cell with a lack of ventilation, light and sanitation, both statements detailed. Prisoners are allowed to go to the bathroom once a day, for five minutes before sunrise.
“These are practices associated with the darkest hours of military and Mubarak’s rule. Egypt’s military cannot run roughshod over detainees’ rights like this,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Middle East and North Africa department at Amnesty International.
There are no official records of the detainees, who are frequently accused of terrorism-related offenses. Family members search local police stations, the National Security Agency, and prisons for their relatives. Some go to the prison sector of the Ministry of Interior, submit complaints to the general prosecution and the National Council for Human Rights.
“All their efforts were unfortunately in vain,” the EIPR and Nadeem Centre statement reads, “as they were met with silence or denial of any knowledge of the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons.”
Detainees are often subjected to torture, “including the use of electric shocks, burns and other ill-treatment during interrogations at the military camp.” First hand reports from former detainees arrested by plainclothes men from their homes or seemingly at random on the street corroborate the NGO’s accusations.
“I was held in Al-Azouly prison for 76 days without seeing a judge or a prosecutor, I was not even allowed to talk to my family,” one recently released detainee was quoted as saying. “The authorities there interrogated me six times. They took off my clothes and gave me electric shocks all over my body during the investigations, including on my testicles, and beat me with batons and military shoes. They handcuffed me from behind and hung me on a door for 30 minutes.”
Another former detainee echoed the same remarks, recounting how he had been blindfolded, stripped naked and tortured by men in the complex. The same detainee spoke of a man named Haj Shetewy, from the troubled north Sinai, who died of injuries sustained during torture.
According to the statements, torture is often used to extract “confessions” from detainees, who have not been charged or referred to prosecutors or courts, and have had no access to their lawyers.
Both statements call on authorities to immediate end the “Mubarak era” practice of enforced disappearances, torture and prison conditions which alone “amount to torture or ill-treatment”.
The groups call on authorities to give detainees lawyers and doctors, and access to their families, as well as independent investigations into any alleged offenses committed by the detainees.
“Torture is absolutely prohibited under all circumstances and is a crime under international law. Prosecutors, courts and other Egyptian authorities must never use ‘confessions’ or statements extracted through torture or other ill-treatment in any proceedings. Imprisonment on such a basis constitutes arbitrary detention,” said Hadj-Sahraoui.
Furthermore, the Nadeem Centre-EIRP statement acknowledges “the persistence of deadly and violent attacks in Egypt mainly targeting security forces,” noting that it is the police and army’s responsibility to investigate and punish violent acts, but stresses “that the Egyptian government must uphold constitutional guarantees and its international obligations, against unlawful detention and torture.”
“[The Egyptian government] must also guarantee the right to fair trial for all those accused of involvement in terrorism-related offenses, which includes the right to be brought in front of independent judicial authorities, the right to adequate defense, and the possibility to challenge the legality of one’s detention,” the statement concluded.