CAIRO: Human rights group Amnesty International accused Egypt of systematically abusing prisoners – including torture and years of detention without trial – and warned the problem could worsen because of recent constitutional changes.
Among those who have been tortured are prisoners transferred to Egypt under the CIA s controversial extraordinary rendition program in the war on terror, Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday, citing accounts from five detainees. It called on Egypt to stop interrogating suspects sent to the country under the program.
The London-based group said 18,000 people were in Egyptian jails without trial, including some who have been held for more than a decade. The torture has included electric shocks, suspension by the wrists or ankles and psychological pressure, such as rape threats against prisoners or their female relatives, the report said.
Cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady denied that torture was systematic.
We, as a government, cannot condone at all any kind of torture, Rady said. When we hear of torture, we deal with it in a legal way. The 18,000 number came from Egyptian rights groups who disputed the Interior Ministry s figures of 3,000 to 4,000, Amnesty official Said Haddidi told a press conference. Rady said he could not comment on the figures because he had not read Amnesty s report.
Amnesty criticized the government for using the fight against terrorism to justify amendments to the constitution that increased the government s security powers.
The group was particularly concerned about an amendment that suspended civil rights in terror investigations and enabled the state to prosecute civilians in military courts, which are known for taking shortcuts with due process. The changes were approved in a referendum last month that was widely criticized for massive tampering.
Governments have an obligation to protect their citizens, Curt Goering, the deputy executive director of Amnesty International in the United States, told The Associated Press. But in so doing, they can t pursue measures that in the process result in the wholesale destruction of fundamental human rights. Amnesty s deputy Middle East director, Hassiba Hadj Sahroui, said the situation was getting worse in the sense that the safeguards against torture in the constitution have been undermined. Amnesty said detainees sent to Egypt under the rendition policy were tortured and denied the right to appear in court. It cited the accounts of five detainees, including an Egyptian cleric who says he was kidnapped in Italy and transferred to Egypt for interrogation. Italy has indicted 26 Americans and five Italian agents accused of seizing the cleric.
Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, said that once in Egypt, he was sodomized, stripped naked, and beaten with electric cables and water hoses, and given electric shocks while being pinned to a wet mattress.
I was placed near torture chambers for long periods of time to hear the screams of the tortured and their moans and their howls, so that I would collapse psychologically and, sure enough, I experienced episodes of epilepsy and passing out, he wrote in a letter that was smuggled out of prison.
The administration of US President George W. Bush has insisted it receives guarantees from countries receiving terror suspects that prisoners will not be tortured.
Egypt s government has declined to comment on the case of Abu Omar, who attended the news conference but would not answer questions. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif has said that Egypt received suspects under the rendition program.
Sahroui said torture was pervasive in Egyptian police stations and prisons.
Some people might think this [occurs] only when it comes to terrorism, she said. But she pointed to a well-publicized case of a taxi driver, Emad Al-Kabir, arrested on a minor charge who police filmed on a cell phone as they raped him with a stick.
If the highest level of the state doesn t give a clear signal that torture will not be tolerated, then the situation like the rape of Emad [will] happen, Sahroui said.