Torture, police brutality addressed in landmark legal cases but practice remains a endemic

Alexandra Sandels
7 Min Read

While the past year has witnessed several rare convictions in cases of torture and police abuse, leading analysts and international media argue a potential heightened government intolerance of police brutality. Rights groups urge the authorities to take “more systematic steps to rid the country of its alleged torture practices.Once considered a taboo issue, hardly tapped by the media, the numerous high-profile cases of police abuse and torture combined with increased advocacy against the practices and a film about police brutality have spurred discussion on the topic.But journalists, activists, and bloggers who have shed light on cases of torture were not beyond the reach of authorities.Al-Jazeera journalist Howaida Taha, for example, was sentenced to six months in prison for “tarnishing Egypt’s image and the video tapes of a documentary film on torture were confiscated at the Cairo Airport, early January. The film “Wara El Shams was aired on the Qatari satellite channel before the final verdict was reached. In December, video-sharing web site YouTube pulled the plug on Wael Abbas, one of the key players in Egypt’s anti-torture movement, and disabled his account following user complaints about the “brutal content of his videos.Abbas’ account was comprised of more than 100 video clips depicting sensitive issues such as torture, police brutality, anti-government demonstrations, and workers’ strikes.YouTube’s decision to discontinue Abbas’ account sparked an outcry among activist communities and attracted the attention of the international press. A week after the shutdown, YouTube restored Abbas’s site.Throughout the year, several chilling cases of torture and police abuse have made headlines in national as well as international mass media.In August, a 13-year old boy died shortly after his release from six days in police custody. His family alleged that their son was tortured to death and sued the police.The boy, Mohamed Mahmoud Abdelaziz of Mansoura, had been arrested on suspicion of theft and was supposedly severely beaten while in detainment.The week before the incident, Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) released a report on torture in Egypt in which it claimed to have documented 567 cases of torture in police custody since the early 1990s, 167 of which resulted in death.The organization reported 26 cases of police torture in 2007 alone, which resulted in three deaths.In an effort to spread awareness of torture and increase advocacy efforts against the practice, a diverse group of activists, bloggers, and human rights lawyers established the anti-torture movement “Egyptians Against Torture. The group held its first meeting in September and its members organize regular meetings and events.On Nov. 4, police officers Islam Nabih and Reda Fathi were found guilty in a landmark case of torturing and sexually abusing microbus-driver Emad Al-Kabir at Bulaq El-Dakrour station in January 2006.The images of a screaming Al-Kabir being abused and sodomized sparked an uproar among civil society and international rights groups when it appeared on numerous blogs and on YouTube last year.Rights groups welcomed the ruling although many maintained that the sentence was lenient.As a reaction to the ruling, Amnesty International called for “sweeping measures against torture, arguing that the practice remains a “widespread and systematic phenomenon in Egypt.Only two weeks after the decision in the Al-Kabir case, a similar law suit evolved in Qalubiya, where 27-year old Ahmed Sayed Hassanein accused three police officers of torturing and sodomizing him in June last year.Hassanein was reportedly arrested on charges of drug possession and subsequently transferred to a local police station where he claims he was tortured and sexually assaulted.In yet another case of alleged police torture, imprisoned cyber dissident Kareem Amer recently claimed in a letter to his lawyers that he was severely beaten by a fellow inmate and a prison guard in October in Borg Al-Arab prison outside Alexandria where he is held. The general prosecutor is yet to launch an investigation into the case, In late November, a police captain and two plainclothes informants were sentenced by the Mansoura Criminal court to seven years in prison for torturing a man to death.An additional police officer was handed a three year prison sentence for his involvement in the case.They were found guilty of torturing 38-year-old Nasr Abdullah to death in July in the village of Telbana outside Mansoura.Around the same time, the film “Heya Fawda? (Is it Chaos?) by renowned director Youssef Chahine, about police abuse, opened in Cairo prompting increased discussion on the issue.On Dec. 5, El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture released its third report on torture practices in Egypt. The 261-page report “Torture in Egypt: A State Policy provides detailed information of torture cases documented by El-Nadim from 2003 to 2006.The center argues that torture and state-organized violence is a “systematic and organized policy often occurring in police stations, state security facilities, and the streets.In an interview with Daily News Egypt at the press conference, El Nadim Deputy Director Aida Seif Al Dawla stressed that there has been a case of torture every two days in the last month.Most recently, the mother of a young man who died in Wadi El-Natroun Prison in unclear circumstances is suing the prison authorities, accusing them of medical negligence.

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