By Yasmine Saleh/Reuters
CAIRO: Mohamed Mohamed, a 24-year-old ceramics worker, says he was seized by police while acting as a volunteer at the Tahrir Square protest to oust Hosni Mubarak, blindfolded, taken away and tortured under emergency law.
Mohamed was fetching food late at night from nearby Champlion Street for other protesters in the tent city in central Cairo that was a nerve-centre for opposition to Mubarak when he was abducted, three days before the leader’s downfall.
“Policemen in plain clothes and carrying guns attacked us, blindfolded us, the next thing was I was in a cell with others, and officers in uniform were torturing us with wooden sticks and electric wires,” he told Reuters.
“This continued daily for a week,” Mohamed said. “Then on Tuesday Feb. 15, four days after president Mubarak stepped down, they woke us up before dawn, blindfolded us and dropped us in the streets where people found us and helped us home.”
Egypt’s new military rulers say in six months they will lift the emergency law reimposed after the killing of Anwar Sadat in 1981 by Islamist assassins that Mubarak used to impose his 30-year iron rule.
Mohamed’s lawyer, Amr Abdel Wahid, said he filed a lawsuit to the public prosecutor against the current minister of the interior and head of the state security department.
“I have asked for them to be fired and tried for what they did to Mohamed,” Abdel Wahid told Reuters.
A security source in the interior ministry said the case was with the prosecution and the ministry had no comment.
The military said it detained 3,000 people since the start of protests on Jan. 25 and said inquiries were ongoing, saying those arrested were not all protesters and included looters.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said it holds the military-led Egyptian government responsible for all detained demonstrators, urging it to “free those arbitrarily arrested during the recent anti-government protests.”
“Egyptian human rights monitors and two internet activist groups have collected names of scores of people who have been reported missing since Jan. 28, 2011 when the military took charge of security,” the group said in a Feb. 26 statement.
“The military should move swiftly to release detainees or charge them with a recognizable offense, and hold accountable those responsible for abusing people in custody,” it added.
The new military rulers, keen to defuse tensions over the question of arrests, said they started to release political prisoners a few weeks ago.
“The armed forces have never nor will it ever use force against protesters or the people. The armed forces have supported the revolution and guarantee it,” senior military official Ismail Etman told a weekend news conference, adding:
“Until now we have investigated 3,000 individuals and some have been tried … received sentences for destroying government buildings, bank machines and terrorizing citizens.”
Mohamed, who lives in the Delta town of Kafr El-Sheikh, said he was not a member of any political or religious group and that all he did wrong was to join the protests.
Activist and lawyer Amir Salem took up Mohamed’s case and filed a complaint to the prosecutor against the interior ministry and state security.
Salem said Mohamed was arrested by emergency law that “we [activists] have been asking for decades for an end to.”
“I have sent Mohamed to be examined by doctors and I have reports and photos that indicate he was subjected to torture in different parts of his body,” Salem said.
“I accuse officially and publicly the ministry of the interior and the state security body for being behind all attacks that happened on protesters under the direct orders of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak,” he added.
Lifting of the emergency law under which Mohamed was arrested is a cornerstone demand of protesters who overthrew Mubarak in an 18-day uprising and their pressure is backed by statesmen including British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Muslim Brotherhood, regarded by Washington with suspicion and itself a victim of emergency law, has been a vocal advocate along with other political groups for scrapping the law.
Egyptian authorities detained about 500 members of the group including many of the group’s senior leaders and spokesmen in the days following the start of the mass protests.
The law was widely seen as a way of stifling political life in Egypt, where politicians and members of opposition groups were detained under emergency law.
Two weeks ago, Egypt’s military council, that took control of this country of 80 million people on Feb. 11 when Mubarak resigned, said it intended to lift emergency law before parliamentary and presidential elections are held.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently backed away from Washington’s previous call on Egypt to end emergency law immediately, saying the timing was up to the Egyptians.
The army has said it will lift the emergency law when the country returns to stability following weeks of tumult.
Many public sector employees are still striking over pay and conditions and police are returning to Egypt’s streets after withdrawing on Jan. 28 amid clashes with protesters. –Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Marwa Awad