Update: Human rights organisations decry alleged ‘savage’ torture and sexual assault of detainees

Rana Muhammad Taha
8 Min Read

A group of domestic human rights organisations Wednesday called for an “immediate and independent” investigation into the alleged practice of “savage” torture and sexual assault reported by detainees arrested during the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

Among the 1,079 people the Ministry of Interior arrested on 25 January, at least 79 are being held at Abu Za’abal Prison. All 79 have reported being subjected to torture, according to their lawyer Mahmoud Belal.The “savageness” of torture practices reported by detainees arrested during the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution surpassed the practices of security apparatuses during the “worst dictatorial regimes” Egypt had witnessed, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

In the joint statement released Wednesday a group of 16 human rights organisations accused the police forces of torturing and sexually assaulting detainees. The organisations said the detainees’ complaints since 25 January surpass any complaints issued before. Signatory organisations include the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and Al-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims.

The organisations cited reports of detainees claiming to have been “sexually assaulted” or “electrocuted” during their detention. They also reported that female detainees held at Al-Qanater Prison claimed to have been subjected to “vaginal examinations” without their consent.

The signatory organisations called for subjecting all those detained on 25 January to medical examinations. It also called for allowing the organisations to visit detention facilities to interview detainees.

ANHRI also condemned the alleged torture the “political” detainees are facing in a statement it released on Tuesday. The organisations called on the prosecutor general to “immediately and transparently” investigate the detainees’ accounts regarding the “systematic torture” they claim to face in detention facilities at the hands of security officials.

The Ministry of Interior, however, denied torture allegations reported by those who had been preventively detained. In a statement released on Tuesday, the ministry expressed its readiness to receive complaints from inmates, adding it will look into such complaints and take “decisive measures” against all those who are found complicit in committing “violations or delinquencies”.

Organisations that signed Wednesday’s joint statement said Egyptian prisons are not subject to any “real supervision”. They added that no independent organisations or lawyers are allowed to visit the prisons and, in a breach of the laws and the constitution, prisons are not periodically inspected by independent judicial authorities.

On Wednesday, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered the release of 55 detainees among those arrested on 25 January on an EGP 10,000 bail. The released detainees are among a group of 228 facing charges of murder, attempted murder, illegal assembly, protesting without a notice, possession of unlicensed explosives, exercising violence against public employees and joining a group which aims to stall the constitution, among other charges.

The signatory organisations of the joint statement expressed their concern regarding the “list of charges” usually pressed against detainees arrested following protests. The organisations pointed out that such detainees are now “even accused of murdering fellow protesters killed during protests.”

Aly Diab, one of the lawyers working on this case, said the release order was issued for those who had petitioned their detention. Laila El-Fouly, the sister of one of the detainees released on Wednesday, said the group of 55 included 36 detainees under the age of 18.

The group’s detention was renewed for 15 days on Thursday. Diab added that among the 228 detainees, several were randomly arrested; they were not protesting at the time of their arrest.

Diab said that since the release order was issued by the prosecutor general, the decision cannot be appealed by prosecution. He added that the lawyers have issued a request to ease the bail, described by El-Fouly “as a large sum of money” that many of the defendants cannot afford. Eventually, 24 minors were released without posting bail, ANHRI reported.

Prosecutor General Barakat denied on Wednesday the existence of any “political detainees” in custody. Barakat told European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis that all those in custody are either serving time according to court orders or held according to the prosecution’s decision.

Among those ordered released Wednesday is Al-Mo’taz Bellah Hassab Al-Nabi, a journalist who was reportedly tortured during his detention at the Abdeen police station, Diab said.

On 25 January, at least five photojournalists were arrested, and two more were hospitalised with injuries; journalists were the target of a series of attacks, arrests, and assaults on that day.

Karim Al-Behairy is another journalist who was ill-treated in detention. Al-Behairy, who works for independent newspaper Al-Badil, was arrested while covering protests commemorating the revolution’s third anniversary. He is currently detained at a Central Security Camp on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

Al-Behairy was subjected to “assault and physical violence”, he told an ANHRI lawyer. He reportedly accused security forces of beating him upon his arrest, taking away all his personal belongings and preventing him from contacting his lawyers.

The journalist added that he was physically assaulted again when he refused to be photographed with Molotov cocktails; the picture would imply Al-Behairy was arrested while in possession of the ammunition.

ANHRI reminded that the newly passed constitution, which “the state has advocated and encouraged the people to approve”, considers torture a crime punishable by the law, as per Article 52. It condemned the state’s continued practice of “dealing with the constitution as merely ink on paper,” adding that the text necessitates the protection of detainees and their legal rights.

Another torture account, reported by ANHRI, is that of Belal Khalil, a nursing student who was randomly arrested from downtown Cairo on 25 January. The nursing student claims to have been stripped, completely shaven and sprayed with cold water while facing physical attacks.

Khalil was moved to Abu Zaabal Prison along with over 100 other detainees arrested during the same incident. Most torture reports that have recently surfaced emerged from Abu Zaabal prison, a detention facility described by lawyer Belal as “inhumane” and “notorious for torture”.

Detainees held at Abu Zaabal Prison include members of political parties such as; Al-Dostour Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Social Popular Alliance Party, said Al-Dostour Party spokesman Khaled Dawoud. They also include two prominent leftist youth activists, Khaled Al-Sayed and Nagi Kamel. Dawoud, who attended their investigation on Sunday, described the detention situation as “miserable”.

Detention conditions for those arrested in the backdrop of the revolution’s anniversary have been condemned by several human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, the Nation without Torture Campaign and the Freedom for the Brave Campaign.

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