Amnesty International (AI), the global human rights watchdog, announced Thursday that widespread arrests, deaths in detention, “harrowing” accounts of torture and forced disappearances signal a “catastrophic decline” in human rights during the year after Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.
The statement, released a year to the day after current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi appeared on television to announce Morsi’s ouster, notes that at least 16,000 people have been detained, torture and ill-treatment remain “unabated”, and fair trial standards are routinely flouted.
As the statement points out, these abuses are indicative of a return to pre-25 January Revolution status quo.
“Egypt’s notorious state security forces –currently known as National Security- are back and operating at full capacity, employing the same methods of torture and other ill-treatment used during the darkest hours of the Mubarak era,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at AI.
“Despite repeated promises by current and former presidents to respect the rule of law, over the past year flagrant violations have continued at an astonishing rate, with security forces effectively granted a free rein to commit human rights violations with impunity,” Sahraoui continued.
The statement outlines first-hand accounts of torture in police stations and unofficial places of detention, such as Central Security Force camps, at the hands of both the military, police and National Security forces.
AI details one particularly gruesome case of a 23 year old student arrested in February 2014 in Nasr City. According to the student’s testimony, he was held for 47 days and was tortured and raped during interrogation.
“They cut my shirt, blindfolded me with it and handcuffed me from behind…they beat me with batons all over my body, particularly on the chest, back and face…Then they put two wires in my left and right little fingers and gave me electric shocks four or five times,” he said.
The student also detailed incredibly gruesome and shocking events in which he was beaten on his genitals with a stick and raped before being forced to sing “Teslam Al-Ayadi” (Bless the hands), a popular pro-military song.
Most torture, according to AI’s first hand testimonies, is designed to get detainees to confess to being members of the Muslim Brotherhood or committing other crimes.
The statement also draws attention to deaths in police custody.
At least 80 detainees have died in police custody since Morsi’s 3 July ouster, according to Wiki Thawra, an independent monitoring group run by the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights.
“The death at the hands of the police of Khaled Said in 2010, a young man from Alexandria, was one of the driving forces behind Egypt’s uprising. It is tragic that four years after his killing, deaths in police custody in Egypt continue to occur on an alarming scale,” said Sahraoui. At least four deaths have occurred at the Matareya police station alone.
According to AI, scores of people have been arbitrarily arrested by security forces and held in complete deprivation of their rights.
“Many were beaten upon arrest, unlawfully held for extended periods without charge, without being given the chance to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or a prosecutor or being informed of the reason for their detention. Some have been held without charge or trial for nearly a year,” the statement read.
Wiki Thawra researchers have noted that over 41,000 people have been detained or indicted from July 2013 to mid-May 2014.
Thursday’s statement also mentions a number of politically motivated verdicts issued in Egyptian courts, which caused “huge setbacks” for Egypt’s criminal justice system.
Particular attention is given to two recent cases in Minya, Upper Egypt, in which a judge sentenced 1,247 men to death. The death sentences for 247 of these men were confirmed after what AI called “grossly unfair trials”.
“On every level Egypt is failing in terms of human rights; it is up to the new government led by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to turn the tide by launching independent, impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and send a strong message that flouting human rights will not be tolerated and will no longer go unpunished,” Sahraoui said.
Contrary to first hand testimony from former detainees, Egyptian authorities continually deny the use of torture in prisons.
On Tuesday, Major General Abdelfattah Othman, deputy interior minister’s assistant for public relations, said that Egyptian prisons were “more like hotels”, adding that such allegations “have nothing to do with reality or logic”.