More policemen are facing detention, trial or prison sentences amid increased reports on alleged police brutality against citizens in places of detention. Beating to death, sexual assaults, and torture of prisoners are among the most reported human rights violations practiced in Egypt.
A police conscript was sentenced to life in prison by the Giza Criminal Court on Sunday over charges of sexually assaulting a mentally ill female prisoner inside Imbaba police station, officials said.
The court used security camera tapes as evidence against the policeman, along with the testimonies of the victim’s cellmates, despite the fact that the Forensic Medicine Authority did not medically support the victim’s claims.
The incident goes back to August 2014, when an 18-year-old mentally ill girl was detained at the station. The charged officer was seen on camera entering the female prisoners’ cell, dragging the victim out and assaulting her.
The Ministry of Interior had not denied the incident at the time, issuing a press statement that the event was under the prosecution authority’s investigations.
Nonetheless, Mohamed Zarea, Programme Director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) regards the verdict as a “needle in a haystack”, as the issue extends beyond individual cases. “Torture is systematic, accountability for it is selective,” he said.
“Nobody has been held accountable for the deaths of the revolution. The former minister of interior should have been held responsible for the Port Said massacre for example, but some see themselves as above laws,” he told Daily News Egypt Monday.
With ‘some’ referring to state security forces, prosecution authorities and judges, who are officially also the enforcers of the “rule of law”, Zarea accused them of committing the “biggest insult to the status of law”.
Intensified police brutality and torture reports inside police stations were the cause of the frustration of thousands who took the streets on the 25 January Revolution, which coincided with the National Police Day celebrations. After the revolution, there was a popular demand for reforming the Ministry of Interior.
“But the police did not feel guilty before the revolution and believed people falsely accused them,” Zarea said. “As a result, there is no need for reform from their point of view, which they defend very aggressively. That is why nothing has improved.”
Meanwhile, also on Sunday, three detained policemen were referred to criminal court over reports of the death of a detained citizen from torture, said NGO Al-Haqaneya Law Center Sunday.
The three suspects, a police officer and two conscripts from a police station in the governorate of Beheira, were held in custody since 8 May for questioning.
The case is marked by conflicting accounts from the Ministry of Interior and the victim’s family reports, as well as reports from human rights groups.
According to Nady Atef, director of the Justice and Human Rights Development Centre, a Minya-based NGO, the victim was taken from his workplace, a car agency, which security forces raided on 1 May.
The police claimed the suspect was arrested in a security chase and was resisting police forces.
The victim later died, allegedly inside the police station. The police’s claims, published in newspapers, suggested he was suffering from low blood pressure, and that they tried to provide him with medical assistance.
Following his death, a dozen local residents had gathered in front of the police station, accusing the police of torturing him to death. They were dispersed by force, and there were at least eight injuries reported.
Even the highest state institution, the presidency, has acknowledged that there have been “some” violations by security forces. In his speech on Police Day 2015, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said that human rights violations cannot be tolerated.
Yet, Al-Sisi said that “violations”, although “unaccepted,” will continue to occur because the country is facing an “exceptional” security situation. According to Zarea, the president’s words were like a “green light” for the police to commit more abuse.
“So, now violations of human rights are justified, because we are going through a difficult security phase,” Zarea said. “The problem in fact is that those violations are the core reason behind the critical security situation.”
Zarea explained that injustice and the denial of human dignity are the main threats to Egypt’s national security. When asked about the increasing cases of police crimes, he said that even when video evidence was presented, the interior ministry chose to ban photographing inside police stations, “instead of banning torture”, he said.
An example of the means of oppression in claims against the police is the case of lawyer Negad Al-Boraie and two judges currently facing investigations for presenting to the government a draft law project aimed at “fighting torture against prisoners”.
“I think authorities are trying to get back at the two judges, who revised the draft law, because they can’t accept their involvement in such a project,” Al-Boraie told Daily News Egypt.
Al-Boraie is the president of a non-governmental law firm called the United Group. He is facing accusation of managing an “illegitimate” association, although he said there have been no official charges yet.
Al-Boraie, whose questioning continues Tuesday, said he was asked about the details of the draft law. “They asked me what the importance of such a law was,” he said.
According to copies of the draft law published by the media, there should be a strict five-year prison sentence for any security official who practices torture to get specific confessions from a suspect. The law also suggested the penalty become life in prison if the victims are women or children, and that if death results from torture, the perpetuator must be charged with murder.
“These people will never be brought to justice or punished correctly as long as there is no law protecting the rights of the victims,” Al-Boraie stated. He concluded that the Egyptian political system is based on torture, and that anybody who tries to fight that is subject to repression.
Zarea believes that what happened with Al-Boraie is part of authorities’ intransigence. “There is an unprecedented trend of non-accountability of police officials because the prosecution authorities and the judiciary are accomplices.”
“The police tortures, the prosecution conduct weak investigations or none at all, and the judiciary acquits them all,” Zarea claimed. “When human rights organisations file complaints, they are told there is no time for such investigations, as the prosecution has a lot of more important cases on their hands,” he added.
“Nobody, even those who supported Al-Sisi, is exempt from police brutality. It has become a general rule, anybody suspect who enters a police station will be subjected to beating and torture,” Zarea said.
“It is the state’s strategy not to hold state officials accountable. They investigate some cases only when they are too exposed, or a political issue that is extremely controversial with public opinion,” he concluded.
This comes as NGOs report on regular basis on deaths as a result of harsh beating, inhumane conditions of detention, and torture practices inside prisons. Additionally, there are corruption cases. Last week, media reported that a police officer in 6th of October city was arrested for allowing the entrance of drugs to a prisoner in exchange for ‘sexual favours’ from his wife.