CAIRO: Torture in Egypt’s prisons and police stations is almost systematic, claims the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) in its recent report on conditions in Egyptian prisons. With dozens dead as a result of torture, the report claims, the organization has asked for a full and independent investigation into such reports.
EOHR cited more than 150 torture cases, in which at least 80 resulted in death between the years 2000 and 2005. Degrading, inhumane and illegal treatment of prisoners was first and foremost in written complaints sent to officials and human rights groups by the prisoners themselves, their lawyers or their families.
The written petitions do not count as evidence. However, the failure of the authorities to follow up an investigation based on these complaints by performing a medical examination on the prisoners in order to confirm or disprove these allegations has led many human rights groups to believe the allegations are true.
On numerous occasions, prisons have rejected requests by international and local prisoners’ rights groups to visit their facilities and examine the conditions of the prisoners, or the prisons themselves.
“Torture continued to be used systematically in detention centers throughout the country, read a recent Amnesty International Egypt report. “Several people died in custody in circumstances suggesting that torture or ill-treatment may have caused or contributed to their deaths.
Both EOHR and Amnesty recounted examples of such treatment. According to EOHR, in 38 reported cases – inside police stations and detention centers – “these people were hand-beaten, punched, [and] kicked . had cigarette burns . their clothes were removed, were tied up and were beaten by water hosepipes and were dragged on the ground.
In some cases detention is illegitimate, abrupt and secret, followed by inadequate investigation, says EOHR in its almost 50 page report published last week. “The secret detention normally leads to torture and then to death [inside the facility].
Most of the torture victims are political prisoners, cites EOHR, supported by international organizations such as Amnesty and Committee Against Torture (CAT). Many cases are reported in prisons outside Cairo, such as the Tora Mazra Prison, where prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders and politicians like Ayman Nour are currently held.
Amnesty, in its latest report on systematic torture in prison said that many members of the Muslim Brotherhood were reportedly “tortured for several days after being taken from Mazra’at Tora Prison (Tora Mazra), where they were held in preventive detention to the State Security Intelligence branch in Madinat Nasr (Nasr City), Cairo.
According to Amnesty, these members were “beaten, suspended by the wrists or ankles and given electric shocks; some of them reportedly sustained broken bones and ribs as a result.
This group of 60 members was arrested in run-up elections of the Shura Council (upper house of parliament). In this and other such cases, the members are usually initially accused of affiliation with or membership in a banned group and possession and distribution of anti-regime leaflets and flyers.
“Several others were also apparently denied medical attention in prison; one prisoner reportedly died as a result, read Amnesty’s report. “Following his death, members of a parliamentary committee visited the detainees to investigate allegations of torture and later confirmed these allegations. The detention order for the group was renewed several times before all of them were released without charge.
Officials in Egypt, mainly Interior Ministry spokesmen, have denied the occurrence of any acts of torture, saying that some reports are exaggerated and that many prisoners claim torture to obtain a pardon in court.
The Interior Ministry, however, often refuses to call for an immediate investigation to assess prisoners’ allegations.
In Act I in the Convention Against Torture put down by CAT, torture is defined as “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person.
At the end of the report, EOHR issued recommendations on how to end what they referred to as “a phenomenon that has plagued Egypt’s detention system. One of the main demands of the report was to abolish the decades-long Emergency Law, by which sudden and arbitrary detention is justified and sanctioned. Notably, the law is to be replaced in the course of the next two years by an anti-terror bill, which the opposition often claims is the old law “featuring a different name.
EOHR also called upon the authorities to issue a law under which the executive authority, including police forces, would answer to the Ministry of Justice, and such an authority should agree to and abide by international prisoners’ rights laws. The prosecution should also perform methodical inquisition at the prisons and detention facilities on a periodical basis and in the presence of a committee that includes judiciary members, lawyers and a professional and independent medical team. Human rights groups should also be allowed to make their own inquiries, suggested the report.
The report published by EOHR has spurred political forces and Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to re-open what they have called “the file of prisoners of conscience, where according to the Brotherhood their members have been discriminated against, ill treated and harassed for the past 25 years.
Mohammad Mahdi Akef, supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, told the press this week that they would re-investigate their cases and present them openly in the People’s Assembly through Brotherhood-affiliated MPs.
According to Akef, this report marks the time when the group and these “repressed members would ask for justice and for their rights, and start questioning the Interior Ministry’s conduct towards detainees.