CAIRO: New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) released yesterday a new report accusing the Egyptian authorities of fabricating a high-profile terrorism case in 2006 by using torture and coerced confessions.
The 74-page report entitled “Anatomy of a State Security Case: The ‘Victorious Sect’ Arrests said that the authorities had “little or no evidence for the arrests in the notorious terrorism case of the so-called “Victorious Sect that made headlines in 2005 and early 2006.
HRW claims that State Security (SSI) kept the suspects in arbitrary custody and used torture practices in order to obtain confessions from the detainees.
Using the case of the Victorious Sect as an example, HRW aims to shed light on what the organization refers to as “a larger pattern of abuses carried out by SSI; a practice allegedly often targeting young religious men, also referred to as Salafists.
“There are many people who are regularly detained by State Security; or, they were detained [in the past] and now have to report in regularly, or they are summoned regularly, said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) on the random roundups of Salafists.
According to HRW, abuses such as random arrests and arbitrary detention are made possible due to special powers granted to SSI under Egypt’s emergency law which has been in place for the past 26 years.
“The Victorious Sect arrests demonstrate how the State Security Investigators use torture and arbitrary detention to make people confess to crimes – real or imagined. Despite the SSI’s long record of abusive conduct, SSI officers responsible for abuses are rarely held to account, said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch.
The sect, also referred to as “Al Ta’efa Al Mansoura in Arabic, was supposedly made up of a group of around 20 young Egyptians who plotted terrorist attacks on tourists and civilian targets in Cairo.On April 19, 2006, the Interior Ministry publicly announced that SSI had arrested 22 members of “a militant group . The arrests are to have been “part of SSI efforts to contain terrorism.
“Statements made to journalists in Cairo that day suggested the arrests had just occurred, possibly earlier that day or week, noted HRW.
However, HRW’s research on the case suggests that the suspects were detained in February and March and held incommunicado for several weeks prior to the public announcement of their detention.
During their incommunicado detention, the detainees have been subject to torture and other severe ill-treatment, according to HRW.
“[SSI] transferred us to Lazoghli for a taste of systematic torture . We were beaten up with fists and sticks, and kicked around. [SSI] used electricity on different parts of the body, including sensitive areas, said one of the former detainees in an interview with HRW.
Another previous SSI detainee held with the members of the sect told HRW that the detainees told him of being “stripped naked . held out in the hallway, completely naked . Electricity, of course, that’s a must, it almost goes without saying’.
The Egyptian authorities dismissed the charges against the suspects in summer 2006 – a decision HRW to this day has been “unable to determine the underlying reasons for.
Even though the case was dropped, HRW emphasizes that many of the former suspects remain in custody more than a year and a half after their arrest.
Mariner told Daily News Egypt that 10 of the former suspects are still in detainment.
Furthermore, Mariner stressed that many of the released former suspects and their families are afraid to speak openly about their experiences and those of their relatives in fear of subjecting themselves to more harassment or even renewed detainment by SSI.
“Many families were reluctant to talk to us out of mere fear. Some families were even scared to seek legal counsel, Mariner told Daily News Egypt.
Emergency Law provides the Interior Ministry with the right to detain and interrogate citizens without arrest warrants and to issue detention orders consecutively for up to six months at a time.
HRW calls on President Hosni Mubarak not to renew the emergency law when it expires in April next year.
The Egyptian authorities are currently in the process of drafting a new counterterrorism law which will replace the old Emergency Law.
A draft of the new provisions has yet to be presented although the proposed law might enter into force as early as in April 2008.
Observers and members of civil society remain concerned that the new anti-terrorism law will incorporate many of the controversial provisions of the current emergency law.
HRW urges the government to implement a “more transparent and deliberative process for drafting the proposed anti-terrorism law.
Furthermore, the organization calls on the Egyptian authorities to release the remaining Victorious Sect detainees and launch an investigation into the allegations of torture and arbitrary detention of the former suspects.
Mariner told Daily News Egypt that the Egyptian government has refrained from responding to HRW’s repeated requests for information about the case.