CAIRO: Investigations are being carried out into allegations by three members of Rashid’s public prosecution office that a state security investigations (SSI) officer verbally assaulted and threatened to open fire on them as they attempted to inspect a SSI facility.
News of the incident was first reported by Mohamed Abdelaziz, a lawyer with the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence, who on Monday said that the public prosecution office members were attempting to search a SSI facility in the northern coastal town of Rashid after receiving reports that individuals were being illegally detained there.
On Wednesday, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that the public prosecution office lawyers were responding to complaints filed by relatives of 10 fishermen detained for over a week in the SSI facility.
According to the newspaper, the men had been arrested on charges of involvement in smuggling people into Italy, but had been cleared of all charges against them and their release ordered by the public prosecution office.
On Monday, the paper says, the public prosecution office heard the testimony of the three public prosecution members Ayman Mahaba, Mohamed Abu Yadak and Mohamed Abu Zeid, as well as relatives of the detained men who witnessed the incident.
A state security officer, named by Abdel-Aziz as Ahmed Refaat, reportedly verbally insulted the public prosecution office members upon their arrival at the SSI facility before a physical altercation broke out between Refaat and one of the public prosecution lawyers.
Refaat is then said to have threatened to open fire on the men if they attempted to enter the SSI facility.
According to Abdelaziz, the public prosecution office has questioned Refaat as part of its investigations.
While public prosecution office members are empowered under the Criminal Procedures Code and Law 356 on Prisons Regulation to inspect places of detention, they rarely exercise these powers — which, rights groups say, has contributed to the spread of systematic arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture inside Egyptian police stations.
The attempt by public prosecution officers to inspect a SSI facility is a “significant development,” as it is either the first time that an inspection of a SSI has been conducted or that it has been reported publicly, said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
“Public prosecutors have the authority and mandate to inspect places of detention, but SSI offices have traditionally been excluded from this mandate based on the claim that these were administrative offices and not officially designated places of detention,” Bahgat told Daily News Egypt.
“Human rights advocates have long called on public prosecutors to conduct such inspection missions to SSI offices, based on consistent and credible reports of their use in unlawful and incommunicado detention as well as torture and mistreatment,” the EIPR director continued.
Bahgat noted that before Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud’s appointment as Public Prosecutor in 2006, inspections were limited to prisons and not police stations, “where arbitrary detention and torture are more common.”
“Recently, however, we have started seeing media reports of inspections of police stations, too. To our knowledge this is the first time that an inspection of an SSI office has ever been conducted, or at least the first time it has become public.”
Bahgat added that for inspection visits to be effective, their findings must be made public and perpetrators of any violations be referred to trial.
“In this particular case, if prosecutors indeed identified men who were held unlawfully then we expect to see the SSI officers responsible indicted,” the EIPR director said.