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Torture since the revolution

Torture under Mubarak, continuing under Morsy?

Murals and posters at a memorial rally for Essam Attam shows police and security force commanders who campaigners believe are responsible for torture and abuse of detainees Hassan Ibrahim
Murals and posters at a memorial rally for Essam Attam shows police and security force commanders who campaigners believe are responsible for torture and abuse of detainees
Hassan Ibrahim

Torture committed by the police under the Mubarak regime was systematic, frequently used as a means to attain information, confessions or simply to punish detainees. Torture methods used by police officers included beatings, electrocution and water boarding.

The brutal beating of Khaled Said, by two police officers in and outside an internet cafe is considered one of the main contributing factors of the 25 January Revolution. His death represents the illegitimate measures and violence so often perpetrated by police officers in the past.

Recent reports indicate the continued prevalence of torture, but today most incidents result from general police interaction with citizens, rather than a systematic means of obtaining information. After the revolution, people respond to the police in a very different way.

From 1993 to December 2008, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) monitored 460 torture cases and suspected 167 fatalities due to torture and ill-treatment. The EOHR report states that most of the torture cases occurred inside police stations, after arrest and before transferring the detainees to public prosecution where they were to forced to confess to crimes. The families of detainees would frequently also be tortured.

For decades, the public has perceived the police as a body that acts with hostility towards civilians rather than providing a sense of security. Though the state is signatory to several international conventions designed to prevent torture and protect human rights, police violations of human rights were endemic during the era of the past regime.

“A lot of officers still do not want to give up the behaviour that they have been accustomed to for more than 30 years,” said Ahmed El-Ghamrawy, an anti-torture project coordinator. A report issued by El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture details cases of torture and abuse cases that occurred during President Morsy’s first 100 days in office.

The report published 88 torture cases that occurred in police stations and in citizens’ houses. Thirty-four deaths, as a result of police officers using firearms or torture in police stations, prisons and streets, were also listed in the report. El-Nadeem confirmed that prior to releasing the report, the centre assigned a working group in order to verify and validate cases included. “Most of the torture incidents are clearly apparent to the public, the centre collected these cases, documented and published them,” said Hany Al-Zaghandy, psychiatrist at El-Nadeem.

Ongoing incidents of torture  

There are several organisations and anti-torture projects that indentify incidents of torture and provide the victims with support. Organisations either receive complaints directly from the victims, they are referred by a partner organisation, or the organisation tracks down victims themselves. Fostering Rights and Empowering Egyptians (FREE) is an anti-torture and victim protection project, to be announced publicly on 10 December, and was established by a legal company called United Group.

The project will be implemented in 15 governorates and each governorate will have a legal support unit. The project will reach out to torture victims directly through these units and will be available through a hotline or a dedicated website. Though the project is currently in the development phase, it has already started receiving cases since its initiation in September.

By law, torture allegations can only be confirmed or denied through a final court ruling, “but we know we have victims of torture,” said El-Ghamrawy. He relates a recent case handled by FREE. Mustafa had a drug related criminal record; he served his sentence and was released from prison a few years before the 2011 uprisings. One day the police officer who had originally arrested him passed by Mustafa’s clothing stand.

The officer greeted Mustafa’s welcome with insults and condescendingly placed a hand on his shoulder, belittling his small enterprise. When Musatafa brushed the officer’s hand aside, and defended himself from the resultant beating, the policeman pulled out his gun and shot Mustafa in the head. “As a favour to the police officer,” said El-Ghamrawy, other officers started to beat Mustafa. After days in hospital Mustafa passed away.

People’s reaction towards humiliating police behaviour has changed immensely since 25 January 2011. “People now refuse to be abused,” said Negad El-Borai, senior partner at United Group. He added that offices react aggressively “because they are not used to such response.”

El-Nadeem issued a report in 2007 defining the methods of torture used by police officers in detention facilities, based on the description of 272 victims who were held between 1993 and 2001. The methods stated include beating, being tied up for long periods, being hosed with icy water, sexual abuse, humiliation, electrocution, unsanitary conditions, threats against the victim’s family, being forced to watch the torture of other victims, being burnt with cigarettes and hot metal and being scalded with boiling water.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) is just one of the organisations that provide legal assistance to victims of torture. Magda Boutros, criminal justice reform director at EIPR, spoke of one of the prison cases handled recently by EIPR. A man with an eye injury had undergone one of several scheduled operations. When he was arrested in Ramlet Boulaq he had an operation scheduled for the following day.

Upon arrest, he was shot with a bullet in his thigh and he was moved to Tora prison hospital. “He stayed there for a while, but he did not receive medication,” said Boutros. She added that the bullet was still in his leg, and that he did not undergo the scheduled operation for his eye. EIPR filed complaints to the public prosecutor, prison authorities and the National Council for Human Rights in order for the man to receive proper medication prison or to be treated in another hospital if the appropriate medical treatment is not available.

“His detention was pending for further investigations,” said Boutros meaning that the man had not been found guilty of any crime. Five days after the complaints were filed, he was removed from the hospital and put in solitary confinement. EIPR filed another complaint to the public prosecutor, explaining in the situation detail, requesting that the imprisoned man should return to the hospital and receive appropriate treatment for his condition.

EIPR also reported police violations occurring on 16 September at Meet Ghamr in Daqahliyah governorate. A police raid on cafes in an area called Wesh El-Balad included exctreme violence against customers and some arrests. Police officers then tortured Atef El-Mansi at the police station. He later died on his way to the hospital. Police shootings resulted in the death of El-Sayed El-Adel Mohamed and the injury of Ramy Mohamed. Witnesses of the incident believe that the reason behind the escalation was the police officers’ use of extensive force and humiliation during the raid.

On 2 August, clashes arose between residents of Ramlet Boulaq and the police after an officer shot dead Omar El-Boni. EIPR documented a set of violations of human rights that the residents faced during the incident, which include murder, extensive use of firearms and tear gas, excessive raids on houses destroying appliances and intimidating the residents, conducting random arrests and torturing during detention. A lot of men were arrested and trumped up charges such as thuggery, rioting, and assaulting police officers. “A huge number of those charged were not present during the incidents,” said Boutros.

Legal Procedures

Legal recourse for the victims of torture and their families does exist. The victim, or their representative, files a complaint to the prosecution office that gives details of the incident and requests an investigation. The prosecution office has prosecutorial and investigative powers. If the case is not considered a prima facie or one is not recognised as a criminal offence, then the office dismisses the complaint.

In case of criminal offences, the prosecution office begins following up the matter. The office investigated the complaint, interviewing witnesses, conducting background checks, gathering evidence and contacting the medical authority for forensic reports.Image circulating online of Fares Barakat who was arrested and allegedly tortured by the police

The prosecution office either refers the case to court or the case is put on file. There are several reasons why cases might be put on file, such as the inability to identify the perpetrator or a lack of evidence. The case, when referred to court, undergoes the usual litigation procedures (such as calling in witnesses and victims) before a judges announced the verdict.

Organisations like EIPR, as well as torture protection projects, provide free-of-charge legal services. If the victim already has a lawyer, the organisations offer assistance in the case. If the victim does not have a lawyer, the organisations assign a lawyer to the victim.

Procedural problems

If EIPR believe that the prosecution has made a grave error, resulting from an insufficient or biased investigation, they lodge a miscarriage claim against the local prosecutor. The claim is filed with the office’s investigation unit against the prosecutor handling the case. If the unit finds in favour of the claim, the prosecutor is replaced. Sometimes a judge conducts the investigations, without acquiring prosecutorial powers. After completing  investigations, the judge refers the case back to the prosecution office.

A major problem in torture cases is that the judicial system does not respond quickly enough to complaints. Slow-paced procedures in torture cases distress the victim, as well as their family and friends. In one example, a victim of prison torture was presented to the forensic doctors 11 days after filing the complaint, by which time the physical injuries indicating torture had healed.

Problematically, the president appoints the public prosecutor, a frequently cited example of the blurred boundaries between the executive and judicial authorities.  “We believe that there is no independence of the prosecution office – or the judicial bodies in general – from the executive authorities,” said Boutros.

The prosecution office uses several tools in the investigation process. The office contacts the forensic medical authority for the reports, and contacts the criminal evidence investigations department in order to detect fingerprints. Boutros said that one of the most important tools the office relies on is the Ministry of Interior’s inspection unit, which collects evidence and hands it to the prosecution office.

“A problem arises here when the accused party is a police officer,” said Boutros. For instance, if a victim files a complaint against the police officer in charge or an officer working at a specific police station, Boutros believes the prosecution office should not contact the same station to carry out self-investigation. “This is why the prosecution office sometimes informs us that they did not receive enough information regarding the case,” said Boutros.

There were problems in the burial permits associated with the Meet Ghamr investigations. One of the two people killed in the incident was buried, “but the burial permit did not state the cause of death,” said Karim Medhat, researcher at EIPR’s criminal justice reform department. EIPR reported that the victim was killed by a bullet that penetrated his right side and came out of his chest. Another man, Atef El-Mansi, was killed as a result of torture.

He was beaten with rifle butts, “but the permit states that he was dead due to human stampede, crowding and suffocation,” said Medhat. EIPR offered legal assistance to the victims’ families and requested to look into the forensic reports “and if necessary, we call for exhumation and re-autopsy,” said Medhat in the conference. Besides requesting a witness protection programme, EIPR called for transferring the investigations to be carried out by an impartial body, like the Mansoura’s prosecution office or mandating an investigating judge.

The psychological effects

Besides the physical effects of torture, the psychological impact of torture is enormous. Doctor Al-Zaghandy considers post-traumatic stress disorder as a major effect, as well as the disruptive effect of torture on the victim’s daily life, affecting the victim’s work, education, family life and social interaction.

Al-Zaghandy fears that when police personnel resort to torture when dealing with prisoners this leads to the creation of a much more serious form of a criminal “preoccupied with revenge.” Victims develop a feeling of being alienated and in some cases develop an urge to exact revenge. The psychiatrists’ role is to prevent the victim from becoming a monster. El-Nadeem centre does not want the victim to seek revenge, but rather seek justice.

Initiatives, proposals and actions

FREE will be cooperating with a psychiatric organisation that will evaluate the psychological state of the victims along with their families. The organisation will report on the impact of torture, ill-treatment and humiliation from a psychological perspective. The project’s activities will include involving judges, local prosecutors, lawyers, NGOs and the public in general. In addition to providing free-of-charge legal support to victims of torture and abuse, the FREE offers training to lawyers handling torture cases across the country.

The programmes train the lawyers to make use of international conventions regarding torture in court, which is a specialised legal area and requires specialised lawyers. Since many NGOs function in specific areas and target specific sectors of the community, the project addresses them in order to convey the concept of human rights to people through conducting awareness meetings. The project also holds various workshops with judges and local prosecutors.

Besides assisting in the criminal aspect of the case, the project is engaged in the administrative aspect too. “In some cases the victim does not know the [officer’s] name or his location,” said El-Borai. FREE makes a complaint to the Ministry of Interior, stating the details of the incident and requesting information about the officers’ present during the incident. The project then files for compensation for the victim.

El-Nadeem centre provides life management and rehabilitation to victims of torture, as well as providing legal and advocacy services. “It has been discovered that a victim [of torture] cannot be psychologically rehabilitated unless we defend the victim’s case,” said Al-Zaghandy.

The Nation without Torture campaign is an anti-torture initiative founded by victims of torture and supported by the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre. The main goal of the campaign is to pressure the authorities into taking action in all torture cases since 25 January 2011, as well as calling for the effective supervision of prisons and the enforcement of laws regarding torture. On 3 November, the campaign hosted an event in the memory of Essam Atta’s death, who was a victim of torture.

Image circulating online of Sayed Belal who died in police custody in Alexandria after allegedly being tortured into confessing his role in the bombing in 2011 of the All Saints Church
Image circulating online of Sayed Belal who died in police custody in Alexandria after allegedly being tortured into confessing his role in the bombing in 2011 of the All Saints Church

“He was a martyr of torture… so we held the conference close to the Ministry of Interior,” said Hend Nafaa, co-founder of the campaign. Victims and their families gave speeches to the public and a data show presented videos of torture incidents occurring since 25 January.

EIPR is part of the National Initiative to Rebuild the Police Force (NIRPC), which proposes imminent and long-term measures in order to change the police institution. The initiative also suggests the formation of a committee, independent of the executive authorities, responsible for investigating any torture and death cases attributed to police officers, or occurring within police stations.

The proposed committee would hold investigative powers, such as access to forensic reports, to all evidence, and to places related to the complaints, as well the power to meet and collect information from police officers, prisoners and witnesses.

Human rights organisations and centres like El-Nadeem, have been calling for mobilising draft laws and the enforcement of exisiting laws that address human rights. They have been calling for the state to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which is an important addition to the ratified convention and establishes international inspection of places of detention.

In two reports released on 2 October, Amnesty International addresses police impunity and describes police violations of human rights occurring from 2011 until August. It highlights events linked to protests in Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo, the aftermath of football clashes in Port Said and an altercation by Nile City Towers involving Cairo slum-dwellers.

The rights group proposes recommendations, addressed to President Morsy and his government, regarding the reform of the police. In addition to a memorandum of police reform addressed to the presidency office, the organisation also sent the authorities advanced copies of these reports.

Road to Development

The Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and other state authorities have expressed a desire to cooperate and have welcomed initiatives addressing human rights.

Recent ministers’ speeches acknowledge the necessity of reforming the police, as well as the importance of human rights when interacting with the civilians. “These speeches reflect the police force’s aspirations to human rights and the public’s ambition for a police force that enforces the law and ensures rights,” said Said Haddadi, researcher at Amnesty’s MENA programme.

In June, one of the five state security officers convicted of the torture of Sayid Bilal was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The rest of the officers were tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment. On 26 October 2011, two police officers charged with the illegal arrest and torturing of Khaled Said were sentenced to seven-year prison terms for manslaughter.  EOHR, among many others, objected to the short sentences and in December 2011, the prosecution office demanded the retrial of the officers.

In June 2012, before dissolving the parliament, the legislative committee agreed on restructuring the Medical Forensics Authority. In order to ensureits independence, members of parliament introduced three proposals to reform the forensics department.

In October, the prosecutor general announced unexpected investigations of all state prisons, as well as the implementation of existing laws and ensuring the rights and duties of prisoners. He added that the prosecution office should report any violation and receive any complaint from the prisoners.

The Minister of Interior ended the careers of many police officers while others were relocated to different departments. This has been seen among anti-torture groups as an attempt to purge the police, but not to reform and restructure the institution or change the legislative framework laid out during the past regime.

Parties, organisations and the public call for a comprehensive set of laws to be implemented in order to protect human rights. The enforcement of laws that ban torture, ensure justice in torture cases and prevent police impunity are major public concerns. The implementation of steps to reform the police service in a significant and transparent manner, while respecting human rights, will eradicate patterns of human rights violations and rebuild the people’s trust in the police.

Yasser Ali, presidential spokesperson, announced in a press conference on 30 October that President Mohamed Morsy will start investigating all cases related to human rights issues, adding that human rights are a “key element in the presidency’s programme.”


Treaties and International Law

Egypt has ratified several conventions addressing human rights including, but not limited to, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Ratifying conventions binds Egypt to abide and implement the agreed upon policies. Once a country ratifies a convention it becomes part of the state’s laws. Anti-torture groups rely on Article 1 in the UNCAT for defining torture, rather than the national provision of the law, because depending on the convention has led to expanding the boundaries of the definition to include any ill-treatment inflicted by law enforcement officials to civilians and not only suspects.


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