Authorities Use Intimidation, Violence to Suppress Online Advocacy
Egyptian authorities should immediately investigate and prosecute those security officials responsible for beating Ahmed Maher Ibrahim, Human Rights Watch said today. Maher, a 27-year-old civil engineer, used the social-networking site Facebook to support calls for a general strike on May 4, 2008, President Hosni Mubarak’s 80th birthday.
Maher told Human Rights Watch that officers from the Interior Ministry’s State Security Investigations (SSI) department apprehended him on a street in the suburb of New Cairo on May 7, blindfolded him and took him to a police station where they stripped him naked, and beat him intermittently for 12 hours before releasing him without charge.
“This is the work of thugs, pure and simple,” said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The government must show that those responsible for upholding the law are also subject to the law.”
Before the incident, Maher said, an SSI officer phoned him on April 25 to invite him “for a coffee” on the following day at SSI headquarters in Lazoghli, in downtown Cairo. Maher did not show up.
Over the course of the following week, Maher spoke with international news media about the strike. He told the BBC that several SSI officers had contacted him, but that he was undeterred. “If we allow ourselves to fear them, we won’t do anything,” he told the BBC. “Then I would consider myself a partner in the crimes taking place in Egypt.”
On May 4, it appeared that few Egyptians had heeded the call for a strike. On May 7, however, as Maher was driving in New Cairo at around 1 p.m., an unmarked van with non-official license plates pulled in front of him. Three other unmarked cars, also with non-official plates, surrounded the car and some 12 men in civilian clothes pulled him into the van, where they handcuffed and blindfolded him.
Maher told Human Rights Watch that the men took him first to the New Cairo police station. There, he was beaten and insulted by men he could not identify because he was blindfolded. Maher said that around the time of the afternoon prayers (4:30 p.m.), his captors took him to SSI headquarters at Lazoghli. There, they stripped him down to his underwear, threatened to rape him with a stick, and continued kicking, beating, and insulting him, and dragging him across the floor. The blows fell mostly on his back and his neck, he said, and he lost some hearing after a sharp blow to one ear. Maher said his assailants wore gloves and applied lotion to his back between beatings in an apparent attempt to reduce bruising.
According to Maher, the officers did not accuse him of anything, but asked for the password of the May 4 Facebook group that news reports said he had started. They also asked him about members of the group he had never met. The SSI officers released him before dawn on May 8 with the warning that he would be beaten more severely the next time State Security detained him. The evening after his release, May 8, Maher went to a private hospital for a medical examination, including a CAT scan, the results of which were not available as of this writing.
“Sadly, Maher’s treatment is part of a pattern of abuse and extralegal intimidation by state officials,” Stork said. “Egypt needs to put an end to the lawlessness of its law-enforcement officers.”
In another incident a month earlier, Isra’a `Abd al-Fattah, 29, was among roughly 500 people arrested by police nationwide in connection with a call for a strike on April 6. (Most of those arrested were from the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahalla al-Kobra, where demonstrations against rising prices turned violent.) `Abd al-Fattah had also used a social network group on Facebook to publicize the April 6 strike, leading to her detention for more than two weeks. Prosecutors had ordered her release a few days after she was arrested when charges against her of “inciting unrest” were dismissed, but interior ministry officials kept her in detention until April 23.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982, holds that “no one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law,” and that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”