February 9, 2011

Army officers and military police arbitrarily detained at least 119 people since the army took up positions in Egyptian cities and towns on the night of January 28, 2011, and in at least five cases tortured them. What follows are accounts from two protesters interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Protester One:

On Friday, I was walking to Tahrir Square from a friend's house in Talaat Harb neighborhood at about 3:30 p.m., when I ran into a group of violent pro-Mubarak protesters. I didn't know, but there was a clash taking place there between the pro-Mubarak protesters and the protesters inside Tahrir Square. When I had gone to visit my friend earlier in the day, things had been very quiet, so I had not taken any precautions to avoid any violence as I walked back to the Square, just took the most direct route.

The pro-Mubarak thugs caught me and took me to a little police post off Maarouf street in downtown Cairo. There, I was interrogated and beaten, and they looked through all of the documents I had on me. I had a few notes that people had written about the events in Tahrir Square, as well as some policy documents that we had been working on as democracy activists. They asked me questions about what groups I was part of, who had organized these groups, why I was participating in these protests. After that interrogation, they put me in a room with my hands tied, and then they said they would release me, with firm instructions to go straight home and not participate in further protests.

But as I was going out, I was stopped by an undercover policeman who took my phone and SMS messages, writing down some notes. He told me to get my personal belongings and documents, and then started walking me over to the Hilton Ramesis hotel, together with some uniformed soldiers. All the way over, they kept telling people that they had caught a spy working for the Israelis, that I was one of the inciters of the movements in Tahrir.

I was handed over to the army at Abdelmoneim Riyad square, being hit on the back with the butt of a rifle the whole way there. They handed me over to a plainclothes army officer, who took me further to the army barracks located at the Hilton Ramesis Hotel. They questioned me again, asking me about my background, my religion, my political affiliations, my role in the protests and other such things, but it was more information collecting and didn't involve any brutality. They took almost all of my documents except two papers and then told me to leave, suggesting I go along the corniche.

It was now past 5:00 p.m., and the curfew was on. So I was worried how I would get out of there. I couldn't find a taxi, and could see some pro-Mubarak protesters a distance away.

Just minutes later, I was stopped by another army officer. I told him that I had just been released by the army barrack after being interrogated. The soldier insisted on checking my bag, and he found the two documents that they had let me keep. Suddenly, I was surrounded by soldiers, and they started kicking me and pushing me and swearing at me. They stopped and decided to take me to another military post nearby.

So they took me, treating me very roughly, to a small white building between the Hilton Ramesis and Maspero. The soldiers seemed like more senior officers to me, and ordered me to keep my head down and not look at them, and keep my arms by my side.

The treatment at the white building was hellish. As soon as they brought me in, they beat me up badly. Then they ordered me to sit down for an interrogation. My hands were tied behind my back and several soldiers began to beat me. Just every soldier who came in, they were all in army uniforms, they would insult me and threaten to use horrible torture techniques on me, they said we were exhausting the military with all these useless protests and that we were destroying the countries. I was slapped and kicked, and some of their commanders beat me with sticks and the butts of their riffles.

They kept asking me who I was affiliated with, what I was doing at the protests, and what foreign country was sponsoring us and fueling these protests. They really genuinely believed that our protests were being fueled by some external country, and that there was some conspiracy behind the protests.

Finally, a high ranking army officer came in, took a look at me, and then said he would take me to a hospital. The other soldiers just sniggered - I had no idea why. So I was taken to an ambulance by two soldiers, and inside was a man dressed as a nurse. The soldiers were still slapping me around. The ambulance drove through Tahrir Square and to the museum.

But when we got there, I was suddenly pulled out of the ambulance by my hair, my hands still tied behind my back. It wasn't a real ambulance, but they just used it to trick the protesters and transport detainees from one side to the other of Tahrir.

We were inside the compound of the Egyptian museum, and several soldiers started kicking and punching me. One officer ordered me to lie down, and kicked me all over in my body. After that beating, they took me deeper into the museum's compound, where there were more army officials. They said I had experienced nothing yet, and threatened to torture me with electric shocks and to sodomize me with a bottle, as they kicked me all over again.

Another army officer came and pushed me up against the wall, putting a plastic bucket over my head so I couldn't see, and then started punching me hard in the chest. He knew what he was doing, waiting just long enough between the punches for me to try and catch my breath before punching me again, so I couldn't catch my breath at all. After three punches like this, I lost consciousness.

When I woke up again a few seconds later, I saw two officers, one in army uniform and the other in plain clothes. They interrogated me again as I had been interrogated at the Hilton Ramesis - who I was, whether I was an Egyptian national, and my educational background. They took me away from the other soldiers.

As I was being questioned, they brought some others: three Sudanese, an American journalist, and an Egyptian photographer. The ones questioning me now were more educated than the earlier ones: when I mentioned I had attended the conservatoire, they asked me what instruments I played. But their interrogation lasted very long, at least two hours. They read the two statements I had on me and asked me detailed questions, but I explained to them that I had just collected what was being handed out in the Square and didn't write them myself, and didn't know who had written them. Then they asked me to call the phone number on one of the papers, saying that if I didn't cooperate they would give me back to the other soldiers and allow them to torture me, but if I agreed, they would release me.

So I called the number and tried to ask their questions in a way that didn't appear suspicious. The army officers kept pressing me to ask the name of the person on the line, but I just asked some general questions and hung up quickly, saying that the person on the line was too suspicious to give me information.

They ordered me to call another number but I said I was barely conscious after all the beatings and had never done this before, so didn't really know what to ask.

One of them then told me that all those in Tahrir Square had been brainwashed, and that the protests were incited by Hamas, and that he himself had caught four Kuwaitis in his neighborhood who were trying to incite these protests. I just pretended to listen and agree with everything he said. They gave me back my phone and ID, but when I asked what happened to my bag and money, they said it had been lost. They looked around a bit, and then told me I must have forgotten it somewhere, because the army doesn't steal. I got the message, so didn't press them further. I told them I would take their advice and go home, and stay away from the conspirators who were making this movement, just to avoid trouble.

The two officers who interrogated then took me through a passage out of the museum towards the burned down NDP headquarters. As we came to the corner of the building, the soldier guarding there asked the officers, ‘Do you want me to beat him some more?' The officer told him that they were finished with me, so they let me go on the corniche. I called some friends to beg them to come and get me.

Protester Two:

After I heard President Mubarak's speech on Tuesday night, around midnight, I left my home in Attabah neighbourhood, wanting to go to Tahrir square to see how people had reacted to the speech. When I returned from Tahrir to my neighbourhood at 4 in the morning, I was stopped by our neighborhoods' Popular Committee (a neighbourhood defense committee that was spontaneously organized after the disappearance of the police from Egypt's streets on the evening of January 28). They ordered me to stop attending the protests, and then placed me under informal house arrest, watching my apartment building's exit to make sure I didn't go to the protests. This lasted for the next two days.

On Thursday night, after I heard about the arrests of the lawyers and activists at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, I decided to leave my apartment, worried that the army would come to my house to detain me as well. I decided to go stay with friends in another neighbourhood. So I asked some of my friends to distract the Popular Committee people in front of my apartment, so I could escape, and left my apartment.

At about 2:00 a.m. on Friday, as I was going to my friend's apartment, I was stopped by a soldier in his neighbourhood. He first asked to check my ID card, and then opened my bag. Inside, he found my laptop and it had pictures of the protest, and also found a political flyer from the protest in my bag. Political flyers, manshura, are banned in Egypt. So the soldiers started shouting at me, ‘You traitor!,' and ‘You are the ones who are ruining our country! You are destroying Egypt!'

They started beating me up in the street, with their rubber batons and an electric tazer gun, shocking me. Then they took me to Abdin Police Station. By the time I arrived at Abdin station, the soldiers and officers there had been informed that a ‘spy' was coming, and so when I arrived they gave me a ‘welcome beating' that lasted some thirty minutes. Then I was put in a cell and given a blanket and some juice and told to stay quiet until the interrogator came.

When the interrogator came, he took me to a room and told me to undress. Then he started whipping me with an electric cable, and brought out an electric shock machine. He shocked me all over my body, leaving no place untouched. It wasn't a real interrogation; he didn't ask that many questions. He tortured me twice like this on Friday, and one more time on Saturday.

While I was detained there, they kept bringing in other people - people who had been caught carrying medical supplies or food to the protesters in Tahrir, as well as some foreigners who had been carrying cameras as well as foreign journalists. All of these people were brought in by NDP-paid thugs (Baltageya), undercover police officers, and some Popular Committee members who were convinced they had caught spies. The interrogator was hell-bent on ridding the country of all of these spies.

At one stage, the interrogator went out and personally stopped a car carrying medical supplies, and he was so angry that he tried to break the window by butting it with his head. Then, one of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested with us tried to reason with the interrogator, saying that we weren't a foreign-inspired movement, explaining that it was ridiculous to believe that the Pakistanis, Iran, and the US were doing this as they don't work together anyway, and that we really were all Egyptians in the movement. The interrogator actually listed to him and calmed down, and even apologized for losing his temper.

He then instructed the soldiers to stop arresting people who were bringing people who were carrying supplies, and instead told them to just confiscate the supplies so they wouldn't get to the square. He just wanted to spare those carrying the supplies from being accused of being traitors, but wasn't willing to allow the supplies into Tahrir Square.

Finally, after midnight on the night from Saturday to Sunday, they decided to let me go without any charges. They couldn't find my ID, so a soldier took me to my uncle's house, as it would have been impossible to go out alone on the street without ID, during a military curfew. I've been hiding there since, unable to go out as my ID is gone.