Egypt: Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai

[1]See, for example, Human Rights Watch, Behind Closed Doors: Torture and Detention in Egypt (New York, July 1992), "Egypt's Torture Epidemic" (Human Rights Watch Backgrounder), February 2004, and In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice in Egypt's Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct (New York, 2004).

[2]Human Rights Watch, "Egypt/Israel: Attacks on Civilians Are Unjustifiable Crimes," October 12, 2004, at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/10/12/egypt9497.htm.

[3] Matthew Gutman, "IDF concludes Sinai rescue operation 13 Israelis among 32 bombing victims," Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005].

[4] Joel Leyden, "Exodus 2004. Thousands Enter Israel after Terror Attacks," Israel News Agency, October 8, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005]. Israel had claimed that the international border placed Taba and the hotel inside Israel, but this claim was rejected by international arbitrators and the area, with the hotel, was returned to Egypt in March 1989.

[5] "Terror bombings hit Taba and Ras a-Satan in Sinai," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website, October 10, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005].

[6]Joel Leyden, "Exodus 2004. Thousands Enter Israel after Terror Attacks," Israel News Agency, October 8, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005].

[7] "Bedouins detained over Sinai attacks," Aljazeera.net, October 10, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005]. There appears to be no final, official account of the number and nationalities of those killed and injured. Israeli Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon reportedly told the Israeli cabinet on October 10 that thirteen Israelis, six Egyptians, and fourteen others were killed (Matthew Gutman, "IDF concludes Sinai rescue operation 13 Israelis among 32 bombing victims," Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005]). A Washington Post story published on October 23 cited the Associated Press as saying that eleven Israelis, eight Egyptians, one Russian, two Italians, and twelve others were killed (Scott Wilson and Molly Moore, "Egypt Inquiry Slowed by Lack of Evidence," Washington Post, October 23, 2004, p. A17). An Egyptian journalist, several weeks after the attacks, wrote that the injured were mostly Israelis and numbered 159 (Amira Howeidy, "Explosive reactions," al-Ahram Weekly. October 28-November 3, 2004 [retrieved January 7, 2005]).

[8] Egyptian government statistics, found at http://www.sis.gov.eg/eginfnew/tourism/fcity/html/nsina.htm.

[9] "Bedouin man confesses to selling explosives; Palestinian militant involvement eyed in Egypt resort blasts," Associated Press, October 10, 2004 [retrieved January 12, 2005].

[10] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, January 10, 2005.

[11]Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Cairo, December 11, 2004.

[12] There are no official figures on the Palestinian population in Sinai. The estimate for the whole of Egypt-there are substantial communities in Cairo and elsewhere as well-range from fifty-three thousand to seventy thousand (Amira Howeidy, "Explosive reactions," Al-Ahram Weekly. October 28-November 3, 2004 [retrieved January 7, 2005]). An Israeli journalist, commenting on the Taba bombings, wrote that "Hamas activists continued to move about unhampered in Sinai," indicating that the transit is not primarily through the Palestinian tunnels underneath the border with Egypt but from Lebanon to al-`Arish by sea and from Sudan via the Red Sea. See Amos Harel, "Living on burrowed time," Ha'aretz, December 17, 2004.

[13] Four previously unknown groups-the World Islamist Group, the Islamic Tawhid Brigade, Muhammad's Army Group, and the `Abdullah `Azzam Brigades-claimed responsibility, but these claims have received little credence. See for example Noha El-Hennawy, "Death in the Sinai," Egypt Today, November 9, 2004 [retrieved December 2, 2004].

[14] Sarah el-Deeb, "Egypt detains Bedouin tribesmen in Sinai terror attacks that killed at least 33," Associated Press, October 9, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005]; Evan Osnos, "Israel says Al Qaeda top suspect in bombings," Chicago Tribune, October 9, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005].

[15] Sarah el-Deeb, "Egypt detains Bedouin tribesmen in Sinai terror attacks that killed at least 33," Associated Press, October 9, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005].

[16] Some reports-See, for example, Scott Wilson and Molly Moore, "Egypt Inquiry Slowed by Lack of Evidence," Washington Post, October 23, 2004, p. A17-suggested the number may have been in the low twenties, while others suggested that it was considerably higher. Matthew Gutman ("IDF concludes Sinai rescue operation 13 Israelis among 32 bombing victims," Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005]) wrote two days after the attacks that "Egyptian authorities have detained 150 suspects, mostly Beduin."

[17]Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain al-Qayyim, Cairo, December 7, 2004.

[18]Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain al-Qayyim, Cairo, December 4, 2004.

[19] "The search for the four terrorists who executed the Taba blasts; the three vehicles used were from within Egypt," al-Ahram, October 13, 2004 (in Arabic).

[20] Scott Wilson and Molly Moore, "Egypt Inquiry Slowed by Lack of Evidence," Washington Post, October 23, 2004, p. A17.

[21] Ministry of Interior statement (in Arabic) provided to Human Rights Watch by an Egyptian journalist by e-mail, December 5, 2004. This translation is from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), "Arishrandom arrests, detention and torture: Stop the tragedy," Cairo, November 24, 2004. The Ministry statement said that among Salah's crimes was "the rape of a girl in a car he was driving."

[22] Salah Nasrawi, "Egypt announces arrest of Sinai plotters," Associated Press, October 25, 2004 [retrieved December 2, 2004].

[23] Ministry of Interior statement. In some of the press reports following the early February clashes with suspects (see below), Gum`an Tarabis was identified as Hamad Gum`a.

[24] Dan Murphy, "Palestinian grievances behind Egypt attack," Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005).

[25] Amira Howeidy, "Explosive reactions," al-Ahram Weekly. October 28-November 3, 2004 [retrieved January 7, 2005].

[26] "Deadly clash in Sinai peninsula," BBC News, February 1, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/4226741.stm.

[27] Sarah el-Deeb, "Bedouins lead Egypt's hunt for militants," Associated Press, February 6, 2005 [retrieved February 7, 2005]. According to this account, one of those slain was Gum`an Gum`a Gum`an Tarabis, previously identified as a suspect; the other could not be identified owing to the severity of his wounds.

[28] Dan Murphy, "Palestinian grievances behind Egypt attack," Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 2004 [retrieved January 4, 2005).

[29] Muhammad Salah, "Secrets of a quarter of a century of their activities: Muntassir al-Zayyat in a new book on Islamic Groups defeat," al-Hayat, January 6, 2005, translated by BBC Monitoring Middle East, January 9, 2005 [retrieved January 10, 2005].

[30]Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld. Cairo, December 5, 2004.

[31] Mahir Isma`il, "Al-ifraj `an 90 min al-mo`qtali Sina' [Release of 90 of the Sinai Detainees]," al-Misri al-Yawm, February 5, 2005, p. 1.

[32] Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, "Arishrandom arrests, detention and torture: Stop the tragedy," (November 24, 2004), p. 5 (hereafter cited as EOHR report).

[33] EOHR report, p. 5.

[34] Testimony of the wife of Ahmad Hamdan `Abdullah Abu Shita, EOHR report, pp. 8-9.

[35] EOHR report, p. 11-12. The report appended a list of seventy-six detained individuals by name.

[36] "Thus spoke the people of North Sinai: Testimonies of State Security Intelligence Victims in Arish and the city of Sheikh Zoayyed," Report of a fact-finding visit undertaken by the Egyptian Association against Torture (Leila Soueif, Aida Seif al-Dawla), Hisham Mubarak Law Center (Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad), Al-Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (Magda Adl), 15-17 November 2004 (Cairo, November 24, 2004).

[37] "We will take the torturers to court," Report [in Arabic] of the fact-finding mission of the Committee for the Defense of Freedoms of the Lawyers Syndicate regarding the security operation in the Sinai (Cairo, January 17, 2005). On January 10, lawyers reportedly boycotted the al-`Arish courts to protest the refusal of the local public prosecutor to accept a petition by the Lawyers Syndicate to investigate the arrests and detentions

[38] The persons interviewed by Human Rights Watch had not, with one exception, previously been interviewed by the Egyptian human rights organizations in November. In the case of Hamid Batrawi (see below), he had testified earlier regarding the detention of members of his family. His own arrest and torture, the subject of his testimony in this report, occurred after the mid-November interview.

[39] Mohsin Bashir, the HishamMubarakLawCenter lawyer in charge of following these cases, said on January 23, 2005, that the center puts the total number of persons then still in detention in connection with the attacks at 2,400. E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Hossam Bahgat, January 23, 2005.

[40]Human Rights Watch interview with Ashraf Ayoub, Cairo, December 4, 2004. Human Rights Watch was unable to speak with anyone present at this meeting who could confirm this account.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Shadi `Abd al-Karim, Cairo, December 12, 2004.

[42] Mustafa El-Menshawy, "Rights groups interrogate Taba investigation," al-Ahram Weekly (English), December 2-8, 2004, p. 3.

[43]Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld on request, Cairo, December 2004.

[44] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Hossam Bahgat, January 23, 2005.

[45] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Gamal Eid, January 27, 2005.

[46] Mahir Isma`il, "Al-ifraj `an 90 min al-mo`qtali Sina' [Release of 90 of the Sinai Detainees]," al-Misri al-Yawm, February 5, 2005, p. 1.

[47] This information was conveyed in an e-mail to Human Rights Watch from Hossam Bahgat, January 23, 2005.

[48]Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa A. (full name withheld on request), Cairo, December 6, 2004.

[49]Sufi practitioners attach great importance to inner spirituality, and to contemplation as opposed to outward forms of ritual observance. It is associated with ascetic and mystic dimensions of Islam. Adherents of Sufism are frequently organized in orders (turuq, sing. tariq) associated with individual "masters" and represent a potential or actual challenge to the spiritual authority of the established `ulama'. Salafi refers to adherents of current revivalist movements dedicated to sweeping away and supplanting the accretions of Islam with the "original" faith and practice of the Prophet Muhammad and his contemporaries (salaf, or predecessor). Salafis are particularly hostile to what they see as the "pagan" and non-Muslim or pre-Islamic practices of Sufis. See for example Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World 2nd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) and Jonathan P. Berkey, The Formation of Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[50] At his request, Human Rights Watch is not using the real name of Fathi or his sons.

[51]Human Rights Watch interview with `Inayat Diab `Atwa Yahya, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[52]Human Rights Watch interview with Hajji Sulaiman al-Muslih, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[53]Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa al-Azraq, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[54]Human Rights Watch interview with Suzan Ibrahim, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[55] Dr. Aida Seif-al-Dawla interview with Samah `Abdullah Hamdan, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[56] `Abd al-Qadir Muhammad requested that Human Rights Watch not publish their real names.

[57]Human Rights Watch interview with `Abd al-Rahman `Abd al-Aziz, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[58]Human Rights Watch interviews with mother and wife of Nur Mahmud Rashid, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[59]Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[60] Laila Hamad asked Human Rights Watch not to use her or her sons' real names.

[61]Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[62] Telephone request to Col. `Isam `Amir, December 8, 2004.

[63] Dr. Aida Seif al-Dawla interview with `Abd al-Rahman Asad Amin, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[64] Aida Seif al-Dawla interview with Yasmin Bayumi Muhammad, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004. The SSI had detained a number of brothers from the Abu Shita family.

[65] Ahmad Riba`a told the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights that he was beaten and threatened with weapons by security forces when they came to the family home on October 22 to arrest Muhammad (EOHR, "Arishrandom arrests, detention and torture: Stop the tragedy," Cairo, November 24, 2004., p.5.)

[66]Human Rights Watch interview with `Abdullah Riba`a Sulaiman `Abdullah, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.The interview took place at the Riba`a home in al-`Arish, and other family members were present. The EOHR had interviewed the wife and a daughter-in-law of `Abdullah Riba`a Sulaiman `Abdullah in early November (Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, "Arishrandom arrests, detention and torture: Stop the tragedy," Cairo, November 24, 2004., p. 5.)

[67] Statement of the Ministry of Interior, October 25, 2004.

[68]Human Rights Watch interview with Hajj Hamad, al-Maidan, December 8, 2004.

[69] ICCPR, art. 9.

[70] ICCPR, art. 9.

[71] Manfred Nowak, CCPR Commentary (Kehl am Rhein, Strasbourg, and Arlington, VA:: N.P. Engel Publisher, 1993), pp. 160 and 172.

[72] "The Constitution" (Cairo: Middle East Library for Economic Services, November 1998), p. 12.

[73]Ibid, p. 13.

[74]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohsin Bashir, January 31, 2005; e-mail to Human Rights Watch from Gamal Eid, January 27, 2005.

[75] `Abd al-Mun`im Husni, Mawsu`at Misr li al-Tashri` wa al-Qada' [Egyptian Encyclopedia of Legislation and Rulings] vol. 6, 1st edition (Cairo: Husni Center for Legal Studies, 1987), pp. 294 98 (translated by Human Rights Watch).

[76] Ministry of Interior, Order No. 1 for the year 1981, provided to Human Rights Watch by the HishamMubarakLawCenter, January 5, 2005, translated by Human Rights Watch. Orders No. 2 and 3 use similar language in describing the duties of mayors and communal leaders.

[77] The official name is Law Amending Some Provisions of the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Law Establishing State Security Courts, the Law on Secrecy of Bank Accounts, and the Law on Weapons and Ammunition.

[78] Presidential order 176/1995, for instance, issued on September 18, 1995, restricts access within 150 meters of the border with Israel and refers violations to military courts.

[79] Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners, "Detention and Detainees in Egypt 2003," Cairo, 2003), p. 18. In this annual report for 2003, the HRAAP wrote: "The number of people detained in Egypt under emergency law remains officially undeclared or unknown. An Assistant to the Ministry of the Interior, while attending a U.N. Committee Against Torture session in the fall of 2002, justified government attempts to keep these figures undisclosed by stating that he "can not figure out the number of detainees inside Egyptian prisons as dozens are arrested and others are released daily" (p. 6).

[80] Article 4, paragraph 2, states that no derogations may be made under articles 6 (right to life), 7 (prohibition of torture), 8 (paragraphs 1 and 2 (prohibition of slavery), 11 (prohibition of detention for debt), 15 (prohibition of retroactive criminal laws), 16 (right to recognition as a person before the law), and 18 (freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief).

[81] Article 4, paragraph 1.

[82] Manfred Nowak, CCPR Commentary (Kehl am Rhein, Strasbourg, and Arlington, VA: N.P. Engel Publisher, 1993), p. 84.Nowak notes in this regard "a certain tendency on the part of authoritarian regimes to impose the state of emergency permanently, thus making it de facto the normal condition."

[83] `Abd al-Mun`im Husni, Mawsu`at Misr li al-Tashri` wa al-Qada' [Egyptian Encyclopedia of Legislation and Rulings] vol. 6, 1st edition (Cairo: Husni Center for Legal Studies, 1987), pp. 289 99 (translated by Human Rights Watch).

[84] Principle 16(1), Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adapted by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 43/173 of December 9, 1988.

[85]Ibid., Principle 15.

[86] Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977.

[87] Egyptian human rights monitors visiting al-`Arish in mid-November met with Hamid Batrawi (not his real name) prior to his arrest regarding the detention of his brothers. See "Thus spoke the people of North Sinai: Testimonies of State Security Intelligence Victims in al-`Arish and the city of Shaikh Zuwaid," Report of a fact-finding visit undertaken by the Egyptian Association against Torture (Leila Soueif, Aida Seif El-Dawla), Hisham Mubarak Law Center (Ahmed Seif El Islam Hamad), El-Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (Magda Adl), 15-17 November 2004 (Cairo, November 24, 2004).

[88]Human Rights Watch interview with Hamid Batrawi, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004; telephone callfrom Hamid Batrawi to Ahmad Seif, director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, December 8, 2004.

[89]Human Rights Watch interview with Hamdan Abu Shita, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004. None of Hamdan Abu Shita's brothers or cousins were identified by the government as implicated in the Taba attacks.

[90] Discussion with Ahmad Seif and Ashraf Ayoub, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[91] Discussion with Dr. Aida Seif al-Dawla, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[92]Human Rights Watch interview with Hamdan Abu Shita, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[93] He requested that Human Rights Watch not use his real name.

[94]Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld on request, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[95] According to activists in al-`Arish, Hani Abu Shita is a young and charismatic man who led prayers and chanted sacred verses in gatherings there. He and a number of his brothers and cousins were detained in the crackdown, and many believe that he in particular was badly tortured in custody. See EOHR report, November 2004, pp. 8-10.

[96] U.N. Committee Against Torture, "Supplementary reports of States parties due in 1996: Egypt 28/01/99." CAT/C/34/Add. 11, para. 12.

[97] Article 42 of the Constitution states: "Any citizen who is arrested or imprisoned or whose freedom is restricted in any way must be treated in a manner conducive to the preservation of his human dignity. No physical or mental harm shall be inflicted on him. Any statement which is established to have been made under the influence or threat of anything of the above-mentioned nature shall be considered null and void." (Cited in Ibid., para. 121).

[98]Ibid., para. 44. The most recent government report to the CAT, in February 2001, refers to but does not provide the texts of these provisions.See U.N. Committee Against Torture, "Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Fourth periodic reports due in 2000, Addendum: Egypt" [CAT/C/55/Add.6, 18 October 2001]).

[99] 1999 report to the CAT, para. 47.

[100]Ibid., para. 132.

[101]Ibid., para. 53.

[102]Ibid., para. 171.

[103]Ibid., para. 173.

[104]Ibid., para. 128.

[105]Ibid., paras. 54 and 132.

[106]Ibid., para. 97(a).

[107] Committee against Torture, Consideration of First Periodic Report of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, CAT/C/SR.91, November 15, 1991. The CAT reiterated its concern about incommunicado interrogation in the U.K.'s second periodic report. See Committee against Torture, Consideration of Second Periodic Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, para. 29.

[108] This was the response of the governor to Ashraf Ayoub, who called him on his mobile phone to request a meeting with Human Rights Watch. Al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[109] "Lawyers syndicate urges investigation into thousands detained in Sinai" [in Arabic], January 4, 2005 at www.shohood.net [retrieved January 5, 2005].