(Cairo, January 13, 2007) — A criminal court in Giza this week sentenced `Imad al-Kabir, a 21-year-old microbus driver tortured and raped by police last year, to three months in prison for resisting authorities and assaulting an officer, Human Rights Watch said today. Al-Kabir now risks being sent back to the same police station where he was tortured by police officers who later circulated a video of his rape.
A police report dated January 18, 2006, indicated that al-Kabir was arrested for “resisting authorities” and assaulting a civil servant performing his duties. On January 9, roughly a month after al-Kabir complained to prosecutors about the abuse he suffered in custody, Judge Samir Abu al-Mati sentenced al-Kabir to three months is prison.
“Egyptian authorities are responsible for `Imad al-Kabir’s safety in custody,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities must not send al-Kabir back to face further harm or intimidation, and they should take immediate steps to prosecute the people who tortured him.”
According to al-Kabir, police told him they circulated the video among other microbus drivers from his neighborhood to “break his spirit.” Egyptian bloggers posted the video in early November, sparking intense press interest and public outcry.
In early December, al-Kabir publicly identified two of the officers who tortured him as Capt. Islam Nabih and Corp. Rida Fathi of the Bulaq al-Dakrur police station and filed a complaint with the public prosecutor. The prosecutor summoned al-Kabir on December 12 for questioning regarding his complaint and on December 24 ordered the two held for questioning. In a separate hearing on January 9, Judge al-Mati, the same judge who sentenced al-Kabir to prison, also denied bail to the two police officers, whose trial is scheduled to begin in March.
“The state has an obligation to protect al-Kabir as a witness in a torture case,” Whitson said. “Sending a torture victim back to the same place where he said he was tortured on charges brought by his alleged torturers raises enormous concerns about his safety.”
The Convention Against Torture, which Egypt ratified in 1986, requires that anyone alleging torture and any witnesses to the torture should be “protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.” The same Convention states that Egypt is obliged to prohibit any form of torture or ill treatment and to protect victims by carrying out thorough, impartial and prompt investigations into allegations of torture and filing criminal charges where appropriate.
Article 42 of Egypt’s constitution provides that any person in detention “shall be treated in a manner concomitant with the preservation of his dignity” and that “no physical or moral (ma`nawi) harm is to be inflicted upon him.” But article 126 of Egypt’s Penal Code gives a narrow definition of torture as physical abuse alone occurring only when the victim is “an accused,” and only when it is being used in order to coerce a confession. This definition improperly excludes cases of mental or psychological abuse, and cases where the torture is committed against someone other than “an accused” or for purposes other than securing a confession.
Human Rights Watch and Egyptian lawmakers have repeatedly called on the government to change the Penal Code to incorporate Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law and also to amend laws that allow the government to hold detainees incommunicado for months at a time. Incommunicado detention makes it easy to mistreat suspects with impunity and have allowed torture to become commonplace in Egyptian detention facilities, Human Rights Watch said.
“The fact that the people who tortured `Imad al-Kabir videotaped their crime suggests that they thought they could get away with it,” Whitson said. “The government must end the shadowy culture of impunity that the video exposed.”