Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights called on the Egyptian government to ensure the immediate safety of all detainees; to provide urgent medical care to all who sustained injuries during arrest or in detention; and to launch a full investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
The organizations also called on the Egyptian government to refrain from referring any of the detainees' cases to State Security Courts, which allow no ordinary appeal. They urged the government to abolish all such courts and repeal its repressive emergency legislation.
"We fear for the health and safety of those still held," said the three organizations. "We are deeply alarmed by the message these arrests and beatings send: that dissent in Egypt will be brutally suppressed."
Arrests have continued since hundreds of activists and demonstrators, as well as onlookers and passers-by, were detained at and around scattered anti-war rallies held across Cairo on Friday, March 21. Police responded to the demonstrations with excessive force, beating large numbers of participants and conducting arrests. Police also occupied the Lawyers' Syndicate for almost six hours, arresting lawyers both outside and within its precincts. Detainees were taken to the al-Darrassa Central Security Camp as well as to the Lazoghli State Security Investigations Headquarters. Some of those detained have since been released, and sixty-eight were brought before public or State Security prosecutors. However, an unknown number are still being held incommunicado, in violation of the legal requirement that detainees be referred to a prosecution office within twenty-four hours of arrest.
The total number and whereabouts of the detainees remains unknown. Some may still be held at al-Darrassa Central Security camp; some are believed to be at Tora al-Makhoum prison; some may be held in police stations around Cairo. The detainees include at least three children under the age of 15, who were charged at the Qasr al Nil prosecution office on March 22, as well as a 16-year-old girl charged at the al Azbakiya prosecution office. Human Rights Watch received information on March 21 from attorney Gamal 'Id, then held at al-Darrassa camp, that 15-year-olds were being held in a cell with adults.
On Sunday, March 23 authorities arrested more activists, many from their homes, including two opposition members of the People's Assembly. Seven of these arrestees, including the two Members of Parliament, were transferred the same day to the State Security Prosecution Office. On the morning of Tuesday, March 25 an unknown number of Cairo University students were arrested and taken to the Giza State Security Intelligence Headquarters at Gabr ibn Hayyan. A student who was released alleged that others still held there were being tortured to disclose the whereabouts of antiwar activist Kamal Khalil.
The organizations expressed grave concerns about accounts of beatings of demonstrators during arrest and of those held in detention. They include the following:
- Activist Manal Khaled and lawyer Ziad Abdel Hamid al-Uleimi were beaten severely when arrested separately on March 21. Manal Khaled also states that State Security officer Hossam Salama threatened her with rape on her arrest. A medical doctor from the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an Egyptian nongovernmental organization, saw both detainees in the al Azbekeyya police station on March 22, and told Human Rights Watch that Manal Khaled's eye was severely injured, while al-Uleimi's arm was broken. Manel Khaled told lawyers and activists on March 25 that she was denied the right to see a forensic doctor to document the injury: a health inspector (mufatish tibbi), a medical officer of lower rank, told her she had sustained eye damage and needed medical attention, but did not treat her or ensure that she received care. Ziad Abdel Hamid al-Uleimi stated that a health inspector had told him his arm was broken in three places, but did not treat him or ensure the provision of care. Both were subsequently beaten again in al-Khalifa police station (see below)
- Twelve defendants--including Manal Khaled and Ziad al-Uleimi-- appeared before the al Azbekiya Public Prosecutor on March 22 and were transferred that night to al-Khalifa police station. Officers beat all of them severely with sticks and belts. Lawyers met Manal Khaled as she was being led away from the police station; in tears, she told them that it was a "death beating session" ['alaqat mout] and that "The guys are being crushed inside. "Khaled later told lawyers that officers in al-Khalifa threatened her and two other female detainees with rape. One defendant, Gamal 'Id, told lawyers at his renewal hearing that officers beat him so hard they broke a stick on his body; he also said that he believed his arm was broken and he had been denied medical attention.
- At least five detainees were reportedly tortured with electroshock at the Lazoghli State Security Investigations Headquarters between the hours of midnight and 2:30 AM on Saturday, March 21, 2003
- Nourhan Thabit, a pregnant Cairo University student, was kicked both during her arrest on March 22, 2003, and while held blindfolded and handcuffed in police custody.
Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights called on the Egyptian government to immediately make public the names and whereabouts of all detainees detained in connection with the events of the last few days, to initiate an independent investigation abuses of demonstrators and other detainees, and to make its findings public.
In separate letters to Egypt's Minister of Interior, General Habib al-Adli, and Attorney General Maher 'Abd al Wahed, Human Rights Watch outlined these and other concerns and urged immediate action by authorities.
Of the sixty-eight detainees who have seen prosecutors so far, twelve were sent to the al-Azbekiya Public Prosecutor's office and received four days' detention on March 22. This detention was renewed for an additional week on March 25. Forty- nine were sent to the Qasr al-Nil and al-Gamaliya Public Prosecution offices, and received detention orders for fifteen days on March 22. The remaining seven detainees were sent to the State Security Prosecution Office on March 23. All seven received detention orders for fifteen days, and face trial before a State Security Court, the verdicts of which cannot be appealed and can only be overturned by an order from the office of the President of the Republic.
All sixty-eight of the detainees who have faced prosecutors were charged with "participating in an illegal assembly of more than five people," under an Illegal Assembly Law dating from 1914. Other charges included destruction of public property; blocking traffic; transmitting propaganda that could disturb public safety and harm public interests; and assaulting law enforcement personnel. Demonstrators have alleged that much of the destruction of property during the rallies, including the torching of a fire truck near Tahrir Square, was the work of police.
ACCOUNTS OF TORTURE IN DETENTION
Lawyers and activists collected the following testimonies on March 25, as the twelve prisoners who had faced the Azbekiya Public Prosecutor were brought before a renewal judge, who extended their detention for seven days. Egyptian human rights groups have made the accounts public.
Gamal 'Id, a member of the Lawyers' Syndicate's Freedoms Committee, a human rights activist and a Human Rights Watch consultant:
"At the Khalifa Pollice Station a police captain and a guard tied my legs, then the Ma'mour al-Tarhilat [the chief in charge of transferring prisoners] beat me with a stick on my back, neck, and arm, along with others, until the stick was broken on my body. Another captain whose name I don't know, but whom I can recognize, took his belt off and was whipping us with it. My left forearm may be broken, I asked to see a doctor but this request has been ignored so far. The beating was with the aim of forcing me to confess and I demand an investigation into this incident."
Manal Khaled, an antiwar activist:
I was arrested in Tahrir Square by Brigadier [name withheld] a State Security officer who pulled me by my hair, punched me in the face, and kicked me with his shoes in the street. People were standing around me watching, but they couldn't interfere. The same officer dragged me on the ground for about 20 meters, until he threw me inside the police car. On the way to the care, the officer explicitly threatened me with rape, using filthy words. He added that only my rape would make me give up politics. The bruise around my eye is the result of a punch in the face from him.
In the Khalifa police station, the Ma'mour al-Tarhilat beat us and was assisted by a police captain whose name I don't know and a female guard called [name withheld] beat me along with the other two girls [in our group] brutally. They told all three of us, "If you don't confess, we will bring people to rape you."
After several attempts, my request to be referred to a forensic medical doctor was denied, but they referred me to a health inspector, not a regular doctor, last Saturday. The doctor was sympathetic, and told me I had a hematoma in the left eyelid, and advised me to see an eye doctor. I need another medical inspection, because I still spit blood. There's reason to think I am hemorrhaging internally, but they refuse to refer me for another medical inspection."
Ziad al-Uleimi, a lawyer:
"We were in a meeting of the Freedoms Committee at the Lawyers' Syndicate when I saw State Security Intelligence officers insulting my colleague Gamal ['Id], and pulling him outside the Syndicate to get him in a police car. I tried to intervene, so officer [name withheld] from State Security hit me with a baton on the side of my head, my left thigh, and my left arm, before he arrested me with Gamal and our colleague Yasr Farrag. I was having severe pains in my left arm. It was swelling and crooked from the fracture and it was clear that it was broken. When I went to the Central Security Camp in Darrassa I asked for medical attention but they rejected my request. It was denied again in the al Azbeykiya police station: my arm was only attended to after we were transferred to the Tora Prison on Sunday, March 23. The doctor told me my arm had three fractures.
At the Khalifa Police Station, we were all subjected to the dirtiest insults and beating with sticks and belts."