In a letter to President Hosni Mubarak made public today, Human Rights Watch appeals to the Egyptian government for urgent measures to halt torture by police and security forces.

Torturers should be investigated and prosecuted for their actions, which violate international and Egyptian law, and should not continue to enjoy impunity, it says.

"The government must finally admit that torture is a pervasive problem," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "It touches the entire society, irrespective of gender, age, religious belief, and political orientation."

He noted that this year, in a remarkable new development, citizens have taken to the streets to protest deaths in police custody of their neighbors, and to demand the prosecution of torturers. "Top officials should not ignore this message that ordinary Egyptians are sending," said Megally.

Egyptian police and security forces use torture routinely, to obtain information and coerce confessions in cases involving ordinary criminal offenses, as well as in cases of political violence.

Citing recommendations made to Egypt in 1996 by the U.N. Committee against Torture, Human Rights Watch urged the independent investigation of all allegations of torture so that victims will have effective and secure means of seeking justice, and perpetrators will be held fully accountable under the law.