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President Hosni Mubarak should immediately order an independent judicial investigation into last Thursday’s severe beatings by security agents of political activists Karim al-Sha`ir and Mohamed al-Sharqawi, Human Rights Watch said today. Police also sexually assaulted al-Sharqawi, according to a written statement he smuggled out of prison.

On May 25, agents of the State Security Investigations (SSI) bureau of the Interior Ministry arrested al-Sha`ir and al-Sharqawi as they were leaving a peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. Both men said they were beaten in custody.

“The Egyptian government must investigate these attacks and punish the perpetrators,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “President Mubarak should put a stop to repeated outrages by agents of the state.”

In his statement, al-Sharqawi wrote that his captors at the Qasr al-Nil police station beat him for hours and then raped him with a cardboard tube. Then they sent him to the State Security prosecutor’s office in Heliopolis. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he saw al-Sharqawi at the prosecutor’s office around midnight that night. “There wasn’t a single part of his body not covered in bruises and gashes,” the lawyer said.

Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that security agents beat al-Sha`ir in the street. According to his lawyer, al-Sha`ir said that the beatings continued once he was in police custody.

The State Security prosecutor ordered both men to be held for 15 days pending investigations. The authorities had released al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir from Tora prison on May 22 after detaining them in earlier protests on April 24 and May 7 respectively. The demonstration on May 25 commemorated the one-year anniversary of widespread violence by police and ruling party thugs against journalists and demonstrators urging a boycott of a constitutional referendum.

Al-Sharqawi wrote in his statement that around 20 State Security officers surrounded him as he attempted to leave last week’s protest by car and began beating him furiously: “Their punches and kicks came one after the other... There were moments of so much pain, so many insults, so many blows... targeting all my body.” Al-Sharqawi wrote that he was stuffed into a police van, after which “they ordered me to put my head between my knees. Of course I obeyed. As soon as I did, they started hitting me on my back with all their strength.”

Muhammad Al-Sharqawi protests in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, May 25, 2006, about an hour before his arrest. The sign reads
Muhammad Al-Sharqawi protests in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, May 25, 2006, about an hour before his arrest. The sign reads "I want my rights!" and calls for the release of detainees held over the course of the previous month's crackdown (c) 2006 Joshua Stacher.

Al-Sharqawi, though blindfolded, believes he was taken to the Qasr al-Nil police station because of communications he heard over the police radios. “Inside the police station,” he wrote, “the beatings targeted particular places.” One of the officers ordered al-Sharqawi’s pants to be removed and began squeezing his left testicle, causing excruciating pain.

“The pain was terrible. He kept doing it for three minutes, during which I was screaming and asking him to stop so I could catch my breath. He pulled my underwear down, tore it to pieces, and kept hitting me on different parts of my body. They ordered me to bend over. I refused, but they forced me.” Al-Sharqawi said the officers then sodomized him with a roll of cardboard.

Gamal Eid, a lawyer for al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sharqawi that night,

    His lips were swollen and bloody, his eyes were nearly swollen shut, and you could see the imprints of shoes on his skin. He told me the beatings had continued for nearly three hours and that he had been unable to reply to police questioning because his mouth was full of blood and his lips were too swollen. It was pure sadism. I hadn’t seen anyone that badly tortured in 12 years.

Eid said that he asked the prosecutor, Muhammad Faisal, to allow a doctor he had brought with him to examine and treat al-Sharqawi, but that the prosecutor refused. The authorities only allowed al-Sharqawi access to medical treatment four days later, on May 29.

Al-Sha`ir was leaving the protest by car at around 4:45 p.m. in the company of three journalists and another activist. Dina Samak, a BBC journalist, was driving. “As we were leaving the Journalists’ Syndicate, Jihan [Sha`ban, a journalist for Sawt al-Umma and Al-Karama] asked if we could drop her and Karim [al-Sha`ir] off downtown,” she told Human Rights Watch.

    As we left the garage of the syndicate, a State Security officer pointed at our car and a taxi started chasing us. About 20 meters later, the taxi pulled in front of us, blocking the street so we couldn’t continue. We were afraid. Everyone in the car locked their doors and closed their windows. Karim was shouting not to let them get him. Around 20 men in civilian clothes surrounded the car and started shouting “stop the car, you bitch,” and all kinds of horrible insults. They threw Karim on the ground and started beating him violently.

Dina Gamil, another BBC journalist, was also in the car. “Around 20 men surrounded the car and smashed the windows with rocks and bottles,” she told Human Rights Watch.

    They unlocked the doors through the smashed window and opened them. They pulled Jihan halfway out of the car so her head was on the ground. They tried to pull me out, too, but I had my seatbelt on.... They got Karim out of the car and threw him on the ground. When a crowd formed and judges started coming out of the Judges’ Club to see what was happening, the security agents threw Karim in a car.

Sha`ban confirmed this account to Human Rights Watch and said she is suffering from back pain from the officers’ assault.

Eid told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sha`ir at the Heliopolis office of the State Security prosecutor later that night, he also bore marks of beatings.

On May 27, a group of prisoners detained over the past month for participating in peaceful demonstrations in solidarity with reformist judges announced they were beginning a hunger strike to protest the treatment of al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, and to demand the release of all those held for participating in the recent demonstrations. On May 30, visitors to the prison reported that 13 hunger strikers had been transferred to solitary confinement.

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