The Egyptian Interior Ministry should immediately investigate and prosecute the torture and rape of pro-democracy activist and blogger Muhammad al-Sharqawi in police custody last year, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities must also protect him from any police intimidation.
Despite repeated requests from al-Sharqawi and his lawyers since the torture took place almost a year ago, authorities have yet to take any visible action to bring those responsible to justice. Al-Sharqawi, who has campaigned against torture and other human rights abuses at street protests, through his personal blog and through interviews with the press, told Human Rights Watch that an officer he recognized as having been present when he was abused in custody “always seems to be waiting downstairs from my apartment,” and that unidentified men have come to his door to ask him if he was home and if he lives alone. Around 7 pm on March 10, he came home to find his laptop, which he said contained a new, unreleased video of police abuse, had been stolen. Though cash and other valuables were lying around the apartment, nothing else was taken. Al-Sharqawi told Human Rights Watch that he is no longer sleeping at home.
Also on March 10, the State Security Investigations department of the Interior Ministry issued a report to public prosecutors that named al-Sharqawi and 16 other bloggers, journalists and activists as being responsible for “spreading false news” that could harm Egypt’s image abroad and organizing demonstrations. Among those named in report were bloggers Wa’il Abbas and `Ala’ Seif al-Islam, who have played a central role in campaigning against police abuse through their blogs. The report also named `Abir al-Askari, a journalist for the weekly Al-Dustur who was assaulted by police at a May 11 demonstration, and leading activists from the Kifaya (“Enough”) movement. On March 15, police dispersed a Kifaya demonstration against proposed amendments to Egypt’s constitution and detained 21 protesters for two days.
“Almost a year after al-Sharqawi was tortured and raped in a police station, the authorities have taken no visible steps to hold to account those responsible for the crime,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said. “Rather than allowing police to intimidate and harass this young activist, the Egyptian government should be doing everything it can to prosecute the officers who tortured him.”
Security forces first arrested al-Sharqawi on April 24 at a demonstration in support of judicial independence in Cairo and released him on May 23. Agents of the State Security Investigations (SSI) bureau of the Interior Ministry arrested him again on May 25 as he was leaving another peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. The demonstration on May 25 commemorated the one-year anniversary of violent attacks by police and ruling party supporters against journalists and demonstrators, who had been urging a boycott of a constitutional referendum.
Al-Sharqawi told Human Rights Watch that his captors beat him for hours and then raped him with a cardboard tube at the Qasr al-Nil police station before transferring him to the State Security Prosecutor’s office in Heliopolis. When his lawyers saw al-Sharqawi at the prosecutor’s office late at night on May 25, they immediately asked for him to receive a forensic medical examination and treatment for his injuries, which one lawyer described as the worst case of police abuse that he had seen in 12 years. The prosecutor refused this initial request, but noted al-Sharqawi’s injuries, and al-Sharqawi only saw a prison doctor four days later. His lawyers have not seen any report on al-Sharqawi’s injuries drafted by either the prosecutor or doctor, and the Interior Ministry has denied that he was tortured.
Al-Sharqawi’s lawyers said they filed three written requests with General Prosecutor Muhammad Faisal to investigate his allegations of torture, and al-Sharqawi told Human Rights Watch that he also repeatedly told the prosecutor he had been tortured in custody.
The authorities subsequently charged al-Sharqawi with “chanting slogans against the regime liable to disturb public order and social peace,” “insulting the president,” “insulting and assaulting officials in the course of performing their duties,” “calling for an unlicensed assembly,” and “disrupting traffic” and held him at Tora prison until a prosecutor ordered his release on July 18. His case is still open.
“Bloggers have shown the world how torture is endemic in Egypt’s police stations,” said Whitson. “The Egyptian government needs to show the world that it will bring the perpetrators of these serious crimes to justice.”
Egypt is a party to the Convention Against Torture as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is thus obliged to prohibit any form of torture and ill-treatment, and to take positive measures 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 further 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.”