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VI. Torture and Other Mistreatment in Detention

Egyptian security personnel tortured or otherwise mistreated a number of persons, including at least three children, detained in connection with the antiwar demonstrations that began on March 20. 

Gamal `Eid, Ziyad al-`Ulaimi, and Muhammad Zaki were among those whom the government ordered held pending investigation of charges stemming from the protests and confrontations between security forces and protestors that day. The three were part of a group of twelve detainees presented to al-Azbakiyya  Public Prosecution Office on Saturday, March 22, 2003. The prosecutor ordered them held for investigation for four days, and they spent the night in detention at al-Azbakiyya  police station. The next afternoon, Sunday, March 23, they were moved to al-Khalifa police station.

“We arrived at al-Khalifa at about 2 p.m.,” Gamal `Eid told Human Rights Watch:

I couldn’t carry my belongings or anything because I was handcuffed so I entered [al-Khalifa] first. I could just feel that there would be a “reception” waiting for us. The head of the station [ma’mur al-tarhilat], who was also the officer in charge of transporting us, was standing in the corridor. He told me to stand aside and wait for the others. When I lit a cigarette, he told me to put it out and he called me a son of a whore. I put out the cigarette but told him to watch his tongue. Some officers then held me and the station head started beating me on my back, neck and arm. The commotion brought other police. Three of them held me while four of them, including the station head, beat me. They also beat the others who tried to protect me. They beat the women with us too, and the female guards joined in. They hit us with sticks—like a broomstick or a chair leg. A captain—I don’t know his name but I would recognize him—took off his belt and was whipping us. This went on a long time—maybe an hour. The station head was shouting that we would have to confess to setting fire to the truck in al-Tahrir, though this was not one of the charges against me. The broomstick finally broke on my arm. I thought my arm was broken. My glasses broke when they fell off. After the beating they forced us to kneel. I said I would file a complaint of torture [with the public prosecutor]. When the station head found out we were lawyers he said we had burned and looted on Friday. Then they put us in cells, but they took me out by myself. “It seems you are the leader,” they said. “We make people here forget their names and the name of their mother. You are worthless.” Then they beat me again for about ten minutes, this time with their fists.63 

Ziyad al-`Ulaimi, who was also beaten on this occasion at al-Khalifa police station, told Human Rights Watch:

The station head, `Ala’ Salem, swore at Gamal and when Gamal told him not to they beat him with sticks and belts and fists. Yasir [Farag] and I tried to protect him. They beat us all on the head. When I complained about my arm that had been broken in the beating on Friday they kicked me in the stomach and the broken arm.”64

Gamal `Eid named `Ala’ Salem in the torture complaint he filed on March 30 with the office of the Prosecutor General.

Muhammad Zaki said he was among those beaten in al-Khalifa police station, “but not like Gamal was.”65

Manal Khalid (see above) was also among the group of detainees transferred to al-Khalifa station that day. She told Human Rights Watch that they were brought inside handcuffed to each other in pairs. When they got out of the police truck at al-Khalifa some relatives were there outside the station. “I don’t know how they knew we were going there,” she said, “but we started chanting slogans for Iraq and Palestine.” When they were inside the station, she said, they saw the station head and a female guard. “They stared roughing us up and insulting us with the filthiest language. When I talked back to [the guard] she started slapping me and beating me, she and one of the male guards, on different parts of my body, and on my face, around my eye, which was already very bruised and swollen.”66

Gamal `Abd al-Fattah, 54, is active in some of the groups that participated in the March 20-21 demonstrations. He owns and manages a 24-hour pharmacy near his home in Cairo’s al-Ma`adi al-Gadida neighborhood. He told Human Rights Watch that he was returning home from the pharmacy with his wife at about 3 a.m. on Monday, March 23. They saw a Central Security van and about a dozen police and SSI officers outside their apartment building. “I knew this had to do with the demonstrations,” he said. “We passed by without stopping and thought of going elsewhere, but my wife was afraid they would then break into the apartment and the pharmacy and wreck everything, so I gave myself up.”67 `Abd al-Fattah was taken to SSI headquarters in Lazoghli and held there for investigation on charges connected with the March 21 demonstration at al-Tahrir Square, including alleged destruction of property. He told Human Rights Watch that much of his interrogation by prosecutors concerned his political opinions about Egyptian government policies.

According to `Abd al-Fattah, his detention passed uneventfully until his release order came the following Monday, March 31. “They took four of us from Tora prison back to Lazoghli at about 2 p.m.,” he said.

They sat us on the floor of a corridor on the ground floor of the building for about an hour. Then they blindfolded me and took me off alone to a room on the same floor. I don’t know who it was [who took me]; there were three distinct voices. They started cursing me, saying “We don’t want to see you here ever again” and hitting and kicking me. This went on for about twenty minutes. Then they brought me back to the corridor for maybe ten minutes before two of the same guys took me away again, this time to a room on an upper floor and started beating me again. They were calling me all kinds of obscene names. They pressed a truncheon on my anus—I had my clothes on, but the sexual threat was clear. They said they would get me to stop my political activities. This beating concentrated on my back, near the base of my spine and the backs of my legs. They broke the skin on the back of my right thigh.

I recognized by voice one of those attacking me—a senior SSI officer. He usually shows up at all the demonstrations but he dropped out of sight when the Iraq war demonstrations started. I filed a complaint against him with the prosecutor general.68

Some of those arrested on April 12 (see above) were also severely beaten and tortured while in custody. One of the students arrested on April 13 and detained in SSI headquarters before being released on April 15, who asked that his name not be used, told Human Rights Watch about his treatment during interrogation:

I was called in for interrogation first. They asked me to strip to the waist, so I did. They started to ask me questions and beat me at the same time. When I say “they” I don’t know how many because I was still blindfolded, but there were a lot judging by the voices. They asked, “Why were you going to the [Journalists’] Syndicate? Who told you to go there?”  They asked about my two friends. One of them had his Tagammu` party membership card with him when he was arrested, so they asked me who had recruited him.69

When he told them he did not know the answers to their questions, he said, they continued to beat him: 

One of them was holding my arm behind my back so I couldn’t protect myself. One hit me in the groin and testicles, one hit me in the stomach, one on my chest and one around the thighs. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long this went on, but perhaps half an hour. Then they took me outside [the interrogation room] and made me kneel in front of an air conditioner blasting very cold air.70  

The student said that one of the students arrested with him “went through more or less the same as I had” but that the other one had been interrogated for a longer period and that “they put him down and stomped with their feet on his abdomen.”71 He told Human Rights Watch that he was himself beaten a second time in custody, immediately prior to his release:

It was yesterday afternoon, Tuesday, just after 3 p.m. They called me in, blindfolded me, and took me upstairs. They beat me on the back and neck with fists and sticks while I was climbing the stairs. They took me into a different room than the first time. There were only two officers this time, and I recognized the voice of one from the previous interrogation. They started to ask me personal questions. How did you become an activist? Who do you know on the Popular Committee to Support the Intifada? They accused me of being an atheist. They asked me about other people. They were beating me on the back and neck while they asked these questions. One officer put his foot on my abdomen and my scrotum. He was pressing. He accused me of being an unbeliever and a womanizer and having sex with many girls, that I got into politics to have sex with these girls. And he told me he would make me unable to have sex after he got finished with my testicles. I knew he was saying this to scare me but I have to say that he succeeded.

I didn’t give in. He told me that political activists are spies and took money from outside [the country]. He advised me to keep away from them. The advice became fatherly. He asked me to tell him about my friends. He gave me his phone number and asked me to contact him. I took it, only to get out of there. He returned my things and then asked the guard to take me out and remove my blindfold and allow me to leave.72

The Cairo-based Nadim Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence examined this student and “confirmed testicular congestion, contusions and bruises in the back muscles and the muscles on the front of the left thigh.”73

The released student told Human Rights Watch that Ramiz Gihad, who had been arrested separately on that Saturday night, April 12, was put in the same cell with them around mid-day on Sunday, April 13. “During those two days [Sunday and Monday] they were focusing on him,” the student said.

They took him out [of the cell] two or three times during the day. He told us that he was tortured by electricity as well as beatings, but he didn’t have to tell us that, you could tell by his condition when they carried him back and we saw the burn marks. He stayed a long time upstairs, three or four hours at a time. He was nearly comatose when they carried him in, only semi-conscious. His face was extremely swollen and bruised, especially the nose. He was shaking. There were burn marks on his hand and elbows, and feet and toes. Sometime Monday they took him off to solitary confinement.74

A week later, on the night of April 22-23, in the wake of a rumor that Ramiz Gihad had died in detention, attorney Gamal `Eid received a call on his mobile phone from Gihad. `Eid told Human Rights Watch that Gihad had said, “I’m Ramiz. I’m at al-Khalifa [police station] and I’ll go to State Security next.” But no originating phone number appeared on the mobile phone, indicating that call originated from a State Security Investigations office. `Eid told Human Rights Watch that he is certain the call was from Gihad himself, and that SSI officials had pressured him to make the call in order to put to rest the rumors of his death.75 Ramiz Gihad, Muhammad Hassan, and Wa’il Tawfiq were subsequently transferred to Borg al-`Arab prison in Alexandria and held without charge under Egypt’s emergency law provisions until June 6, 2003. 76 They were reportedly not allowed visits by lawyers or family. `Eid told Human Rights Watch that when he met with Ramiz Gihad in mid-August 2003, Gihad still bore physical signs of the electroshock torture inflicted by officers at the SSI headquarters. Gihad said that he was tortured as a result of a “vendetta” by an officer with whom he had an altercation during an earlier antiwar demonstration in February, and also because Gihad had refused to implicate others while under interrogation.77

Torture and Ill-Treatment Under International and Egyptian Law

Many of the instances of abuse by Egyptian security officials documented in this report constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and in some cases this ill-treatment rose to the level of torture. The use of torture and other forms of mistreatment are widely prohibited by international treaty law and standards, including the International Covenant on Civilian and Political Rights78 and the Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.79 Article 1 of the Convention against Torture defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering is

intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Article 2 of the convention obliges states parties to take “effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture.” Article 16 requires that states parties must “prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture.”

The government of Egypt, in its October 1998 supplementary report to the Committee Against Torture (CAT), stated that “the Convention is a law of the country, all of its provisions are directly and immediately applicable and enforceable before all State authorities,”80 and noted that the Egyptian Constitution “prohibits the subjection of individuals to physical or mental harm.”81 The country’s Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure also include provisions forbidding torture and establishing penalties against those guilty of committing acts of torture. Article 126 of the Penal Code establishes penalties of imprisonment and hard labor for “any public servant or official who orders, or participates in, the torture of an accused person with a view to inducing the said person to make a confession,” and article 282 specifies a sentence of hard labor “in all cases, [for] anyone who unlawfully arrests a person and threatens to kill him or subject him to physical torture.”82 According to the government, the “judicial application” of these penal provisions, “in accordance with the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court,” “punishes torture carried out by a member of a public authority or by an individual whether during the arrest, confinement or imprisonment of a person in the legally prescribed circumstances or otherwise.”83

The government’s 1998 report to the CAT also cites Penal Code articles 126, 129 and 240 to 243 as among the legislative measures employed to combat torture, but does not provide the texts of those articles. Article 126 pertains to beatings inflicted by public officials.84 Article 129 designates as criminal offences “acts involving coercion and ill-treatment by public officials…as they constitute acts of infringement on and harm against others, with intent to induce confession.”85 The offense occurs “whenever a public official or servant relies on his position to use force in a manner that is detrimental to an individual’s dignity or which causes him bodily pain”86 and the element of crime “obtains with any material act that is likely to cause the victim bodily pain, however slight, even if the act causes no apparent injuries.”87 “[A]ll individuals,” the report states, “whatever their capacity, enjoy the protection prescribed by this article whether they are under arrest, in detention or in other circumstances.”88 Articles 240 to 243 cover assault and battery offenses.89 According to the government’s report to the CAT, “Any person who knows that an offence has occurred is under obligation to report it, an obligation which applies to public officials pursuant to articles 25 and 26 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”90

Under Egyptian law, the Inspection Unit of the Ministry of Interior and the Department of Public Prosecution (al-Niyyaba al-`Ama) under the Ministry of Justice are responsible for investigating allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Both offices have strong professional and personal ties with security officials and police under their supervision, and historically have not provided effective recourse for victims of torture.

63 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, March 29, 2003.

64 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, March 29, 2003.

65 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, March 29, 2003.

66 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 1, 2003.

67 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 1, 2003.

68 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 1, 2003. `Abd al-Fattah’s description of his beating was consistent with a report from a medical examination conducted at Qasr al-`Aini University Hospital following his release. The SSI officer he named to Human Rights Watch, Lt.Col. Walid Dissuqi, was also named in a torture complaint filed by Wa’il Tawfiq (see below).

69 The Tagammu` is an officially recognized and legally functioning left-nationalist party.

70 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 16, 2003.

71 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 16, 2003.

72 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 16, 2003.

73 “They stomp the bodies of detainees in State Security Intelligence in Lazoghli,” Nadeem Center electronic mail communiqué received April 16, 2003.

74 Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, April 16, 2003.

75 The Egyptian mobile telephone system usually displays the phone number of incoming calls. On previous occasions SSI officers had called `Eid on his mobile phone to warn him to stop his human rights activities, and each time the number of the originating telephone was not displayed. Gamal `Eid communication to Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2003. .

76 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gamal `Eid in Cairo, June 9, 2003.  Law 162/1958, Egypt’s Emergency Law, article 3 (1), permits the state to restrict freedom of assembly, movement, and residence; hold and detain persons “suspected of being a threat to security and public order”; and conduct searches of individuals and places without abiding by Criminal Procedure Code.”

77 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gamal `Eid, Cairo, August 26, 2003.

78 ICCPR, art. 7.

79 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987.  Egypt ratified the Convention against Torture in 1986.

80 U.N. Committee Against Torture, “Supplementary reports of States parties due in 1996: Egypt 28/01/99.” CAT/C/34/Add. 11, para. 12. 

81 Article 42 of the Constitution states: “Any citizen who is arrested or imprisoned or whose freedom is restricted in any way must be treated in a manner conducive to the preservation of his human dignity. No physical or mental harm shall be inflicted on him…. Any statement which is established to have been made under the influence or threat of anything of the above-mentioned nature shall be considered null and void.” (Cited in Ibid., para. 121). 

82 Ibid., para. 44. The most recent government report to the CAT, in February 2001, refers to but does not provide the texts of these provisions.  See U.N. Committee Against Torture, “Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Fourth periodic reports due in 2000, Addendum: Egypt” [CAT/C/55/Add.6, 18 October 2001]).

83 1999 report to the CAT, para. 47.

84 Ibid., para. 132.

85 Ibid., para. 53.

86 Ibid., para. 171.

87 Ibid., para. 173.

88 Ibid., para. 128.

89 Ibid., para.s 54 and 132.

90 Ibid., para. 97(a).

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November 2003