The Victorious Sect arrests appear to be part of a larger pattern of SSI abuse, often involving the arbitrary detention of Salafists and other young religious men. Indeed, human rights activists, attorneys, and other observers told Human Rights Watch that SSI routinely summons Salafists and other religiously devout young men for questioning, and sometime arrests, interrogates, and tortures them based on little or no real evidence. On occasion, as in this case, SSI detains such people indefinitely under Emergency Law decrees.89
Hossam Bahgat, a human rights activist and the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Human Rights Watch that he often deals with cases in which Salafists are rounded up:
Gamal Eid, an attorney who represents numerous SSI detainees, described the circumstances in which arrests take place:
The attorney Ahmad Saif al-Islam, quoted earlier, elaborated on these types of arrest:
Saif al-Islam, like Gamal Eid and other lawyers, said that some detainees were transferred into SSI custody from police custody, while in other cases the arrests would be conducted by SSI officers, appearing to target specific men:
S.G.E., a human rights researcher who works with Gamal Eid, said that arrests were so typical that he regularly saw arrests himself:
L.M.E., another human rights worker, agreed with the descriptions above but added:
A.K.M., another human rights researcher, told Human Rights Watch that part of the purpose of the arrests was to recruit Salafists as informers and keep tabs on them:
The attorney Mohamed Zarei, quoted earlier in this report, said that in numerous cases, detainees would not even be arrested, but simply be summoned for questioning and then interrogated. He described the process as quite frightening:
Gamal Eid, the other attorney quoted above, explained to Human Rights Watch that it was often difficult to challenge the SSI detentions, because legal processes were so rarely offered:
Human Rights Watch has received numerous other credible allegations in recent years about SSI fabricating charges against detaineescases in which Interior Ministry officials announced confessions by detainees and evidence later showed that the detainees had been tortured and their confessions either did not occur or were not voluntary and truthful.
For instance, in 2004, Human Rights Watch documented how SSI officers used torture to coerce false confessions from dozens of detainees in the Queen Boat cases in Cairo in 2003.99 Another example is the Satanist-Heavy Metal Rock cases in 1997, in which dozens of teenagers in Cairo and Alexandria were arrested, many taken from their homes by SSI officers, and later accused of worshipping Satan in dance clubs and other venues playing heavy-metal music.100 More recently, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that false confessions were obtained by torture from detainees on trial for the 2005 bombings in Taba.101
In addition to these cases, there are also indications that confessions were obtained under torture in a recent 2006 case in which several foreign and Egyptian students were arrested for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Middle Eastern countries including Iraq, according to an Interior Ministry statement.102 Many of the arrested detainees were later deported to Europe and released, strongly suggesting they were not guilty of the crimes to which the Interior Ministry said they had confessed.
It is difficult to estimate how many detainees are in SSI detention at any given time. The Egyptian government does not divulge the numbers of people whom SSI calls in for questioning, nor the numbers of people arrested by SSI and held in prison for long periods of time.
In June and July 2007, Human Rights Watch asked numerous observers, journalists, and attorneys we interviewed to estimate how many people were detained by SSI over various periods of time and at any given time. The responses varied. Nationally, observers estimated that SSI held hundreds, several hundred, or thousands of detainees at any given time. Observers said it was difficult to provide a more exact number because of the lack of transparency about the process.
Diaa Rashwan, the commentator at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said: I suspect that there are hundreds of people in custody at any given time, plus others who are summoned in for questioning for a short time. Rashwan said he expected that, over the course of a year, thousands of Salafists were interrogated by SSI around the country.103
The attorney Gamal Eid made the same assessment:
The attorney Ahmad Saif al-Islam gave a slightly higher estimate:
Attorney Mohamed Zarei said that estimates were somewhat difficult because it was difficult to differentiate between cases of short-term interrogations and longer-term detention:
Gamal Eid, the lawyer and human rights activist quoted above, said he was disgusted that SSI abuses did not cause more of a political scandal in Egypt:
A.K.M., another human rights activist, agreed:
Many Egyptian commentators and observers interviewed for this report suggested to Human Rights Watch that the Egyptian governments approach to counterterrorism, with SSI arbitrarily detaining young men, abusively interrogating them, and in some cases fabricating charges against them, was not only illegal, but likely counterproductive. Rather than reducing the threat of violence, observers suggested, it could radicalize detainees and give them a reason to engage in violence.
Reflecting on Egypts history, Diaa Rashwan said:
The attorney A.K.M. made a similar point:
89 For an explanation of the definition of Salafism, see footnote 7 above. Diaa Rashwan, commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram further explained: Salafists are basically just conservative people, fundamentalists. Theyre against new schools of thought. But theyre not political. Just very religious. Human Rights Watch interview with Diaa Rashwan, commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram, Cairo June 10, 2007.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossam Bahgat, human rights activist, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
91 Interview with Gamal Eid, attorney who has represented numerous SSI detainees, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
92 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Saif al-Islam, Cairo, June 9, 2007.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with S.G.E., human rights researcher, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with L.M.E., human rights researcher, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with A.K.M., human rights researcher, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Zarei, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
98 Human Rights Watch interview with Gamal Eid, attorney represented numerous SSI detainees, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
99 Human Rights Watch, In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice in Egypts Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2004).
100 See James J. Napoli, Cairo Communique: A Satanic Khamsin Blows Through Egypt, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1997; Search for a Scapegoat in the Satanism Affair, Cairo Times, March 6, 1997; Two weeks in the life of . . . an alleged devil-worshipper, Cairo Times, April 17, 1997; Sophia al-Maria and Ethan Heitner, Out of hiding, Cairo Magazine (2005).
101 Egypt: Terrorism Trial Shows Serious Flaws: Torture Allegedly Used to Coerce Confessions, Human Rights Watch news release, December 12, 2006, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/12/13/egypt14829.htm.
102 See Nadia Abou El-Magd, Egyptian police arrest foreigners for allegedly plotting attacks, Associated Press, December 5, 2006.
103 Human Rights Watch interview with Diaa Rashwan, commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram, Cairo June 10, 2007.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with Gamal Eid, attorney who has represented numerous SSI detainees, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
105 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Saif al-Islam, Cairo, June 9, 2007.
106 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Zarei, Cairo, June 12, 2007. Adel Mekki, an attorney who works with Zarei, agreed with him and added: Over the years, thousands and thousands of people have been arrested and interrogated by State Security. Hundreds have been arrested in 2007, not counting the hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood who have also been arrested. Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Mekki, Cairo, June 13, 2007.
107 Interview with Gamal Eid, attorney who has represented numerous SSI detainees, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
108 Human Rights Watch interview with A.K.M., human rights researcher, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
109 Human Rights Watch interview with Diaa Rashwan, commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram, Cairo June 10, 2007.
110 Human Rights Watch interview with A.K.M., human rights researcher, Cairo, June 11, 2007.