A surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody show a sharp deterioration in human rights in Egypt in the year since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted, says Amnesty International.
Thousands of people have been detained, reports of torture and enforced disappearances in police and military detention are widespread, 1,247 death sentences have been handed down so far this year, and 80 people have reportedly died in custody since Morsi was deposed on 3 July 2013.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: “Egypt’s notorious state security forces are back and operating at full capacity, employing the same methods of torture and other ill-treatment used during the darkest hours of the Mubarak era.
“On every level Egypt is failing in terms of human rights. It is up to the new government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to turn the tide by launching independent, impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and send a strong message that flouting human rights will not be tolerated and will no longer go unpunished.”
Amnesty has gathered damning evidence indicating that torture is routine in police stations and unofficial places of detention, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters particularly targeted. Torture has been carried out by both the Egyptian military and police, including in premises belonging to the National Security Agency, in many cases with the objective of obtaining confessions or to force detainees to implicate others.
Among the torture methods are techniques previously used during Mubarak’s rule, including the use of electric shocks, rape, and handcuffing detainees and suspending them from open doors. Another suspension method, known as 'the grill', involves handcuffing the detainee’s hands and legs to an iron rod and suspending the rod between two opposite chairs until the detainee’s legs go numb. Security forces then start using electric shocks on the person’s legs.
One of the most shocking cases documented by Amnesty was that of M.R.S., 23, a student arrested in February near Nasr City in Cairo. He said he was held for 47 days and was tortured and raped during his interrogation. He is currently out of prison but the case is still pending. He said: “They cut my shirt, blindfolded me with it and handcuffed me from behind … they beat me with batons all over my body, particularly on the chest, back and face … Then they put two wires in my left and right little fingers and gave me electric shocks four or five times. The national security officer caught my testicle and started to squeeze it … I was screaming from the pain and bent my legs to protect my testicles then he inserted his fingers in my anus… he was wearing something plastic on his fingers … he repeated this five times.”
M.R.S. also reported being beaten on his penis with a stick, and was then raped repeatedly by one or more security guards before being forced to sing a song in support of the Egyptian army “Teslam Al Ayadi”.
In another case, 18-year-old student Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein was arrested on his way home on the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising in El Mareg, Cairo at noon. He believes he was singled out because he was wearing a shirt bearing a “25 January Revolution” logo and a scarf with a slogan of the “Nation without Torture” campaign. He was blindfolded and forced to “confess” to possessing explosives and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood after hours of beatings and electric shocks. He remains in prison.
According to WikiThawra, an initiative run by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social rights, at least 80 people have died in custody over the past year.
Ahmed Ibrahim was among four people who have died in Mattereya Police Station since April. He had been due for early release after serving most of a three-year prison term. After his transfer to Mattereya in preparation for his release, he repeatedly complained about his poor detention conditions and said he was having difficulty breathing due to poor ventilation in his overcrowded police cell. He was denied medical care. In a phone call to his father at 1am on 15 June he pleaded for help, saying: “I am dying, father”. By the time his father arrived at the police station to ask about his son later that morning, he was told he had died. His father found bruises on the upper parts of Ahmed’s body and cuts on the neck suggesting he may have been tortured. The report of an initial post-mortem medical examination seen by Amnesty stated there were bruises and cuts found on the body. Forensic doctors told Amnesty that the reason for his death is still not clear.
Amnesty has spoken to dozens of former detainees and the families of detainees who were arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully held in complete deprivation of their rights. In many cases people were rounded up from the street or arrested after security forces entered their homes by force. Many were beaten upon arrest, unlawfully held for extended periods without charge or without the opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Some have been held without charge or trial for nearly a year.
One detainee interviewed by Amnesty said he had been detained for 96 days at Al Galaaa military camp in Al-Azouly Prison after security forces burst into his home to arrest him. He was not allowed to contact lawyers or his family to inform them about his whereabouts. Previously, this person was arbitrarily held in administrative detention for 11 years during Mubarak’s rule. He told Amnesty: “Mubarak’s security forces at least knew who they were targeting but now they arrest people randomly.”
Hatem Mohie Eldin, a 17-year-old student in Alexandria, was arrested by the police on 27 May as he returned home from school. Security forces beat him and held him for five days in an unknown location. He was not allowed to contact his family or lawyers and was not referred to the prosecution or a court during his detention. Hatem was released on 1 June after the security forces found he was not involved in violence or riots, he told Amnesty.
In some cases, the security forces seized family members or friends at random if the wanted person was not present. The friends and families have faced trumped-up charges or accusations. The family of Salah and Adel, two brothers, told Amnesty they were beaten and arrested last August by security forces who were looking for the third brother of the men.
Egypt’s criminal justice system has suffered huge setbacks over the past year with several politically-motivated verdicts. A series of mass death sentences after grossly unfair trials against detainees accused of violence last August have exposed deep flaws in the criminal justice system. In many cases defendants were not brought to their trials and lawyers have repeatedly been barred from presenting their defence, or questioning witnesses.
Courts have also sentenced boys under the age of 18 to death in violation of Egypt’s obligations under domestic and international law. In other instances, defendants were sentenced to death after only one hearing and without giving lawyers an opportunity to present their defence or to examine witnesses.
According to information gathered by Amnesty, since January Egypt’s criminal justice system has recommended the death penalty for 1,247 people, pending the Grand Mufti’s religious opinion, and upheld death sentences against 247 individuals. Death sentences came after grossly unfair trials.
Defence lawyers have told Amnesty of instances where they were not allowed to attend investigations by prosecutors and 'confessions' obtained under torture had been used in court.