Torture fed anti-regime wrath in Egypt: HRW


CAIRO – Anger against routine police abuse and torture has been a driving force behind the massive popular protests sweeping across Egypt, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.
“The Egyptian government’s foul record on this issue is a huge part of what is still bringing crowds onto the streets today,” Joe Stork, the US-based rights group’s deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa said in an accompanying statement. The 95-page report, “Work on Him Until He Confesses: Impunity for Torture in Egypt,” documents hundreds of cases of torture HRW says were committed by Egypt’s security forces.
It also charges President Hosni Mubarak’s regime of condoning the practice. The remarks came as hundreds of thousands of protesters crowded central Cairo on Tuesday demanding the end of Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule, which they say has been marked by political repression, abuse of human rights and corruption.
Mubarak’s axing this week of his much-hated interior minister, Habib al-Adly — who was in charge of the police — did little to calm the furious sea of protestors that have gathered daily for the past week in central Cairo to demand his the president’s resignation.
The HRW report said public discontent with the regime stems in part from widespread torture and abuse by security forces. It said impunity for torture is especially acute in the State Security Investigations (SSI), under the interior ministry department, which monitors political dissent. “Egyptians deserve a clean break from the incredibly entrenched practice of torture,” said Stork.
The report charged Mubarak’s regime of condoning the practice by “failing to ensure that law enforcement officials accused of torture are investigated and criminally prosecuted.” It pointed to the case of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old man beaten to death by two undercover police officers on an Alexandria street in June, which dominated headlines and sparked demonstrations.
One of the Facebook groups that helped initiate the start of the mass demonstrations on Tuesday last week is named, “We Are All Khaled Said,” it said The local prosecutor had closed the investigation and ordered Said’s burial, but escalating public protests prompted a new investigation into the case and its referral to a court. HRW said the action taken in Said’s case was an exception as the vast majority of torture complaints never reach court because of police intimidation of victims and witnesses who file complaints.
On November 2009 the government published statistics showing that between 2006 and 2009, Egyptian courts had sentenced only six police officers for torture and inhumane treatment. In July last year, an Alexandria appeals court confirmed a five-year sentence against a seventh officer, according to the report. “The conviction of a mere seven police officers over four years reflects a huge disconnect from reality and leaves hundreds of victims and families without justice,” Stork said.
The report documented hundreds of cases is says proves that enforcement officers routinely use torture on ordinary criminals, political dissidents and security detainees. It said the practice is used to coerce confessions, extract other information, or simply to punish detainees. One former SSI detainee and Muslim Brotherhood member, Nasr al-Sayed Hassan Nasr, told HRW of his 60-day detention in 2010, during which he says he was blindfolded the entire time.
“They beat me with a shoe across the face. They kicked me in the testicles so that I’d fall to the ground,” he said. “Once on the floor they used electro-shocks to make me stand up and then would kick me again in the testicles.” No SSI officer has ever been convicted for torture, according to Human Rights Watch report.
The report urged officials to introduce reforms to ensure the judicial system holds perpetrators of torture accountable and deters future abuse. “Prosecuting torture and ending the emergency laws that enable a culture of impunity for the security protests should be a priority for the Egyptian government,” the rights group said.