Washington, D.C. – The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is deeply alarmed by ongoing accounts of detainee torture, abuse, and neglect in Egypt’s prisons. Dozens of detainees have reportedly died in police custody since July 2013 due to abuse and neglect. Despite statements by local and international organizations expressing concern about these problems, the government of Egypt has yet to meaningfully investigate claims of abuse and prosecute potential criminal behavior.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) at least 84 detainees—and likely many more—died while in police custody in the past year. Some of these deaths have been attributed to torture and abuse by law enforcement officers, while others have been blamed on prisoner neglect. According to Amnesty International, torture in Egypt’s prisons is “rampant,” and many of the same abusive techniques used during the Mubarak era—including electric shocks, rape, and stress positions—continue to be employed against detainees. In an equally alarming report issued by EIPR last month, dozens of former Egyptian detainees and medical workers recounted how detainees have died after being denied prompt and adequate medical treatment. Similar reports of detainee abuse and neglect are echoed in letters from prisoners published by Egypt’s El Nadim Center in May.
The Convention against Torture, to which Egypt is a party, requires the government to investigate and prosecute individuals reasonably believed to have committed torture or other serious human rights abuses. While the government of Egypt has begun to investigate some allegations of detainee abuse and deaths—such as that of Eslam al-Sayed, who died last month at El Raml police station in Alexandria—few officers have been held accountable. As the State Department’s 2013 Human Rights report on Egypt notes, while the Egyptian government often claimed to be investigating allegations of torture, it “rarely made results public.”
Even when investigations result in successful prosecutions, the penalties imposed upon officers are typically very lenient. Last month, for instance, a Cairo appeals court annulled the 10-year prison sentence of Lieutenant Colonel Amr Farouk, who had been convicted in the deaths of 39 prisoners. The detainees—45 in all—were being transported in an overcrowded police van meant to hold only 24 people when they were fired on with tear gas by police, leading to the asphyxiation deaths of 39 men. Three other police officers in the case were given only one-year suspended sentences.
The Egyptian government’s failure to hold officers accountable for detainee abuse only perpetuates Egypt’s widespread human rights problems. This lax attitude toward abuse was captured in recent remarks by an Interior Ministry official, who said that Egypt’s prisons are “like hotels”—a comment that completely ignores the overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary. TIMEP strongly urges Egypt to take adequate measures to prevent torture and other human rights abuses by law enforcement officers and to ensure prompt and adequate medical treatment for prisoners. TIMEP also renews its call for an investigation by an impartial, independent body into these alleged abuses, in keeping with Egypt’s legal obligations.
For more information, please email [email protected].
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.