Mounting Concerns over Evidence of Systematic Torture in Egypt

02/25/2014 . By TIMEP

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is deeply troubled by recent evidence of torture and the subsequent lack of investigative response. The past few weeks have witnessed a proliferation of testimonies describing instances of torture at the hands of security forces. Detainees have described horrendous psychological, physical, sexual, and emotional ordeals that are unequivocally banned under Egyptian and international law. Most recently, Mohamed Saeed, who was arrested in conjunction with protests on Cairo’s Talaat Harb Street, described his extensive beatings, verbal abuse, and sexual molestation. These reports spark mounting concern that torture is being used systematically as a tool of coercion in the prisons.

Despite these well-documented testimonies, Egyptian officials have denied any instances of torture. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim declared such acts to be “impossible.” In a recent meeting with human rights activists and scholars from American University in Cairo, the Minister of Justice echoed Ibrahim’s stance, causing the meeting to fall apart.

Such testimonies are only the most recent entries in the long history of evidence of abuses committed by state security. Such incidents were also reported in various forms under Mubarak, the interim Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) government, and during the one-year term of Muhammad Morsi.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a statement about the recent claims on February 11. The network is calling for an “urgent and transparent investigation into the information and testimonies that report torturing [of] the pretrial detainees…” adding that, “ANHRI has refused the Egyptian State’s [continuous treatment of] the Constitution’s articles as only ink on paper.” The organization’s statement quotes testimonies from journalist Kareem Al-Behairi and student Belal Khalil.

Torture in any form is explicitly banned by Article 52 of Egypt’s newly-minted constitution, which was approved in January by 98.1% of voters. The state is bound by this constitution to honor the rights set forth therein, among them being freedom from torture.

Given this responsibility, we fully support the work of ANHRI and similar organizations seeking deeper investigation into these claims. The severity of abuse and the quantity of evidence demands the formation of an independent fact-finding committee responsible for investigation into any allegations of torture and abuse in detention facilities.

One of the enduring images that contributed to Egypt’s uprising in January 2011 was that of Khalid Said, who was beaten to death mercilessly by police simply for questioning their attempt to arrest him. His death marked a turning point, prompting Egyptians to react against the abuses linked to rampant police violence. The recent evidence of torture betrays the woeful lack of progress made in the security sector; the persistent nature of the claims, extending back to the Mubarak era, underlines the necessity of deep security sector reform.

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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.