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In an unprecedented move, an international watchdog accused the Egyptian army of torturing and illegally detaining dozens of journalists, activists, and protesters since the military took up positions in Egyptian cities and towns on the night of 28 January.
The US-based Human Rights Watch alleged in a detailed statement on Wednesday that at least 119 people were detained by the army and at least five cases were tortured. By other estimates those numbers are well into the hundreds.
The group documented that the released detainees said “they were held incommunicado, did not have access to a lawyer, and could not inform their families about their detention.”
"Arrests by military police of journalists, human rights defenders, and youth activists since January 31 appear intended to intimidate reporting and undermine support for the Tahrir protest," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "These arrests and reports of abuse in detention are exactly the types of practices that sparked the demonstrations in the first place."
President Hosni Mubarak ordered on army troops and tanks into Egyptian cities on 28 January, after the withdrawal of the police following a bloody day of protest.
"Protesters initially greeted the military as their protector from the abuses of the interior ministry," said Stork. "While the military may have promised not to shoot protesters, it must also respect their right to freedom of assembly and their right not to be arbitrarily detained."
Since then, military police and army officers arrested or detained at least 97 journalists, activists, and protesters, according to the Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters (FDEP), a coalition of Egyptian human rights organizations.
The group has created a list of 69 people arrested so far and has confirmed the release of only 29 to date. Most of these arrests have been short-term, lasting under 24 hours, but some have lasted as long as two days.
On February 3, around 30 activists and volunteers affiliated with FDEP were arrested by the military police.
Human Rights Watch said those arrests were part of a wave of detentions, during which the army targeted human rights activists.
On Thursday, FDEP said that around 60 people were still either missing or being held in arbitrary detention.
HRW said that it documented at least 20 protesters who were arrested while leaving or heading to Cairo's Tahrir Square since 31 January.
Tahrir Square has become an icon for the revolution and thousands continue to occupy the square day and night.
One protester told HRW that on 31 January that he was arrested while driving to the square with blankets. Later the military police took him to an army camp in Abbasiyya, in Cairo, where he was detained for two days, along with 20 others who were not detained in connection with the protest.
In another case, four protesters were arrested apparently because they appeared to be foreign or accompanying a foreigner.
As for torture, the group documented five cases in which persons say that military police tortured them in detention.
One protester and civil society activist told Human Rights Watch that he was walking to Tahrir Square along Talaat Harb Street at 3:30PM on 4 February, when he encountered a gang of pro-Mubarak young men who took him to a police station off Maa'rouf Street, in downtown Cairo.
There, he said, the police beat and interrogated him about his political affiliations, reasons for protesting and who had recruited him for around an hour.
Uniformed and plainclothes military officers then walked him to a military post next to the Ramses Hilton for further interrogation before releasing him, he said.
Human Rights Watch has also compiled a list of 62 Egyptian and international journalists arrested by the military police since February 2.
On Wednesday, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that after “an unprecedented assault on the press” the Egyptian authorities are still “obstructing international news coverage of the country's political crisis.”