Egyptian police ‘tortured to death’ 12 people in 2009, says rights group

Among widespread and continuing human rights abuses throughout Egypt in 2009, 12 people were tortured to death by police, according to the annual report of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR).

“We documented 63 cases of torture in detention in the same year. And this is not exhaustive; we include only confirmed cases where there’s clear evidence of wrongdoing,” said Hafez Abu Saada, the lawyer who heads the rights watchdog at a press conference Tuesday. “Obviously, laws are still not firm enough to put an end to this crime.”

According to the 578-page-report, 125 cases of death resulting from torture were recorded between 2000-2009, with 12 such cases recorded in 2009.

“Many of the perpetrators go unpunished mainly because of the reluctance of victims’ families to pursue their case in court, for fear of police retaliation,” states the report.

The report carries the names and case histories of all of the alleged 2009 torture cases. Not mentioned is the recent case of Khaled Saeed, an Alexandrian 28-year-old man who was allegedly beaten to death by police on a sidewalk on 6 June this year.

Abu Saada puts the blame on the nearly three-decade-long Egyptian Emergency Law which provides legal justification for perpetuating human rights abuses, which range from the detention of bloggers, collective punishment, forced displacement and election fraud, to preventing peaceful demonstrations.

In 2009 alone, police authorities put down at least 82 peaceful demonstrations or protests, says the report. This includes police intervention against the thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets in 2009 to protest a violent Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, as well as the blue-collar workers of Mahalla who in April 2009 demanded better wages.

The EOHR report also documents 530 cases of mistreatment of prisoners, 113 cases of arbitrary detention, 20 cases of “disappearances,” and ten cases of “collective punishment” (thought to be a systematic procedure used by police to extract information and/or confessions).

Other violations recorded in 2009 include the detention of prisoners in inhumane conditions, and as well as physical and sexual harrassment, and verbal humiliation of detainees. The report mentions cases of prisoners who were shackled, stripped naked and blindfolded. Some had salt forced into their eyes and were electrocuted or kicked repeatedly by officers, says the report.

Arbitrary arrest is reported as widespread and a considerate threat to personal security. According to statistics and anecdotal evidence provided by those who underwent unlawful arrests, many of the violations occurred in 6 October province, where more than 20 cases of documented arrest without a warrant were recorded.

During Muslim-Christian sectarian clashes many Egyptians were arrested to extract confessions because the police did not have a specific list of suspects based on evidence. In 2009 four cases involving forced entry into homes, the arrest of several members from the same family, attacks against personal property, and harrassment of citizens inside their homes were recorded in the provinces of North Sinai, Fayoum and Kafr el-Sheikh.

The trials of civilians before military tribunals remains a phenomenon to be concerned about, the report says. In 2009, there were three such cases, two in North Sinai, with the third being the renowned “Khairat el-Shater” trial in which around 40 prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood were charged with membership of a banned group, money laundering, and militancy.

The report also mentions cases tried at the Emergency State Security Court, referred there by direct order from the president.

The EOHR further recorded 190 cases where freedom of expression was blocked or journalists and bloggers harassed and targeted by security officials. Violations included physical assaults on reporters and bloggers, prosecution of reporters, censorship, and banning or withdrawing the publication of controversial work. The year 2009 saw in total 148 reporters stand trial on charges of libel or spreading “rumors.”

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