On Human Rights Day: Torture - Not An Isolated Incident
On Human Rights Day, the undersigned organizations condemn increasing violations by the Ministry of Interior in a manner that indicates they have been given free reign to abuse citizens using extralegal practices such as torture, enforced disappearance, and other arbitrary measures and systematic infringements of citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties, which have recently led to several deaths in places of detention.
Some of the undersigned organizations have documented recent cases of torture in police stations, including the Matariya station, the Luxor station, and the Shubra al-Kheima 2 station, some of which ended with the death of the detainee in a one-month period in October and November 2015. In the month of November alone, the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture recorded 49 cases of torture, including 9 cases of death in custody. Other organizations have similarly documented cases of death in detention facilities and received complaints of detainees subjected to beating, degrading treatment, or torture in the same time period. The Nadim Center also recorded two additional deaths among 54 cases of torture in the month of September and 4 death in custody cases out of 57 torture cases in August.
The undersigned organizations fear that the actual number of torture cases that occur far exceeds those documented or reported in the media because victims or their families often chose not to make their case public for fear of reprisal by police officers or because they have lost all trust in the justice system.
The organizations therefore call for an urgent, independent inquiry into the alarming and growing use of torture against male and female detainees in prisons and police stations. In most of these cases, the perpetrators have not been held to account, while the Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied allegations of torture, often calling such cases “isolated incidents.”
In many of the cases documented by the undersigned organisations, police abuse follows a pattern: often, a person or group of people is arrested pursuant to a report of theft or on suspicion of a minor crime. In most cases, these arrests are conducted in an arbitrary manner that at times involves verbal or physical abuse, after which the suspect is taken to the police station, where he is beaten during questioning. The process may end with the suspect exiting the interrogation room as a corpse or bearing the traces of beating or sexual assault and humiliation, as documented in the following cases, offered as examples, not an exhaustive list:
-A death in custody case on October 22 in the Matariya police station: the victim, Adel Abd al-Sami, a 22-year-old carpenter, was detained at the station on October 4 on suspicion of stealing a mobile phone. His family said they saw traces of blood on his clothing when, just after his arrest, the police brought him to his home to search it. He was then taken to Matariya police station and detained there the entire time. His family visited him over the following period and said they could see that he had been beaten and tortured and his health deteriorated markedly. Adel’s mother said that in one visit, he was unable to speak due to beatings. On October 24, his family learned that he was taken to the hospital. When they arrived, they were told that he had reached the hospital dead on arrival. He bore traces of burns on his hands and injuries to the head and various parts of his body.
-A death in custody on November 25 in Luxor: a police force stopped Talaat Shabib in the Hawamdiya area of Luxor near a coffee shop to examine his personal identification, during which time an officer verbally assaulted the suspect, cursing and insulting him. When Talaat objected to the insult—saying, “No insults, sir, you’re my son’s age”—a physical altercation ensured and he was taken to the police station. There he was beaten for two hours, after which he died. The prosecution’s investigation in the case, which sparked broad controversy and demonstrations in Luxor, found that police investigators at the station attempted to conceal the fact that Talaat died during interrogation by having him placed in the holding room as a detainee until an ambulance arrived. However, the person in charge of the holding area refused to admit him, saying he was already dead at the time. The preliminary medical report also confirmed that the victim reached the hospital already deceased.
-Another incident of torture in the Matariya police station targeted Mohammed Abduh Muawwad, a suspect in case no. 18932/2015/Matariya misdemeanor. One of his relatives said that he was beaten after his feet were bound and kicked in the stomach and chest at the police station, causing bleeding in his mouth and nose. Mohammed’s family filed a complaint about the incident and the prosecution is currently investigating, but the victim has not yet been brought before the medical examiner. His brother has also received anonymous phone threats warning him of dire consequences if he does not withdraw the complaint.
In a related context, the undersigned organizations also condemn the continued practice of enforced disappearances. Many of us have received complaints and reports of citizens disappearing after their arrest by police, including for example the case of Hani Saad Mohammed Abd al-Sattar, who was arrested by police from the Nasr City 1 police station, along with his boss Hisham Mohammed Ahmed, and others, and taken to an undisclosed location. They have been disappeared since August 10.
The undersigned organizations emphasize the danger these practices pose to the life of these citizens, particularly considering the numerous stories of the torture of disappeared persons who later appear in detention facilities bearing signs of physical torture and assault.
We further stress that Egyptian prisons are subject to no genuine oversight and do not permit independent organizations or lawyers to visit them. Nor are they subject to periodic inspection by an independent judicial body, although this right is enshrined in law and the constitution (under Article 55 of the 2014 constitution, Articles 85 and 86 of the prisons law, and Article 27 of the judiciary law, which states that prosecutors and the heads and deputy heads of first-instance and appellate courts have the right to inspect prisons located in their jurisdictions). Moreover, under general directives to prosecution offices, a routine inspection of prisons should occur at least once a month, with reports filed on observed infractions. Nevertheless, there have been no announcement of the investigation of any Prisons Authority officials in connection with repeated reports of abuses in prisons.
At the same time, the state continues to harass and prosecute independent lawyers and judges who advocate the reform of anti-torture legislation. Judges Assem Abd al-Gabbar and Hisham Raouf and attorney Negad al-Borai are currently under investigation after they submitted a draft law to combat torture as part of an experts workshop organized by the United Group, which al-Borai heads, on March 11, 2015. From October 2013 to August 2014 the United Group filed 163 reports of 465 allegations of torture in detention facilities, none of which were addressed by the Public Prosecution in a timely manner. As a result, the United Group submitted several complaints to the Judicial Inspection Directorate to ensure timely investigations. Nevertheless, the sole diligent, timely investigation conducted in this period was into the two judges who helped draft the proposed anti-torture law and al-Borai himself. This suggests that timely investigations only take place when directed at those seeking to improve the Egyptian legislative environment, while torturers remain safe from punishment. Apparently the state, first and foremost the judicial establishment, sees no crime in law-enforcement officials torturing, but instead in filing reports of torture or offering legal remedies to end the crime of torture, which under the constitution is not subject to any statute of limitations.
On Human Rights Day, we reiterate our commitment to justice and affirm the universal obligation to respect it, which is particularly incumbent on state agencies. In this respect the undersigned organizations recommend the following:
Regarding torture in places of detention:
Amend the current legislative framework (Article 126 of the Egyptian Penal Code), which limits the definition of torture to an act committed against a suspect with the purpose of forcing him to confess to a charge. This definition ignores other forms of torture included in the UN Convention Against Torture, such as intimidating citizens or taking hostages—who are typically women and children from the suspect’s family—or punishing persons who challenge absolute police authority or demand to see judicial orders or official arrest or search warrants.
Amend Egyptian law to allow victims of torture to directly sue the perpetrators of torture. Currently Egyptian law prohibits this, leaving it to the discretion of the Public Prosecution, which has ignored formal complaints filed by victims to open investigations into their torture. Even in the rare instances that prosecutors have referred officers to trial on torture charges, the Interior Ministry has not suspended the officers from active duty or transferred them pending investigation and trial. On the contrary, the police officers have been allowed to harass their victims, who in some cases were again arrested and subjected to further torture in an attempt to compel them to withdraw their complaints.
Adopt a law that fully criminalizes torture and imposes stiffer penalties on offenders,in accordance with the Egyptian constitution and Egypt’s international obligations. Although Article 52 of the 2014 constitution states that “torture of all types is a crime not subject to a statute of limitations,” security forces continue to torture prisoners and detainees in ways that recall the practices of the Mubarak regime.
Immediately investigate allegations of torture and refer offenders to trial; diligently investigate complaints filed with the Public Prosecution against public servants; and refer victims to the medical examiner to document injuries, in a manner consistent with the principles of transparency and accountability.
Form an independent commission to investigate all cases of death and serious injury at the hands of police personnel. The commission should be composed of independent members who are not affiliated with the judicial, executive, or legislative arms of the state. The commission should investigate the legality of the use of force and firearms and be given full investigative powers. It should cooperate with the Public Prosecution if its finds that a criminal investigation is warranted in any incident.
Issue a witness protection law as part of the legal framework to combat torture.
Establish a judicial police force subordinate to the Public Prosecution, independent of the Interior Ministry.
The prosecution should carry out its obligation to conduct periodic, surprise inspections of detention facilities, in accordance with the constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure. This entails giving prosecutors the right to visit general and district prisons and police detention facilities, examine records, and accept complaints from detainees. Such unannounced inspections should take place at least once every month as set forth in Article 1744 in the Book of General Directives to Prosecution Offices on Criminal Matters.
Form an independent commission dedicated to conducting periodic, unannounced inspections of detention facilities around the country. The commission should consist of independent members unaffiliated with the judicial or executive authorities with expertise in law, medicine, psychiatry, and other fields. The commission should possess the authority to receive complaints from detainees, review records, and directly offer recommendations to officials in detention facilities and the House of Representatives.
Equip detention facilities with surveillance cameras and allow them to be regularly reviewed by the district summary court in each jurisdiction.
Regarding enforced disappearance:
Establish a clear definition of enforced disappearance in Egyptian law as well as clear mechanisms to ensure redress for victims of this crime.
Enforce the law to require the Interior Ministry to immediately investigate any report of a citizen’s disappearance, setting a deadline by which time it must notify the family of the disappeared of the findings of the investigation; establish mechanisms and rules that enable the families of victims to obtain information about the fate of their disappeared family members.
Sign the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and initiate any necessary constitutional and legal amendments in domestic legislation to make it compliant with the convention. An Interior Ministry leader asserted that Egypt has in fact already signed the convention, but this is false.
Form an independent commission, while defining its authorities and prerogatives, to include members of the Public Prosecution, the National Committee on Human Rights, rights associations, and representatives of families of the disappeared. The commission should receive reports of cases of enforced disappearance to review them in a timely manner and disclose its findings to the public by a set deadline; if any public official is found to be involved, he shall be immediately subject to accountability.
Expand the prerogatives and authorities of the National Council on Human Rights to allow it to monitor state agencies’ implementation of international human rights conventions and treaties and their respect for human rights principles. The members of the council should be authorized to conduct inspections of prisons, police stations, and detention facilities to assess their compliance with the law and their respect for human rights.
Arab Network for Human Rights Information
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Alhaqanya Center for Law and Legal profession
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Hesham Mobarak Law Center
Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
Nazra for Feminist Studies
National group for human rights and law
United-Group, Attorneys at Law, Legal Researchers and Human Rights Advocates