Ministry denies torture reports

Anti-torture group responds to Ministry of Interior’s letter

A report issued by the Egyptian Association against Torture (EAAT) on 21 June provides evidence of abuse in prisons nationwide. The report followed an unprecedented letter from the Ministry of the Interior to members of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, denying accusations that 38 incidents of torture and seven deaths occurred at the hands of state security intelligence officers.
In the letter, issued 29 February, the ministry claimed that all seven deaths could be attributed to suicide or infighting among prisoners, and that 19 of the 38 alleged cases of torture “did not happen.” Investigations are pending in the remaining cases.
When EAAT announced its findings, the group accused the government of operating solely to defend its reputation abroad.
“With Egypt’s public image at stake, the ministry’s reaction is a form of damage control,” said EAAT founder and president, Aida Seif Al Dawla. “As a result, not a single police officer or prison guard has ever been prosecuted for the mistreatment of prisoners and detainees.”
The denial by the Interior Ministry came despite a collection of photographs, interview transcripts and forensic reports, detailed in the report. The organization also said it felt threatened by the ministry’s letter, which referred to its activities as a “suspect organized campaign against the country in the field of human rights.”
Positioning itselves as part of a public campaign, EAAT officials said its research is particularly important after the torture scandal in Iraq.
“What America is doing, Egypt is doing. If Rumsfeld and Bush apologized, where is our apology?” said Seif Al Dawla.
The EAAT’s most recent accusation came on 9 June, when 40-year-old Akram Al Zoheiry, a Muslim Brotherhood member, died in police custody. Al Zoheiri and 53 other Brothers were arrested for allegedly conducting military training .
Though many incidents in the report involved members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the EAAT stressed the cases it investigated involved a variety of detainees, including women.
“These acts often occur without any kind of provocation,” said EAAT legal spokesman, Taher Abou Al Nasr. “It may just be a matter of a guard not liking the way a prisoner looks.”
“The mistreatment of prisoners is a conscious choice,” Seif Al Dawla added, “You don’t put a cigarette out on someone’s chest just because they don’t cooperate during an interrogation.”
Though the EAAT was denied official NGO status last August, the group announced last week it would join with 12 other organizations to form the Egyptian Human Rights Organizations Collective. Representatives hope that the merger will put added pressure on the government to reform penal legislation and abandon its policy of using emergency laws to prosecute political prisoners.

Issue 15 vol 8
Photograph by Kristel Halter

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