Torture in Egyptian police stations 'remains rampant'

Torture in Egyptian police stations 'remains rampant'
Blog: Cairo's Matariya police station has been singled out as a hotspot of torture, as civilians continue to be maimed and killed.
3 min read
16 Mar, 2015
Matariya has been a hotspot for Islamist anti-government protests [Anadolu]
For the past few weeks, hundreds of Egyptian lawyers have been gathering at the Lawyers' Syndicate to protest against the death of one of their colleagues, Karim Hamdy.

Hamdy died at the end of February in Matariya police station, reportedly tortured at the hands of two high-ranking national security police officers.

Matariya is a working class suburb in Cairo that, in recent months, has been a hotspot for Islamist anti-government protests.

Hamdy, a 27-year-old lawyer, was arrested on alleged charges of arms possession and anti-government activity. It was later revealed that he died in police custody after sustaining horrific injuries to his ribs, chest and head.

He had also had his tongue cut off.

Last week, two other detainees held with Hamdy died in similar cirumstances.

Amid chants of "they are the still the same gang" - a reference to the interior ministry's notorious track record of torturing citizens - Malek Adly, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, listed the lawyers' demands.

These included a transparent investigation, and the location of police officers implicated in Hamdy's death to be revealed.

     There has to be a limit to the Interior Ministry's belligerence.
- Malek Adly, human rights lawyer

"There has to be a limit to the Interior Ministry's belligerence over the trampling of the rights of Egyptian citizens and lawyers," he said.

Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat issued a gag order on 26 February, effectively preventing the media from reporting the details of the case.

"This is a tactic constantly employed by the public prosecutor with cases that implicate members of the police or security forces. We are against this gag order," said Ragia Omran, another leading lawyer who works on torture cases. The gag order is still in effect.

According to the Geneva based al-Karama Foundation, which documents torture cases in the Middle East and North Africa, there have been 10 deaths in Matariya police station alone over the past 18 months, and more than 200 dead in police stations across Egypt in 2014.

Further, Hassiba Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy Middle East and North Africa director singled out the Mataria police station as a hub of brutality and impunity.

"The pattern of deaths in custody emerging… is distressing," read a recent statement. "The authorities cannot continue to sweep rampant abuses under the carpet, and families are growing frustrated with the authorities' unwillingness to hold perpetrators to account."

Omran concurred that Hamdy's death was the latest in a sharpening trend of rampant prisoner abuse. "This is not the first case of torture" in police stations, he said.

"Those who have committed such crimes must be brought to justice. The revolution was triggered by the torture case of Khaled Said and the problem is still endemic."

In June 2010, Khaled Said was arrested in Alexandria and beaten to death. Photos of his beating circulated online and a Facebook page entitled "We are all Khaled Said" quickly gained in popularity.

The page called for the officers involved to be tried and for protests to be held on January 25 - national police day. The rest, as they say, is history.