23 October 2011
Once more I am keen to stress that I supported the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces## (SCAF) decree enacting the state of emergency on the grounds that providing authorities with exceptional mandates would help confront rampant incidents of thuggery and terrorism against peaceful civilians. I believed such a move would put an end to criminal practices such as blocking road and paralysing public services and facilities. It is no secret that chaos and acts of thuggery have gained a momentum following the 25 January Revolution, as mobs and criminals saw in the withdrawal of the security forces—which I deem the most dangerous in modern Egyptian history—an opportunity to target people’s lives and property.
I made it very clear that, contrary to the experience of past decades, enforcing a state of emergency should by no means imply suppressing liberties or restricting freedom of speech. I expected authorities to use the state of emergency to protect people’s lives and dignity rather than to target and victimise individuals for their convictions, activities or persistence in practising freedom of expression.
It is with anger and resentment that I today refer to the alarming report issued recently by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and entitled “Martyrs behind bars: the killing and torture of prisoners following the January Revolution”. The content of the report is horrifying, since it proves that the security apparatuses are still using the heinous methods of torture used by their pre-revolution counterparts, and which earned these apparatuses strong condemnation by local and international human rights groups and organisations. In this context, it should be stressed that exploiting the state of emergency to arrest thugs and criminals without prosecution and to refer rap suspects, drug dealers and looters to exceptional courts is one thing, but victimising and torturing these people, violating their human dignity, denying them legal rights, and threatening their lives is quite another.
The report is frightening and shocking, and warrants a rapid investigation by the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the National Fact-Finding Committee (NFFC). Imposing secrecy and reticence regarding the facts cited in the report would bear negative connotations and convey to the public the ominous message that the authorities still have a strong appetite for terrorising the Egyptian people and violating their rights and human dignity. Ironically, we did believe the revolution would bring an end to these malpractices once-and-for-all.
Following is a navigation through the report:
• Following the eruption of the revolution, some Egyptian prisons witnessed unrest and collective escape of prisoners. Major among these were the prisons of Abu-Zaabal, Fayoum, Wadi el-Natrun, Qena and al-Marg. Yet the report focuses on prisons that remained quiet and reported no cases of escape. These included Tora, al-Esti’naf in Cairo, al-Qatta in Giza, Shebin al-Kom in Minoufiya and al-Abadiyya in Fayoum.
• The five prisons covered by the study witnessed excessive use of force and gunfire by officers against unarmed prisoners. This practice left around a hundred dead and hundreds injured. It is quite evident that this is a case of premeditated killing since there were no reported incidents of mutiny or escape. After-death examinations revealed that, instead of shooting at prisoners’ legs or feet to prevent fleeing, bullets targeted the victims’ chests, necks, hearts, backs and bellies in most cases. This is proof that we are before deliberate murder.
• Reports from al-Estinaf prison concerning the killing of 14 prisoners on 30 and 31 January 2011 were rather horrifying. They showed that officers took the prisoners out of their cells, tied them with ropes, harshly beat them and shot them at close range. We are before collective execution that violates all human rights conventions.
• In other cases, officers shot randomly at prisoners inside wards, killing and wounding many. Prisoners said that the bodies of their colleagues were left inside the wards for days, until they rot. The injured suffered the same fate as officers left them inside the wards without any kind of medical treatment. Those who escaped the gunfire were denied power, water, and food. Whenever a prisoner dared get out of his ward, he was greeted with a storm of gunfire. These appalling conditions lasted until the army interfered later in February to shift the injured to clinics, which were too crowded and poorly equipped to deal with critical cases.
• The flood of complaints and appeals to SCAF, the Ministry of Interior, and the Prisons Authority to instantly interfere and stop the mass murder and random killing fell on deaf ears. The Interior Ministry pressed ahead with using excessive force against the prisoners, imposed a media blackout on the events and lied to the media and prisoners’ families about what was going on.
• The NFFC investigated the situation in three of the prisons that witnessed collective escape and two in which there had been no incidents of escape or turmoil (Tora and al-Qatta). Instead of publishing the full NFFC report, the authorities published an imperfect summary that blamed no-one for the illegal excessive use of force and inhuman treatment of prisoners.
• The EIPR report demands an independent fact-finding committee to investigate the violations which took place inside the prisons, specify the party that bears responsibility for their occurrence, submit a proper report to the prosecutor-general, and acquaint the public with the true story. As for the victims’ families, they should receive due compensation. The EIPR demands that all the officers accused of taking part in this horrendous crime should be referred to the criminal court, and suspended from their work until the investigation ends. Measures guaranteeing that Egyptian prisons abide by national laws and international conventions regarding prisoners’ rights should be heeded.
The incidents documented in “Martyrs behind bars” will remain a stigma on the face of the 25 January Revolution until the measures advised by the report are put into effect. Officials, and everybody with a semblance of reason, should bear in mind that enforcing the state of emergency by no means gives the green light to human rights violations or crimes.